Roberto Clemente was a hero. Not in the flimsy way the word is typically tossed around today – especially in reference to athletes and, ahem, vice presidential candidates. He was a hero in every sense of the word.
He was a great player. Not in the flimsy way the word is tossed around today – especially in reference to athletes and, ahem, former presidents. He was great in every sense of he word.
Baseball is right to honor Clemente with his own special “day,” as the sport will do on Wednesday in every ballpark. The day will commemorate his wondrous life and celebrate the 30 finalists for the 2008 Roberto Clemente Award.
The award keeps alive the legacy of the Hall of Famer rightfielder and 12-time All-Star who died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve, 1972, while attempting to deliver life-saving supplies to earthquake survivors in Nicaragua. The list of 37 winners may be the most impressive anywhere in the sport – with almost all of them either Hall of Famers, sure-to-be HOFers or should-be HOFers.
The award and the fraternity of those so honored in his name are a fitting tribute to perhaps the greatest combination of athletic gifts and a humanitarian heart that sports has ever seen.
Some would also add another honor: Retiring Clemente’s No. 21 from all of baseball (Pittsburgh has rightly retired the number from use by another Pirate), as was Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 just over a decade ago.
Several groups have lobbied for years for the moves, and it is said to be “under advisement” by baseball’s gatekeepers, a/k/a/ commissioner Bud Selig and his crew.
It should never happen.
No. 21 should not be retired from all of baseball, and saying so is no slight at all to Clemente.
There was but one Jackie Robinson.
He not only changed baseball, but he changed America.
He paved the way not just for for blacks in baseball but for Latinos and even today’s Asian players.
And I have no doubt the path he carved paved the way for a black man to be at the doorstep of the White House – the front door.
Two years ago, Sharon Robinson, Jackie’s daughter, made her beliefs clear to the New York Daily News: “”Clemente did an awful lot of good things and was a terrific ballplayer, but I don’t think it’s the same type of situation as Jackie Robinson,” she said “I totally think that Roberto’s accomplishments should continue to be spotlighted and highlighted as a major part of baseball and American culture, as well as Puerto Rico’s culture.”
Interestingly none of the efforts to have Clemente’s number retired has been led by member of the Clemente family. Two of his sons, Luis and Roberto, Jr., have been politely supportive but mostly silent on the issue. “We support the cause because it’s a worthwhile honor, not because my dad was another player with great records, but because of what he taught us as a human being — not tolerating any social discrimination, supporting the working class, the needy,” Luis told USA Today two years ago.
Today, several active players wear No. 21 in honor of Clemente and, in many accounts, the sons have expressed their pride in that fact.
Indeed some – our “conspiracy” friends – see the efforts to “retire” No. 21 as a means of slowly obliterating Clemente’s legacy from view.
That is not my view.
I simply believe that there should be only one number retired by all of baseball: No. 42. And perhaps the greatest tribute to Clemente and those that honor him would be for baseball to announce that retiring No. 21 was no longer “under advisement.”
It would be the heroic thing to do.