In Light of Roberto Clemente Day, Here is My Idea for No. 21

Pittsburgh Pirates' outfielder Roberto Clemente in March 1967.AP file

Roberto Clemente was a humanitarian first, a Puerto Rican second, and a Major League Baseball player third.  Known as "The Great One", Clemente's passions were helping those in need in the Latin American community and growing the game of baseball in and around Puerto Rico.  He would return each offseason to Puerto Rico and play winter ball in the Puerto Rican League, while also providing baseball clinics to young players, and spend time with his family.  He truly was "The Great One."

In fact, as most know, it was a humanitarian effort that ultimately led to Clemente's death in December of 1972.  There had been a massive earthquake in Nicaragua and Clemente was leading relief efforts.  He had received news that the Nicaraguan army had stolen relief supplies meant for the people, and that's when he decided to accompany the next supply plane.  Shortly after takeoff on New Year's Eve 1972, the plane crashed and Clemente was killed.  

The Roberto Clemente Award

In honor of his extraordinary humanitarian spirit, each Major League Baseball clubhouse nominates an individual for the Roberto Clemente Award each year.  The award is "given annually to a player who demonstrates the values Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente displayed in his commitment to community and understanding the value of helping others."  The winner is selected from the 30 nominees during the World Series.  The award was named after Clemente in 1973.

Lately, there have been many who feel that the No. 21 should be retired throughout Major League Baseball.  Equal to the impact Jackie Robinson had for African American players, Roberto Clemente paved the way for Latin American players in the MLB.  However, I think there is a better way to honor the Great One than the retiring of his number.

While it is honor in itself to be granted the Roberto Clemente Award for work done in your community, the prize could be even greater.  I think a great way to honor Clemente is to grant the winner of the award each season the ability to wear No. 21 for the following season and nobody else.  I can't think of a greater honor than being the only one in the entire MLB to get to wear Clemente's number for a year because you exhibited the value of helping others among all other players.  

Your jersey, for a full season, would be stamped with the honor of being in the same conversation as the Great One.  I cannot think of a more motivating factor to go out in your community, as a player, and help those in need.  Perhaps you could even expand it to all of the nominees.  Many jersey numbers have been retired, with Jackie Robinson's being the only one throughout all of baseball.  However, no numbers to this point have been granted as a prize for those who truly show a commitment to their community like Roberto Clemente had for Puerto Rico. 

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