Today and every year – from last season – on September 15, Major League Baseball and its respective 32 franchises honor the life and legacy of Roberto Clemente.
Clemente played 18 seasons in the right field as a member of Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955-1972, and became a Hall of Fame player and person during his time in Western Pennsylvania.
Known as “The Great One”, Clemente won 12 gold gloves, four battle titles, two World Series titles (1960, 1971) – earned MVP in the 1971 series – made 16 All-Star appearances, and collected 1966 National League MVP awards with career heights in home runs (29) and RBI (119).
Clemente even recorded 3,000 hits in his career during his last regular season record for the 1972 season in what would be Clemente’s last.
One of the most talented and professional players of his generation, Clemente became one of the most talented members of the baseball world, but left an even greater and eternal impact on Latin American players.
After a devastating earthquake two days before Christmas in Nicaragua killed 7,000 people, Clemente was determined to help in any way possible and help the people of Nicaragua recover from the tragedy.
Clemente managed a Puerto Rican All-Star team in the Amateur Baseball World Series Tournament in Nicaragua just one month earlier.
Clemente, a native of Puerto Rico, packed a plane with supplies destined for Nicaragua on New Year’s Eve 1972, and boarded the plane to ensure that supplies would be received by the most needy after previous food and other aid was stolen before being distributed to the intended recipients.
The plane was packed and overflowing with resources, which eventually resulted in too much strain for the plane to support, and sealed the fate of the pirates’ most iconic figure.
Clemente and four others died tragically when the plane crashed into the sea just shortly after takeoff. Roberto’s body was never found.
The news destroyed the baseball world along with the people of Nicaragua and Puerto Rico, when Clemente died a hero in his selfless humanitarian act.
Clemente was then elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown by a special election in 1973, bypassing any waiting time normally required for induction.
In September 2020, each member of Pirates # 21 donated courage Chicago White Sox, the first time the number has been used by a Pittsburgh player in the regular season since Clemente tipped the hat of the Three Rivers Stadium crowd after hitting 3,000.
21 will once again be represented by the Bucs against the Reds on Wednesday, with the honor ranging from only players of Puerto Rican descent to nominated and active winners of the Roberto Clemente Award. Players throughout the league can also request to use Clemente’s number to pay their respects and respect. All MLB uniforms will also contain a special memory patch.
The decision by MLB has moved Clemente’s legacy to the spotlight every mid-September, with the potential for increased recognition in the future.
Over the past 10 years, Pirates fans and supporters across baseball have raised awareness that the league should pay Clemente a similar tribute to Jackie Robinson for breaking the color barrier on April 15, 1947.
Clemente paved the way for Latin American players as the first Puerto Rican player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and laid the foundation for future generations to arrive in the United States and succeed in pro baseball.
Clemente’s community service and commitment to the communities of Pittsburgh and Puerto Rico is an example that is few and far between other players outside Robinson in the 152 years of Major League Baseball.
Baseball renamed the previous Commissioner Awards after Clemente in 1973, but Clemente Day was not established until 2002, with increased recognition in the last two seasons as well.
The sport does not have to put Clemente on the same pedestal as Robinson, but a cross below would suffice. Clemente deserves to be honored and forever valued for opening doors to new opportunities for players who have influenced the game since Roberto’s passing.
Popular # Retire21 has flooded social media over the past decade and has continued to help push the work for Clemente’s numbers to be etched in stone along with all the other retired numbers in the organization.
It’s time to reward The Great One with one of the greatest awards in baseball, 21 who is retired forever, so when children of today’s age take the kids to the ball field one day and they ask, “Who is that no. 21 in writing in black and gold? Roberto Clemente will always be remembered as one of baseball’s greatest players and people who have ever walked the earth.