The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Bob Smizik is of the opinion that enough has already been done to honor the late Roberto Clemente. (link courtesy Repoz and Baseball Think Factory)
At a time when the Pirates blatantly ignore some of their other greats, like Paul Waner, there’s no need to overdo the focus on Roberto Clemente.
But that’s what a group called Hispanics Across America is doing. It is the intent of this group to have Clemente’s number retired by every team in baseball.
The only player in any major professional sport accorded such treatment is Jackie Robinson. It should stay that way.
Fernando Mateo, president of Hispanics Across America, said: “We’re not doing this because he was the first Hispanic player to have 3,000 hits or because he was a 12-time Gold Glove winner or a 12-time All-Star. We’re doing it because of the way he lived his life and the way he died.”
Sorry, even if we actually knew how Clemente led his life, that doesn’t approach the standard Robinson set for number retirement across the sport.
No question, MLB is entirely capable of caving in on this issue since, after all, it’s all about marketing. If it does, will the number of an Asian player be similarly honored? Ten years from now will there be an outcry to retire Ichiro Suzuki’s No. 51?
What about Jewish players, who received heavy doses of anti-Semitism? Will there be a demand to have the number 32 of Sandy Koufax retired in every stadium?
That might sound silly, but no more so than the movement to retire Clemente’s number throughout baseball.
Given that some of today’s players and fans know little of Clemente’s accomplishments on or off the field, I think there’s little danger of “overdoing the focus”. I’m not crazy about every club retiring the same player’s number, but the Ichiro and Koufax comparisons show that Smizik really doesn’t grasp the cultural significance that Clemente holds for many of those old enough to have seen him play.