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The Clemente family gives up the push to retire #21 across baseball … until Selig’s gone

Oct 1, 2012, 8:23 AM EDT


Roberto Clemente’s widow Vera Clemente and his sons Luis and Roberto Jr. were in Pittsburgh yesterday for a ceremony commemorating Clemente’s 3000th and final hit. Dejan Kovacevic spoke with the Clementes regarding a movement they’ve been trying to get rolling over the past several years: having Roberto Clemente’s number 21 retired throughout all of baseball.

Major League Baseball hasn’t been all too receptive, however, so the Clementes are gonna wait Bud out. Here’s Roberto Clemente, Jr.:

“It’s become pretty clear to us this commissioner doesn’t want anything to do with it, to be perfectly honest. That just means we’re going to have to wait until there’s a new commissioner. And we will.”

I dunno. Roberto Clemente Jr. is 47 years old. I figure Bud has another 50-60 years in him, so it may be the next generation’s fight.

Seriously, though, I’ve never been a fan of retiring Clemente’s number across baseball. He was a fantastic player and he died under heroic circumstances, but he was not a pioneer in the way Jackie Robinson was. Hiram Bithorn was the first major leaguer from Puerto Rico, and there were Latin American players from other countries before him as well.  In light of that, to give him the same honor Robinson received seems inappropriate.

Moreover, for reasons I’ve explained previously, I’m also not a fan of the alternative suggestion Vera Clemente has made in the past: giving each year’s Clemente Award winner the number 21 to wear throughout the year following him winning the award. It’s just too complicated, still necessitates retiring 21 — otherwise how does the honoree stand out? — and could lead to awkwardness if a player doesn’t want to change his number but feels obligated to do so lest he be seen as offending the memory of Roberto Clemente.

I get wanting to do something for a special person’s memory, but I don’t think baseball is in danger of either forgetting or dishonoring Roberto Clemente. Bud is right to let this one lie.

  1. stex52 - Oct 1, 2012 at 8:29 AM

    Don’t they know? Bud’s been gone for three years. What you see is a cleverly crafted automaton that they wheel out for peculiar announcements and then return back down to the laboratory. They are still only partly successful in making it look lifelike.

    • Old Gator - Oct 1, 2012 at 8:51 AM

      The Gnats have been much more successful in making Strassburg look like some other pitcher every fifth day. Maybe MLB should consult their makeup guy.

    • kiwicricket - Oct 1, 2012 at 8:53 AM

      They have done well with the rug and the old man smell.

    • cur68 - Oct 1, 2012 at 11:12 AM

      Really Stex? He’s a Fembot, Like you used to see in The Six Million Dollar Man? Well. Worst Fembot ever!

  2. indaburg - Oct 1, 2012 at 8:57 AM

    Clemente was a great player and an even greater humanitarian, but that’s no reason to retire his number across baseball. He has very appropriate award named after him. That’s enough. (Ugh, agreeing with Selig makes me feel dirty inside.)

    • stex52 - Oct 1, 2012 at 9:12 AM

      Craig is right, though. No one will forget Clemente anytime soon. His legacy is secure.

      • Old Gator - Oct 1, 2012 at 9:20 AM

        Indaburg: GNC’s newly reformulated colon cleanser will help you recover.

  3. manute - Oct 1, 2012 at 9:04 AM

    Let’s keep the tribute to Jackie Robinson unique. It was actually a pretty awesome idea by MLB to retire #42. Would be even better if Mariano Rivera weren’t such an asshole.

    Kidding! Mostly….

    • Old Gator - Oct 1, 2012 at 9:23 AM

      When I turned 62, I retired 61. I just kept the asterisk, which took up very little shelf space.

      • pinstripecameraman - Oct 1, 2012 at 10:48 AM

        What is this supposed to mean in relation to the article?

