The people behind the Retire 21 movement are not going back on their demands for the MLB. The campaign asks professional baseball teams to retire Roberto Clemente’s number in recognition of his enormous importance for the history of the game and the relevance of the Latino community to sports and society.
Retire 21’s last symbolic effort was the reenactment of Roberto Clemente’s 3,000th hit at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico.
Hitting that ball was no minor event. Clemente, who was the first Latin American player to enter in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, got his 3,000th hit on September 30, 1972. It was a double in the 4th inning of a game against the New York Mets. It turned out to be his last regular season at-bat with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The day it happened, Clemente’s 3,000th hit went almost unnoticed. As The New York Times’ Tyler Kepner said in 2011, “Just 13,117 fans went to the ballpark, and even the Mets’ starter did not know what could happen with his curveball.” David Maraniss, Clemente’s biographer, argues that “a lot of the indifference had to do with the social mores of that time and place.” Just a few months later, on December 23, 1972, Clemente died tragically in an airplane accident while en route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
Partly to correct this tremendous historic injustice, the Retire 21 movement is now broadening the scope of its demands, asking for Puerto Rican support at home and abroad. Retire 21 hopes Boricuas will want to see well-deserved praise for one of their biggest sports figures.