Treasuring A Pirate
Movement underway to retire Roberto
Clemente’s No. 21 throughout baseball
By Rafael Martinez-Alequín
Only one number in the history of Major League Baseball has been permanently retired from use by all big league clubs, and that is Jackie Robinson’s No. 42. No one except for players who were wearing No, 42 when baseball retired it in 1997 can wear that number again.
We would suggest that another player in addition to Robinson should have his uniform number universally retired. There is no more deserving a player than Roberto Walker Clemente. His contribution to the sport is unparalleled. Let the powers that be get it done!
On December 31, 1972, legendary Roberto Clemente, number 21 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, boarded a small plane headed for Managua, Nicaragua. The aircraft carried much needed supplies for the victims of an earthquake that killed Approximately 10,000 people. Clemente a world-renowned humanitarian, spearheaded the relief effort. But fate took a sour turn when the fragile aircraft, overloaded by 4,200 pounds, plunged into the ocean. The baseball hero’s body was never recovered.
Now, 36 years after that fateful New Year’s Eve when we lost Clemente, fans and advocates of his legacy have launched an initiative to honor his memory with one of the ultimate tributes in sports. The goal is to retire No. 21 on all major league teams.
“We are proud to spearhead the marketing campaign for the Retire 21 community grass roots movement,” said Julio Pabón, President of Latino Sports Ventures, Inc. “Retiring Roberto Clemente's No. 21 is long overdue. It will help us preserve the memory of this legend, and the overall legacy of baseball. One day, Major League Baseball will thank us for helping them decide on this important matter.”
Clemente, who was born in Barrio San Antón in Carolina, Puerto Rico, on August 18, 1934, got his first significant attention from major league scouts while playing with the Santurce Crabbers (Cangrejeros) in the Puerto Rican Winter League. He eventually signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers and was assigned to their top affiliate, the Montreal Royals.
After playing for Montreal in 1954, the Pittsburgh Pirates chose Clemente in the post-season minor league draft, which was a precursor to the modern-day Rule 5 draft. In 1955, Clemente began an illustrious 18-year career with the Pirates.
Clemente was a four time National League Batting Champion and a 12-time. Gold Gloves winner, He was NL MVP in 1966 and chosen as the MVP and the World Series MVP in 1971, when he batted .414 with two homers in 29 Fall Classic at-bats..
“Fans and advocates believe that Clemente should be honored with his number put to rest, and they want his story to be a model and inspiration for all,” Bernie Williams said ”They agree that he should be remembered not just for his record-breaking stats, but also for his compassion, For us, No. 21 is a number that represents dedication and desire to help others,” he concluded.
The issue of retiring numbers is political and emotional. Throughout sports, it is a tribute to greatness. But one would ask why and why now for Clemente?
It is because he died in the quest that others might live. As a result, Clemente’s extraordinary efforts separate him from the uniqueness of a Sandy Koufax or a Hank Aaron, whose numbers were retired by their respective teams.
“Anything that we can do to honor such of great player and a person should be done,” Former President Bill Clinton said.
The world has changed since Clemente perished. Schools enlist students in community service as part of character building. To retire Clemente’s number is a testament to the greatness of self-sacrifice. As Social Security Numbers are retired, and reassigning them would constitute identity theft, there will never be another Roberto Clemente, No. 21. The energy and significance of No. 21 died with its owner.
Julio Pabón and his organization have started an outreach and awareness campaign as well as a petition drive to retire Clemente’s number throughout baseball. The signatures they collect, will be formally presented to Major League Baseball.