With MLB players like Jackie robinson and Hank aaron having decorated heirlooms constantly on display, names like Roberto Clemente often find a place to rest in the shadow of history.
Two-time World Series champion, 15-time All-Star, 12-time Gold Glove winner in right field, Clemente’s 18 year career was nothing less than revolutionary.
Even more revolutionary, Clemente became the first Latin American player to reach the 3,000-hit mark and World Series MVP status in 1971.
Off the pitch, Clemente fought tirelessly for the equality of individuals who looked like him, whether they played ball or not.
These are just a few noble mentions of his everlasting heritage.
Roberto Clemente Day, which honors the life of a humanitarian and athlete who has worked for justice for all, coincides with the start of Hispanic Heritage Month on September 15. Nineteen years later, this special annual occasion is celebrated for the first time since the The black leagues were recognized as MLB.
But that’s not all that makes Roberto Clemente Day special this year.
Usually, the tradition of the day allows the Pittsburgh Pirates to wear the number 21 in honor of Clemente’s jersey number. With the blessing of the Clemente family, The MLB allowed all players of Puerto Rican descent to wear the number 21 on September 15. Extending that honor a little further, all MLB players were given this opportunity and optional “21” patches to wear on their jerseys during Roberto Clemente Day games.
While No.21 has yet to be retired league-wide like Robinson’s No.42, the aforementioned recognition could speed up this specific process. It would lend some well-deserved credibility to the argument that Clemente’s life and career should be remembered.
In Clemente’s honor, the MLB annually presents the Roberto Clemente Award to recognize the player who best represents baseball through sportsmanship and community involvement – values that Clemente considers important. Former San Diego State Commitment and current San Diego Padres pitcher Joe Musgrove is among the nominees for this year’s award.
In 1972, Clemente was tragically killed in plane crash en route to Nicaragua provide the country with post-earthquake resources. At just 38, he has accomplished what most people dream of not just in sports, but in a lifetime.
Instead of the league waiting for the standard five-year period that baseball players undergo to achieve Hall of Fame eligibility, Clemente was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame nearly a year after his death, making him the first player from Latin America to be retained in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Although the MLB was integrated for almost eight years when Clemente arrived, he was still subject to Jim Crow laws. Identify yourself as black, latino and puerto rican, there was no doubt that he would be confronted with the prevailing racism.
The media called Clemente “Bob” and quoted him using phonetic spelling to mock his accent. In addition, he could not publicly share meals or hotel rooms with his white teammates, a collective experience for black players in the league during this time.
Clemente, who was born and raised on the gradually integrated island of Puerto Rico, was disturbed by the segregationist society that apparently raged in America. This prompted him to use his power as a public figure for good while frequently questioning discrimination and inequality. The idea of staying silent and having the ‘just play ball’ mindset was something Clemente wouldn’t accept.
The diligence and perseverance that accompanied Clemente’s efforts to make baseball more welcoming is a big part of why he is a heroic and prominent member of the Latin American representation.
2021 Opening day lists featuring 256 players from 20 countries and territories, the majority of whom are Latin American. It is thanks to Clemente that these players can proudly wear their names on the back of their shirts, with accents and tildes.
Clemente and his untold impact on baseball and the fight for civil rights must not be ignored by history. There is hope as MLB seems to recognize this truth, but it is time for everyone to follow suit.
Trinity Bland is a senior student studying television, film, media and Spanish. Follow her on Twitter @trinityaliciaa.