Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Final Untouchable Number

42. Baseball and non-baseball fans alike know that the number was that of the late, great Jackie Robinson. The man that broke the color barrier in our nation's pastime made it famous. It's worn by no one, but in April each year, is worn by everyone. It's symbolic, and it adorns each Major League Baseball stadium throughout the country. 42, the number and the man, are among elite territory. There is however, one other number and man worthy of the same celebration.

Enter Roberto Enrique Clemente Walker.

As February begins, so too does Black History Month. With baseball becoming a game that continues to celebrate its diversity, now seems as pertinent of a time as ever to make the argument. Clemente, a native Puerto Rican and ambassador for nations around Latin America and the Caribbean, was as much an amazing baseball player as he was a human being.

Following his death, Clemente was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on March 30, 1973 garnering 92% of the vote. His career numbers totaled exactly 3,000 hits, over 200 home runs, a career average of .317, all while being a 12 time All-Star, 12 time Gold Glove winner, and once a league MVP. His 18 years of professional experience all spent with the Pittsburgh Pirates have gone down as some of the best the sport has ever witnessed.

Mentioned previously though, more importantly than who Clemente was on the diamond, was who he was off of it. Forever remembered by baseball, his namesake was placed on the Roberto Clemente Award. Each season a player with outstanding baseball skills as well as being personally involved in the community is recognized. The award is a virtual hat tip of Clemente commending a current player for striving to be even a semblance of what he once was.

Throughout his life, Clemente understood that the game was just that, and his purpose was much more. Offering of his time, talents, and treasures, he routinely made trips back to Latin America to better people whose situation he knew so well. Although continuing to perfect his craft in the game of baseball was of the utmost importance, it was also in the charity work he did that Clemente continued to push himself forth as a person.

A well documented and extremely sad end to a very young life, Clemente was aboard a plane that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on December 31, 1972. Ensuring the delivery of relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, Clemente's death was much of the same cloth as in the way he lived.

Now more than 40 years following his passing, we should be asking for more from baseball when it comes to one of its best ever. The number 21 should become synonymous with that of Jackie Robinson's 42. Adorning stadiums around the country, and retired by each team, a day in which we remember that being a great person is so much more important than being a great baseball player is a legacy that Clemente would have been proud of.

Dilution is something that can no doubt be a realm to tip toe around when it comes to retired jerseys. Robinson's accomplishments should never be overshadowed by anyone that steps into the ring with him, but this is what seemingly presents a perfect opportunity. Robinson and Clemente represent some of the best things the sport of baseball has to offer, and their celebration on a yearly occurrence, along with the reverence of their numerical retirement, should coexist harmoniously in a very logical way.

Whether it happens this year, or sometime far down the road, Roberto Clemente forever being called upon by the game he gave so much to is something that should no doubt be considered.

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