First a shout-out to ESPN.com, if I may. There is no online publication as dedicated to baseball as ESPN.com, with more writers penning thoughtful pieces on a daily basis than most of their major competitors combined. Employing baseball writers, and lots of them, is a good thing.
There are almost too many scribes to commend without leaving someone out, but here are my favorites: Jim Caple, Jerry Crasnick, Buster Olney, Mark Saxon, David Schoenfield, Mark Simon and Jayson Stark.
ESPN.com is in the midst of a fun series called “MLB 2.0 – Reimagining Baseball,” with topics such as the overuse of replay, international expansion, robot umpires (good grief!) and the DH in the National League #Sacrilege. Whether baseball needs reimagining is a fine question, but one for another day.
Although not part of the 2.0 series, Buster has an interesting piece titled “MLB should retire Roberto Clemente’s number.” ESPN Insider is required, but here’s the key phrase: “This is why the time has come for Major League Baseball to honor Clemente in the way that it did Jackie Robinson, and retire Clemente’s No. 21, for all teams and for all time.”
I get the sentiment and it’s a beautiful thought, but if I were commish for a day – and it happened to be decision day on this one – I’d pass on the idea.
There’s no need to compare Jackie’s contributions to Roberto’s. This isn’t about that. While I would have had loved to have seen Robinson play, I was lucky enough to experience Clemente a bit. On NBC’s Game of the Week, with Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek, in All-Star Games and in the World Series, primarily. And I loved him.
If I saw him as a child in Los Angeles I don’t recall, and that bothers me no end. I remember that awful New Year’s Day in 1973 like it was yesterday. I’ve also learned to take note of Roberto’s birth-day more so than, well, that other day.
Clemente is worthy of having his number retired. I just don’t think it serves the purpose intended.
From my perspective as a life-long Dodger fan, there was something about Jackie Robinson’s number being retired throughout the sport that bugged me. Made me jealous, actually. I mean, it was cool and all, but I couldn’t help thinking, “Why do the Giants get to celebrate Jack in this way? What did they do?” More importantly, I thought, “why the Boston Red Sox – the last team to integrate in 1959 – of all teams?”
And what about teams like the Rockies and Marlins, who might stick the glorious number 42 on a façade someplace 450 feet from home plate?
Pittsburgh is a great baseball town, and Clemente is such an important part of everything the organization does there. Why not allow the Bucs and their fans to have Clemente to themselves? To hold him close.
Similarly, while retiring a number does serve as a fine reminder of a Hall of Fame player who has come and gone, so to does keeping the number in use, with players from Clemente’s native Puerto Rico especially in mind. Ruben Sierra wore Clemente’s number 21 at several stops during his career, including at Texas, Oakland, Detroit and Seattle, for example, and I believe with distinction.
Houston Astros star shortstop Carlos Correa has said just last week while accepting the 2015 Rookie of the Year Award that he would like to wear his idol’s number 21, and can you think of a better player to carry the banner?
Let’s keep the spirit of Roberto Clemente alive in as many ways as we possibly can, shall will. With a little deference to the Pirates, and to the young men from Puerto Rico too, while we’re at it.
And remember, glove conquers all.
Howard Cole has been blogging about baseball since Y2K. Follow him on Twitter.
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