The Movement to Retire Roberto Clemente’s Number From the MLB Is Flourishing

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It was 19 years ago that MLB Commissioner Bud Selig decided to retire no. 42 from all of the teams and players in Major League Baseball. This was Jackie Robinson’s number, and it’s now a symbol of Robinson’s legacy in the fight for breaking racial barriers in professional sports. Next year, the 20th anniversary of this memorable moment in US baseball history, would be an apt opportunity to retire Roberto Clemente’s claim to fame: no. 21.

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The number of voices calling for MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to retire Clemente’s number is rapidly growing. The “Retire 21” movement grew out of Pittsburgh, but is gaining ground across the country and in mainstream media. Supporters are signing petitions. Buster Olney, a notable baseball reporter, recently wrote an article asking for just that, arguing “the choice of commissioner Bud Selig to retire no. 42 in honor of Robinson may have been the best decision he made in his time in office…Rob Manfred has a similar opportunity with Clemente, in what would be an important gesture for the whole sport.”

As Julio Pabón, one of the leaders of the Retire 21 movement recalls, “No other baseball player has done half of what he did for the rights of African Americans, and for the ending of discrimination against Latinos and African Americans.” His legacy is also a fundamental part of his baseball culture in his native Puerto Rico and in the major leagues. Take, for example, Alex Cora’s words: “What he did off the field represents more than his accomplishments on the field. The word that comes to mind when I hear his name is courageous.”

But of course, his legacy was felt most strongly on the field, and he was noted by many as a “complete player.” He reached the 3,000th hit milestone and helped his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates claim two World Series titles. Of course, no. 21 is no longer in use in Pittsburgh; it was retired just a year after his death.

Clemente died tragically in 1972 when the plane in which he was carrying relief for earthquake victims crashed. A year later, the Hall of Fame waived the five-years-after-retirement rule, to properly honor his legacy. The door is open for the League to pay respect to the greatest Latino to ever play the game.