Roberto Clemente was a good baseball player. He hit safely in 14 out of 14 World Series games his team played in. He won 12 gold glove awards. According to Wikipedia, he’s the only player to have scored a walk-off inside-the-park grand slam; and, according to the same Wikipedia entry, Tim McCarver calls Clemente “the greatest right-filder of all time.” Though I’m not sure how that may help the argument, but I digress.

Yes, Clemente was a great player indeed. He was a nice guy too, in fact, he died while ferrying supplies to hurricane victims in Nicaragua in 1972. It was New Year’s Eve.

clemente.jpgWell, even though he was the first Latino player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973, with Cooperstown making a special exemption to the 5-year wait rule, and that Major League Baseball hands out an award in his name every year for sportsmanship and off-field efforts, someone thinks Clemente should get more recognition.

They ought to retire his #21, says Bronx businessman Julio Pabon, across baseball.

From the NY Daily news:

Pabon, coordinator of the “Going to Bat to Retire #21” campaign, said Clemente’s legacy stands in contrast to today’s game, which has become defined by corporations and controversy, and should be commemorated by the league.

“In today’s world, everybody needs to see the type of person Clemente was,” Pabon said. “(They need) to remember that there was a man who gave so much, who wasn’t about the dollar sign, who was one of the best in the game, but still had the time for fans and the people … He went out of his way to help people, not because he was told to it by an agent, or because there was a media relations asking him to do something.”

Pabon’s push to retire Clemente’s number began around last year’s All-Star game in Pittsburgh and has continued as one of his business’ pro-bono projects. The campaign is currently in its second phase, with a documentary – “The Legacy of 21” – being shown around the country; it debuted last November at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center and will return to New York this fall for Hispanic and Puerto Rican heritage months.

It strikes me as ironic that Pabon is a sports marketer and he argues that Clemente should be bestowed with this honor for doing exactly the opposite of what his marketing campaign is hoping to achieve.

Sure, it’s Pro-bono, which probably means that the only thing Pabon will get out of this is extra publicity for his company. So I have to say thanks Mr. Pabon, but no thanks.

Here’s the deal; Clemente was charitable, humble; a commendable human being. He’s been recognized for that; they inducted him into the Hall of Fame – baseball’s sacred grounds – a year after his death. They named an award after him; which means every year, his name will be mentioned along with the player recognized for his work outside of the field.

And let’s not make the impulsory assumption that it’d be great to retire #21 accross the board simply because Clemente was an outstanding Latino ball player. What about the rest? What about Minnie Minoso, Chico Carrasquel, and the other Latino greats?

What about the first Latino player to have played in the Majors, Luis Castro, back in 1902?

Though applaudable, I think the drive to retire Clemente’s number, or any other number, should be reserved for those individuals that change the sport. I don’t think we can say Clemente changed the sport; for us Latinos, he’s a legend and an icon. He’s someone we should immediately recognize. But I think Clemente gets as much recognition for his integrity today, as he did for his baseball prowess in his time.

One Response to “Retire #21? Bronx businessman sez it should be done”

  1. Paul Moro says:

    I never quite understood the practice of retiring numbers. Maybe this is just a personal taste, but I think it’s far more meaningful when players choose numbers that their idols wore. Even when Jackie Robinson’s # got retired, I didn’t understand why you would deprive players who wanted to pay homage to him by wearing 42. It’s just odd to me. It was basically just MLB saying “Hey, look! We’re not racist anymore! Now let’s just let bygones be bygones, shall we?”

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