Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Debate Camp: Retire the Number?

There's a controversy brewing behind the scenes of Major League Baseball's offices, and an honorable man who's been dead for more than three decades is at the center of it.

Facing increasing pressure from Hispanic advocacy organizations, MLB officials are debating whether or not to retire Roberto Clemente's #21 league-wide, as they did for colored pioneer ballplayer Jackie Robinson's #42 in 1997.

I'm standing firmly with Jackie's daughter Sharon on this one: "To my understanding, the purpose of retiring my father's number is that what he did changed all of baseball, not only for African-Americans but also for Latinos, so I think that purpose has been met...When you start retiring numbers across the board, for all different groups, you're kind of diluting the original purpose."

As the old folks tell me, Clemente was simply an incredible baseball player, both at the plate (four-time batting champ with 3,000 hits) and defensively in the outfield (12 Gold Gloves). He's one of only four players to retire -- or die, apparently -- with a .300 average and more than 10 Gold Gloves.

Above all else, his charity off the field was virtually unparalleled, and it ultimately led to his death. In the offseason following the 1972 campaign, after recently collecting his 3,000th hit, Clemente boarded a plane bound for earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua to personally direct a a relief mission with food and supplies. The plane fell into the ocean off his home island of Puerto Rico and the body was never discovered.

His death was so tragic and wholly unexpected that he remains the only exception to the Hall of Fame's mandatory five-year post-retirement waiting period, the first Latino to ever be selected to the Hall. And currently, the highest MLB award for citizenship and community activism bears his name.

But there has to be another way to celebrate the man's life and contribution to sport and to all mankind. That's just my opinion, though, I could be wrong. What say you, Slackers?

(Thanks to Slack research fellow Matty Mac for the heads up.)

In other news, check out this awesome story about the youngest film director in the world. Seriously, this is fantastic: Read it.

12 Comments:

At 4:14 PM, Blogger Matty Mac said...

After watching my dad, the tough steelworker with a sweet moustache, breakdown into tears last year at Cooperstown in front of the statue and plaque of Clemente, I have to go against you and Ms. Robinson. He was and still is my dad's idol, and an idol to many Latinos in the world, and I think he should have his number retired. Not only because of what he did on the field, but even more so for what he did off the field. He was a pioneer in using his fame to help others and he should be rewarded of that and people should be reminded of that with the number retirement.

As for the Kid Director, they cut off one of his quotes where he said "....... I will be directing in future and I also want to become a 3-D graphics engineer."

They forgot to add the part where he went on to say "3-D graphics engineer for an American firm that has outsourced their work to my country."

 
At 4:39 PM, Blogger MDS said...

I tend to agree with Ace and Ms. Robinson. Roberto Clemente was a great man and a great player, but the whole idea of retiring Jackie Robinson's number throughout the league was that he was a unique individual who deserved a unique honor. If they do it for another person, it ceases to be a unique honor. Why not find a unique way to honor Clemente, rather than diluting the significance of the honor for both of them?

 
At 4:48 PM, Blogger ethan said...

cmon matty. the fact that he is an idol doesn't matter. many players in the hof were our fathers' idols but that doesn't warrant equating them with jackie robinson.

clemente was a phenomenal player and an even better person, but let's not put what he did on par with what robinson did and endured.

it's just too slippery a slope. i mean (for example), do we then retire ted williams' number? he flew fighter missions in WWII and helped give the country a much needed lift in the post-war years. isn't that worth something?

also, it's not like clemente has been forgotten or will be forgotten if his number is not retired. he's in the hall of fame, has that award named after him, is the most famous latino player of all time, etc.

two interesting things to ponder: would this even be discussed if he was white (the fact that clemente is latino is irrelevant to his accomplishments)? or if he was still alive?

 
At 5:04 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

Your dad's Latino with a last name that starts with "Mac"? Interesting. I think Clemente would call your father a "gringo" and pick his grapes.

(Funny joke on the outsourcing gig, by the way.)

I'm with MDS and Ethan here, and I'm not sure it's much of a debate. Jackie Robinson was Jackie Robinson, the first black ballplayer that went through the shit to give thousands of people that came after him a chance.

Clemente was a gifted athlete and an even better human -- but he has a shrine in Cooperstown, a trophy named after him and his number retired by his own team. I think those are all pretty fucking big honors.

 
At 5:06 PM, Blogger Matty Mac said...

The whole "he was my father's idol" thing was purely a selfish and personal point, and I agree it has nothing to do with an argument to retire his number or not.

In the context of comparing Clemente's feats to Robinson's, obviously Clemente's feats pale in comparison to Robinson's due to the fact that Robinson was the first to do it, regardless of whether he was black, Latino, Mayan or otherwise. I understand this.

So, in summary, I guess my feelings are purely selfish and unsubstantiated. A slippery slope indeed.

If this was the NFL, his number would have been retired years ago. See: Tillman, Pat.

 
At 5:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

why not put his # on every field somewhere... batters box maybe? on the bases? I think they shoud come up with something different than the # because retiring his # would dilute the retiring of Jackie Robinsons'.

 
At 6:22 PM, Blogger Russell Kahn said...

I think the whole idea of retiring a number is stupid. Kids will grow up not knowing why they can't have #42. It doesn't really explain anything.

A great idea I once heard is to truly honor Jackie Robinson by letting ONE person wear #42--someone who deserves it. They could do that for Clemente.

Whomever is the most charitable, most community-oriented player in MLB can "earn" #21. That way, it's a true honor--a distinction that will remind many of Clemente.

Randomly, the fact that Clemente died with *exactly* 3,000 hits gives me chills. I'm sorry I didn't get to see him play.

 
At 8:04 PM, Blogger MDS said...

BTW, if anyone is looking to read a good book about Jackie Robinson, I recommend Double Play by Robert Parker. It's fiction, but, like Oprah says about A Million Little Pieces, I think you can get a lot out of it anyway.

 
At 8:42 PM, Blogger John Howard said...

I think the league wide retirement was a bad idea in the first place. A big can of worms to open up.

It all turns into such a big mess, I barely even care anymore.

 
At 10:20 PM, Blogger Russell Kahn said...

I think MLB should retire #3 to honor all the fat, alcoholic white men in America.

They pretty much did that for auto racing, no?

 
At 11:59 PM, Anonymous Greg said...

Kids aren't going to grow up not knowing why people can't wear #42, kids ask more questions than the whole cast of all 4 Law and Orders, or however many there are these days....

 
At 9:06 AM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

Good point, greg. And I heard MLB is considering retiring Brisco's badge league-wide.

"Randomly, the fact that Clemente died with *exactly* 3,000 hits gives me chills. I'm sorry I didn't get to see him play."

I've always marvelled at that...some years ago I was so inquisitive I actually looked it all up.

You can Google my facts, but I believe Clemente got his 2,999 hit in his last road game of the year, and the manager took him out so he could get 3,000 at home. In the second to last game of the season, he got a hit, a clear hit, that was ruled an error. The crowd booed, I'm sure. He went hitless the rest of the way, and it came down to the last game. He finally got his 3,000th hit the next day, and that would be the last hit of his regular season career (he did get some hits in the '72 postseason though).

Cool story. Well, except for the dying part.

 

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