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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Off the TePoel

Americans Have a Choice to Make (and no it's not Obama or McCain)

There's a movement going on around this country, but you may have not heard about it as yet. Much like the seemingly endless presidential campaigns, this one has been going on for quite some time. Even longer, actually.

This campaign is the movement to retire Roberto Clemente's #21 across the board in baseball, just like Jackie Robinson's #42. MLB honored Jackie Robinson and his surviving family members with this distinct honor back on April 15, 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson's debut. Robinson's entrance into the major leagues is widely considered one of the most influential events in not just baseball's history, but America's as well. Robinson ended sixty years of segregation in the national pastime during a time when many white people still believed whites and blacks should be separated in most aspects of life. It took America several more years to break the color line outside of baseball.

Sixty years later the number of African-Americans in Major League baseball has shrunk to only 8.4 percent of the league, the lowest point since the 80's and dropping from as high as 19 percent in 1995. Conversely, now the Major Leagues are made up of 30 percent Latin American players, a minority that has contributed to the game just as much as any other, but has been surging in recent years. Perhaps the greatest Latin American icon is Puerto Rican born Roberto Clemente. Many are now demanding his number be retired as well. 

Clemente and Robinson were both excellent ballplayers, World Series champs, and hall of famers. Clemente's statistics are better because he played longer. Robinson may have been the better player overall, but it's debatable. Robinson was a fierce competitor and had more speed. Clemente's legacy was firmly established after his life was cut short during a humanitarian mission to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Majestically, he collected his 3,000th hit in his last game. 

But Clemente did not just die a humanitarian. That's how he lived his whole life.

I won't go into the details of either Robinson's or Clemente's lives, but I'd suggest you take some time and learn about these extraordinary men. The question isn't whether Clemente is deserving of having his number retired or not. Of course he is. The issue is, does retiring Clemente's number open a can of worms? Does it diminish the meaning of Robinson's number being retired? Some argue if Clemente's number is retired, then so should Babe Ruth's, Willie Mays', and perhaps more. 

Baseball has set aside some significant honors for Mr. Clemente. He is one of only two players to have the five year waiting period waived for his entrance into the Hall of Fame. Every year during the World Series, MLB hands out the Roberto Clemente award to a player who most exemplifies the model of Clemente's humanitarian work. So why retire his number? One pressing argument is because he had to deal with the same racism as Jackie, and another is the magnitude of Clemente's influence on Latin American players.

Retire 21 is the group that established the movement. It began a few years ago when they started petitions and sought the support of city councils to urge Bud Selig to take action. They offer several of their own reasons for the campaign. Interestingly enough, one of them seems to be a knock against Major League baseball for recruiting cheap talent in third world countries rather than in America's inner cities. Hence the decline of African-Americans and rise of Latin Americans.

Check out their website at www.retire21.org. They're making some headway and have the support of several current and former players including Tim McCarver. Others detract like Wade Boggs. Some like Bob Feller say go right ahead, but not until you've retired the Babe's. 

What do you think? It's your choice America. 

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