New Jersey politicians move to retire Roberto Clemente’s No. 21 across all of baseball

Kevin Kaduk
Big League Stew

The debate on whether Major League Baseball should retire Roberto Clemente's No. 21 across the league has popped up from time to time over the years with no real consensus on the idea ever forming.

Now the New Jersey state Senate wants to push the idea further with a request that Commissioner Bud Selig retire No. 21 for all 30 teams to honor the Hall of Fame outfielder who died in a plane crash in 1972 while delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

The state Senate will vote on the resolution at 2 p.m. on Thursday.

Here's the statement from the resolution (which you can read in full here):

This Senate concurrent resolution respectfully requests that Major League Baseball retire the number 21 in honor of Roberto Clemente, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates for 18 seasons in a highly successful baseball career, from 1955 through 1972.  He overcame the dual obstacles of both racism and language to become the first dark-skinned Latino player to achieve superstar status ...  At a time when baseball is in need of positive heroes and role models, when the integrity of the game is under assault, the retirement of Roberto Clemente's number 21 would serve as a fitting tribute and a testament of the best of America's "National Pastime."

Why a group of politicians in New Jersey is spending time drafting a resolution concerning a ballplayer from Pittsburgh is anybody's guess, but Clemente does have some presence in the state. There's a Roberto Clemente School — one of many across the country — in Paterson, N.J., and a $110,000 replica of Clemente's PNC Park statue was just unveiled in Newark.

I'm a little ambivalent about the thought that Clemente's No. 21 should be retired from duty across the league (once players like Nick Markakis and Jeff Francoeur are done being grandfathered in, of course).  Jackie Robinson's No. 42 is presently the only number that has received the exalted honor and I think that retiring more digits league-wide would take away from the symbolic singularity of Robinson's digits hanging on a wall in every ballpark.

Plus, it's not as if Clemente's memory is anywhere close to disappearing. He remains a giant of the game 40 years after his death and the sport's man of the year award — which goes to the player who "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team" — has been named after him since 1973. There are few athletes we've honored with more respect, diligence and longevity than Clemente.

I'm more of the thought that No. 21 should remain in circulation so willing ballplayers can pay tribute to the great man. You know, kind of like LaTroy Hawkins did in 2008 before ridiculous Yankee/Paul O'Neill fans shamed him into switching to No. 22.

What do you think? Should Clemente's No. 21 be retired league-wide?

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