- Marly Rivera is a writer for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.
Major League Baseball and the Pittsburgh Pirates will honor Roberto Clemente’s life and legacy by recognizing his No. 21 in an unprecedented manner.
When MLB celebrates Roberto Clemente Day on Sept. 9, all Pirates players and coaches will wear No. 21 on their jerseys. Since Clemente’s death, no Pirates player has worn No. 21 on the field of play. The Pirates play the Chicago White Sox that night at PNC Park.
“Our staff and players are excited to wear the number 21 with pride as we constantly search for ways to not only honor Roberto’s legacy but to keep his memory alive through our community actions,” Pirates chairman Bob Nutting said in a release Wednesday. “We recognize what this moment represents for all of us within the organization, the Clemente Family, our fans and the people of Puerto Rico. We take great pride in representing such a great ambassador of the game.”
The first Roberto Clemente Day was observed by MLB in 2002, and it has been celebrated annually across baseball each September since then. MLB also honors players who best represent Clemente’s spirit with the Roberto Clemente Award, which recognizes their humanitarian endeavors as much as on their on-field performance.
The Puerto Rican-born Clemente, the first Latin American player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, is a venerated figure for his achievements on and off the field. Among those achievements: 15-time All-Star, 12-time Gold Glove winner, member of the 3,000-hit club, four-time batting champion and National League and World Series MVP. As a result, Latin players have advocated that Clemente’s No. 21 be retired across baseball, the way MLB did with Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.
Robinson’s indelible mark on baseball in breaking the color barrier was celebrated in 1997, when his No. 42 was retired at a ceremony at Shea Stadium that commemorated the 50th anniversary of his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Months after his death, Clemente was only the second player to have the mandatory five-year waiting period waived for Hall of Fame induction. He died in a plane crash at age 38 on New Year’s Eve 1972; he had been attempting to bring humanitarian aid to people affected by a devastating earthquake in Nicaragua.
The cargo plane crashed off Puerto Rico’s northeast coast, and Clemente’s body was never recovered. Most experts have agreed in their assessment that Clemente’s plane went down because it was overweight by thousands of pounds, aid the Puerto Rican star insisted not be removed from the aircraft.
Clemente has been honored in many impactful ways by the city of Pittsburgh and the Pirates, who erected a 21-foot right-field wall in his honor. PNC Park also has a Clemente statue outside the left-field gate, which serves as the landing of the Roberto Clemente Bridge.
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