MLB Celebrates Roberto Clemente Day
All Puerto Rican MLB players were allowed to wear No. 21 for the 19th annual Roberto Clemente Day on Sept. 9.
To begin the 2020 MLB season, there were 20 Puerto Rican-born players listed on rosters and inactive lists, the highest total since 2011. There are also MLB managers of Puerto Rican heritage: Charlie Montoyo of the Toronto Blue Jays and Dave Martinez of the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals.
In addition, athletes also have the option to wear a patch of the No. 21 to honor the legacy of the Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder.
The idea to wear Clemente's number began when Pirates third base coach Joey Cora, on behalf of Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton, asked the son of the late Hall of Famer, Roberto Clemente Jr., if the team could wear the number to commemorate his father on Sept. 9.
The Pirates later announced that all of their athletes and coaches would wear the club-retired No. 21 on their uniforms with the Clemente Day logo featured on the bases and dugout roster cards.
"Wearing No. 21 as a Puerto Rican, as a Pirate – it means a lot. It's a lot of responsibility, but hopefully, I can make him proud."
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, the longest-tenured active Puerto Rican-born major leaguer, along with Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario and pitcher José Berríos, donned No. 21 for the St. Louis Cardinals' doubleheader vs. the Minnesota Twins on Sept. 8, as both teams will not play on the 9th.
Former slugger Carlos Delgado was the last Puerto Rican player to wear No. 21. Sammy Sosa and Paul O'Neill, both right fielders, also wore No. 21 in honor of the outfielder. A Pirates player hasn't worn No. 21 on the diamond since Clemente passed on Dec. 31, 1972.
Clemente was the first Puerto Rican born-player and furthermore, Latin American player elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973.
In his 18-year career, he was a 4-time batting champion, 15-time All-Star, 12-time Gold Glove winner, member of the 3,000-hit club, 2-time World Series Champion, and National League and World Series MVP.
Said former New York Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher, when discussing Clemente's greatness:
"He hit the only walk off inside the park grand slam in the modern history of baseball and has a better batting average than the captain Derek Jeter, Mookie Betts, Albert Pujols and the great Mike Trout."
Clemente might have been best known for his contributions off the field.
The former-Marine spent his offseasons helping the his local and home communities before he died in a plane crash while attempting to take aid to Nicaragua following a devastating earthquake in 1972.
But the road to success wasn't an easy one, as Swisher details:
"Like [Jackie] Robinson, Clemente faced discrimination. And he faced it on two fronts: as a black man and as a Latin American man, whose first language was Spanish. But he persevered, and in 1960, he helped the Pirates win their first World Series title in 35 years."
MLB annually gives out the Roberto Clemente Award, known as "the most prestigious individual honor for major leaguers." It recognizes a player who "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team."
Nominees were announced last week and home teams will honor their nominees for the award on Sept. 9.
Athletes, MLB franchises, and even the Pittsburgh Penguins took to social media to celebrate Clemente's legacy: