Yearly when Roberto Clemente Day rolls round, the chorus comes again round that the legend’s No. 21 ought to be retired by Main League Baseball, the identical honor given to Jackie Robinson and No. 42.
5 years in the past, I wrote, “It’s a noble sentiment, placing Clemente alongside Jackie Robinson with uniform numbers honored eternally. It will even be a mistake.” I argued that it could not solely diminish the dignity given to Robinson, whose quantity stands alone in league-wide retirement, but additionally diminish Clemente by making him “the opposite retired quantity.”
“Make No. 21 a dwelling badge of honor, a particular quantity worn solely by those that want to salute presumably the best human being to play skilled baseball,” I wrote. “A child from Puerto Rico may develop up dreaming of carrying Clemente’s quantity. Let him. Open it as much as previous nominees for Clemente’s award. Use No. 21 to not make Clemente an even bigger a part of baseball historical past, however to deliver his legacy into the long run.”
They’re getting it proper. As ESPN reported, for Wednesday’s twentieth annual celebration of Clemente, all Puerto Rican gamers will probably be allowed to put on No. 21, as they had been final yr, with the selection additionally supplied to all of this yr’s Roberto Clemente Award nominees and the lively gamers who’ve received the award. Different gamers are also allowed to request to put on 21.
The totally different insurance policies for 42 and 21 match the legacies of the Corridor of Famers who wore them.
There might solely be one Jackie Robinson — one first participant to interrupt the colour barrier — and having his quantity retired, then worn by all on April 15, displays Robinson’s significance to all the baseball world. It was good when gamers like Butch Huskey might put on 42 all yr to honor Robinson, however then you definately’d additionally see it on, say, Scott Karl. Taking it out of common circulation was the precise thought.
Clemente’s humanitarian legacy is one thing to try for, and perhaps 21 shouldn’t simply be handed out to anybody who comes by and likes the best way it appears to be like, but it surely nonetheless is smart to cease wanting full retirement. The distinction is the best way that using the quantity on an on a regular basis foundation can honor Clemente and encourage others to observe in his footsteps, in addition to Puerto Rican pleasure.
For this Roberto Clemente Day, MLB has nailed it. The league ought to keep on the identical path, paying tribute to legends in a method that befits why every deserves such particular recognition, honoring the previous whereas trying to affect the long run.