    • Panda Claus - Oct 1, 2012 at 10:19 AM

      I think the general idea of league-wide number retirement is unnecessary. I understand the symbolism of #42, but to retire any number across the board makes it standout less for the team he actually played for.

      Unfortunately I wonder if in ten years more fans will think 42 was retired for Rivera than Robinson. I’d bet in NY it woul be that way. And from that angle, shouldn’t 42 in pinstripes be retired for Rivera anyway, rather than for a guy that never wore that uniform?

      To allow each team to decide if their 21 is retired or not is the way it should be decided. It takes nothing away from Clemente’s legacy to not do this league wide. And no disrespect to the man or his family, but I don’t want his number retired in Baltimore where one of his last acts on earth was defeating my Orioles.

      • pinstripecameraman - Oct 1, 2012 at 11:00 AM

        Retiring numbers should be based on the team an individual played for. I’m not a big fan of Jackie Robinson’s number being retired by all teams. I mean we are coming up on the 40th anniversary of his passing (10/24/72) and since then, the Blue Jays, Mariners, Rockies and Marlins were founded, yet they have to retire his number? The fact that Dodgers retired it should suffice just like the Pirates retired 21 for Clemente. MLB didn’t retire Larry Doby’s number did they?

  4. willclarkgameface - Oct 1, 2012 at 9:14 AM

    Why don’t we just retire all of the classic numbers in the game and make rookies wear 100+ numbers?

    This is silly.

    I have a great deal of respect for what Clemente brought to the game and his community service, but was he a pioneer? No.

    21 stays available.

  5. nategearhart - Oct 1, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    It’s just such a slippery slope. I mean, if you retire Clemente’s number you have to retire Gehrig’s, right?

    • stlouis1baseball - Oct 1, 2012 at 10:01 AM

      Yep. And then we have to retire Ozzie’s #1, Stan’s #6, Gibson’s #45, Enos’ #9, Dizzy’s #17, Tommy Herr’s #28, Andy VanSlyke’s #18, oh…and Joaquin Andujar’s #47.
      The fact that all of these former players are ex Cardinals is purely coincidental.

      • farvefromover - Oct 1, 2012 at 10:18 AM

        well that was stupid

  6. mazblast - Oct 1, 2012 at 9:58 AM

    Clemente was my idol from the time my family moved to the Pittsburgh area in 1963. I’ve never engaged in idol worship like I did with him.

    That said–No. Don’t do it. Let Jackie’s #42 be unique. He deserves it. If #21 is retired, you’ll see every team in MLB clamoring for their guy to have his number retired all the way across (with the Yankees getting 8 or 9 instead of one because they’re the Yankees).

    So let’s not set ourselves up for a fall. Let’s not indulge in false hopes. As Pirates fans, we just saw even our modest hope for this year shattered. Forget it.

  7. The Dangerous Mabry - Oct 1, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    The biggest problem with this movement is that it makes you have to point out all the reasons that Clemente doesn’t deserve to have his number retired across baseball. And I hate being in a position where I have to say anything but positive things about the great players throughout history. Once they drop this cause for good, I won’t have to do that anymore, and I’ll be a lot happier.

  8. dexterismyhero - Oct 1, 2012 at 10:38 AM

    Maybe they could retire Smokey Burgess’s # also.

    Really wish we could have watched him for a few more years. One of the best all around players of all time. When someone came up with “The Five Tools Players” Clemente, Mays, Mantle, Aaron were the guys that started it. I’m sure aI missed someone in there also.

  9. jolink653 - Oct 2, 2012 at 12:25 PM

    I might be too young to have been around for Clemente’s playing days and I know he was a great player and obviously deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, but what did he do to deserve to have his number retired league-wide? Jackie Robinson was the first one to break the color barrier, something so monumental at the time, and this allowed so many thousands of players to join up and give us an entirely new form of baseball…Jackie deserves to be the only one with that honor regardless of how well any other player performs on the field and even how many good things he does off the field

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