Updated: April 21, 2015



By:-Gary Norris Gray-BASN Staff Reporter

Oakland, Ca. -A massive earthquake happened on December 23rd 1972.  The earthquake not only shook up the Central American state of Nicaragua and the city of Managua; It also shook up Major League Baseball and the Pittsburgh Pirates. On New Years Eve 1972-73Baseball lost one of the greatest Latin baseball players of our times . All Star – Hall of Fame Outfielder Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash delivering aid to the earthquake victims.

The sad part is that it never should have happened. If the Somoza government had delivered the previous shipments of goods to the needy. Packages were diverted by greedy government officials. This time Clemente flew with this New Years Day shipment and perished in the crash. His plane was never found.

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Major League Baseball should have his famous number 21 retired as a tribute to Clemente and the Latin players that have gifted this great American game.

This past month there was a Civil Rights Game in honor of Jackie Robinson. The game was played  at Chavez Ravine, Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles. It was the 8th year when every player donned the number 42 in tribute to Robinson. The same should be done for number 21, Roberto Clemente.

Jackie was the first African American to break baseball’s color line in 1947. MLB retired Number 42 in 1997 the 50th anniversary of this courageous man stepping on the field. Number 42 will never be worn. MLB should also be thinking about retiring another number, and that would be number 21 in honor of the first wave of Latino players in the 1950’s and Roberto Clemente.

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Clemente changed the game with his energy, speed, arm, and power. Clemente was the forgotten star with Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Mickey Mantle taking the baseball world by storm in the late 50’s and early 60’s Clemente got lost in the shuffle.

Clemente not only had to learn the intricacies of the professional game, he also had to deal with a new culture, a new language, and a bigoted racial attitude.

Number 21 also had to deal with Americans who thought he was African American because he was dark skinned and was treated as such in the 1950’s. Playing in the minor leagues in the old south was a challenge that he overcame. He never understood the racial divide in the United States which was so unlike his native Puerto Rico where there were people of every hue.

Clemente moved to Montreal to play with the Montreal Royals after signing with the Dodgers on February 19, 1954. The climate and language differences affected him early on, but he received the assistance of his teammate Joe Black, who was able to speak Spanish. A scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates Clyde Sukeforth, noticed that Clemente was being used as a bench player for the Royals and discussed the possibility of drafting Clemente to the Pittsburgh Pirates with the team’s manager, Max Macon. Clemente hit .257 in 87 games that summer. The Pirates selected Clemente as the first selection of the rookie draft that took place on November 22, 1954.Roberto_Clemente

The American sports writers made fun of the way he spoke in broken English. They knew what he was trying to say but they wrote it with Spanish intonations, mocked him. Reporters called him a hot dog, lazy, and aloof when he did not play a day game after a night game, something that is done all the time today. Roberto’s pride was often mistaken for arrogance, something players of color are dealing with today. The last insult was not using his correct name. Roberto, the writers and broadcasters wanted to Anglicize it using the term Bobby or Bob. Latin players are still dealing with this prejudges for example “Saturday Night Live” did a skit about Sammy Sosa with the words “Basebol been berry, berry, good to me”, … not the English adaptation, baseball has been very good to me.

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That would end in the 1971 World Series when the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Baltimore Orioles in seven games. Roberto Clemente beat the Birds all by himself with a hit in every game and two critical putouts at home plate. Clemente became a Super star. Americans would see number 21 one more year before his untimely death.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are still the only team to start a complete Black team with the help of Black Latinos and Doc Ellis on the mound.

Clemente was a National League Most Valuable Player in 1966. He was a 15 time All Star and a Four Time Batting Champion. He also won two World Series with twelve gold gloves. Every time number 21 stepped on the field the fans were guaranteed to see something spectacular.

Remember that Three Rivers Stadium had Astroturf and players had to cut ground balls off before they  would wiz passed them and hit the wall. Clemente did this with ease

Clemente was a National League Most Valuable player in 1966. He was a 15 time All Star and four time batting titles. He won two World Series with twelve gold gloves. Every time number 21 stepped on the field the fans were guarantee to see something spectacular .     3 rivers stadium

It is time for Major League Baseball to do the right thing and retire a second number 21 in honor of the league’s Latin players and Roberto, not Bobby, Clemente.

Gary Norris Gray – Writer, Author, Historian. Gibbs Magazine-Oakland, California and New England Informer- Boston Mass. THE GRAYLINE:- The Analects of A Black Disabled Man, The Gray Leopard Cove, Soul Tree Radio In The Raw, and The Batchelor Pad Network on Disabled Community Activist. Email at

©Copyrighted Gary Norris Gray @ Gray Leopard Prod


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