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Demilio: Roberto Clemente Day Serves as Another Reminder to Retire No. 21



Roberto Clemente, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — Major League Baseball has a rich history filled with iconic players who are considered to be the game’s all-time greats. Then there’s Roberto Clemente, who is on a level of his own.

Clemente the baseball player is one of the best to ever put on a uniform. The Hall of Famer was an MVP, a 15-time All-Star and was a 12-time Gold Glove recipient as a right fielder. In his 18-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Clemente amassed exactly 3,000 hits and led the league in batting average on four occasions.

To go along with all of those achievements, he won two World Series and was the 1971 World Series MVP.

It’s quite a resumé for one of not only the best players in Pirates’ history, but in the history of the sport. And as good of a player Clemente was, his legacy for what he did off the field as a humanitarian is even more revered.

“An unbelievable person and an unbelievable player,” Pirates infielder Liover Peguero said on Clemente. “Just from the stories and the things that I’ve heard about him, he was a hero. That’s all I know about him — he’s just a hero.”

It’s why the Roberto Clemente Award is annually given to the player who best represents the game of baseball through character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions both on the field and off it.

It’s also why MLB celebrates Roberto Clemente Day each year — to honor the man who died trying to bring aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua while he was still an active player.

2023 Clemente Day was celebrated on Friday night with No. 21 at every turn — on the uniforms of the Pirates’ players and coaches, fans in attendance and it was even etched into the right field grass at PNC Park.

Seeing Clemente’s iconic ’21’ everywhere you looked served as yet another reminder — Major League Baseball should retire the uniform number for all 30 teams.

To me, it’s something that should have already happened. Though it hasn’t yet, it needs to be done.

Only one other jersey number is retired league-wide, the great Jackie Robinson. Robinson’s legacy speaks for itself after he was the one who broke the color barrier in 1947. He, too, is celebrated in the same fashion as Clemente on Jackie Robinson Day where players across the league wear his No. 42.

It’s only right that two of the most inspirational players in the history of the game have their numbers retired together.

Robinson’s No. 42 was retired across baseball in 1997. 26 years later, and 50 years after the Pirates retired No. 21, it’s time for the rest of the league to follow suit.

Roberto Clemente represents what being a human being is about — giving back, caring for others and supporting each other through the good times and the bad.

When weighing both his on-field and off-field contributions, I can think of no player more deserving in baseball history to join Robinson.

Pirates manager Derek Shelton has been instrumental in making Clemente Day even more special in what it has become — everything you saw on Friday.

Seeing ’21’ retired across the league would certainly put a smile on his face.

“I think you know getting us to wear 21 was one of the main initiatives when I was named the manager here and I appreciate the support I got from ownership and from guys in our front office,” he said. “(SVP, Baseball Operations) Brian Stroh helped me a ton with it, with MLB, and it was probably the thing that was most important to me. So the fact now that we are able to wear it because of the initiative and the Clemente family agreeing and the Puerto Rican players picked up on it. Now the award winners can wear it. So if it continues to grow, I’ll be really happy.”

With the significance of Clemente Day growing to what it is now, why not take things a step further?

It’s not only the Pirates who celebrate Clemente Day. The entire league partakes, and the entire league should join in recognizing him on more days than just one.

It’s time. It’s time for commissioner Rob Manfred to make it happen and honor ‘The Great One’ the way he deserves.

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