Jul 13, 2011, 11:00 AM EST
A few years ago, the family of Roberto Clemente got behind a movement to try to have Roberto Clemente’s number 21 retired across all of baseball, just as Jackie Robinson’s 42 is retired.
Bud Selig put the kibosh on that. I agreed with Bud, frankly. Clemente was a special player and the example of both his life and his death were inspiring ones, but Robinson’s honor should remain singular. If you do it for Clemente, you open the door for good arguments for retiring the numbers of lots of special players/inspirational men.
But, as Dejan Kovacevic reports in today’s Pittsburgh Tribune, the Clementes have an alternative suggestion. Fine, don’t retire Clemente’s number. But make it special. Semi-retired if you will, with it being handed out sparingly to those who are deemed worthy:
So, if a Puerto Rican such as the New York Mets’ Carlos Beltran asks to wear the number and honor Clemente as many Latino players have done …
“No,” Vera interjected. “He has to earn it.”
That’s when it resonated: The only players who could wear No. 21 would be those who have won the Roberto Clemente Award, which has been given annually since 1972 — the year of Clemente’s death — to players of all 30 teams who best exemplify excellence on and off the field.
There’s a certain cool-factor to this. You win the Clemente award and you win the right to wear 21. It’s not retired, it’s just special. It’s certainly a unique idea.
My biggest problem with it: players are weird about their numbers and don’t like to change them. If they did this, would the player be obligated to wear 21? If not, would he be slammed if, for some reason, he decided that good luck and fate and habit demanded that he keep the number that has served him so well in the past? “Derek Jeter thinks he’s too good to wear Clemente’s number!” some headline might scream. Does anyone really want that?
And that’s the thing: check out the list of Clemente Award winners. Lots of guys on there already have their own iconic numbers that either have been or one day will be retired. We cool with Jeter changing from number 2 in 2009? How about Cal Ripken? Ozzie Smith? Pujols? Willie Freakin’ Mays?
I appreciate that the Clementes and Roberto Clemente supporters want to do something special to honor him. But there are practical limitations to what can and should be done in this regard. I don’t think we’re at risk of forgetting Clemente. But if we start doing this kind of thing, we’re going to make things more awkward than they need to be.
- The Padres have given their fans something to talk about. Which is badly needed in San Diego. 32
- Justin Upton traded to the Padres for three prospects 78
- Bud Selig will get a $6 million a year pension. Which is obscene. 129
- Jake Peavy agrees to a two-year, $24 million deal to stay with the San Francisco Giants 22
- Matt Kemp has officially been traded to the Padres 29
- Padres acquire catcher Derek Norris from Athletics 35
- St. Petersburg City Council votes down deal to allow Rays to look for new stadium site 90
- What will the future of Cuban players in MLB look like? 25
- Baseball’s highest-ranking Hispanic woman employee sues for discrimination (163)
- The United States will seek to normalize relations with Cuba (144)
- Bud Selig will get a $6 million a year pension. Which is obscene. (130)
- Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, Rangers, and Astros interested in Phillies’ Cole Hamels (111)
- Rays, Padres, Nationals agree to 11-player trade (97)