by Hannah Begay | Each year MLB celebrates the life and legacy of Roberto Clemente, the first Puerto Rican-born player to ever play in the major leagues. For the first time, Puerto Rican-born players will be able to wear number 21 in honor of Clemente. On September 9, the Pittsburgh Pirates players and coaches wore number 21 around the league teams to celebrate Clemente.
Getting His Start
Clemente was first signed by the Dodgers in 1954 for a mere $10,000 bonus. The Dodgers sent him to the minor leagues. There was a rule in place at this time that said any minor leaguer making more than $4,000 on a bonus must be on a major league roster. Hence, the Dodgers lost Clemente. A Pittsburgh team in need of a pick-me-up signed him, leading to his major league debut on April 1, 1955. As cheesy as it sounds, the rest was history. Clemente went on to win 12 Gold Gloves and 4 National League batting titles. He played all 18 seasons with the Pirates and quickly gained the attention of fans and was the first to reach 3,000 career hits in 1972.
A Great Man
Clemente was an all-around great man. He dazzled on the field and even more off the field. As one of baseball’s greatest humanitarians, he was an advocate for the fair treatment of Latin baseball players. Clemente worked to erase the standards set around Latin Americans and Blacks – this was one of his greatest accomplishments.
“Roberto Clemente was to Latinos what Jackie Robinson was to Black baseball players,” said a close friend of Clemente. “He spoke up for Latinos; he was the first one to speak out.”
Clemente died in a plane crash in 1972, becoming part of the Baseball Hall of Fame shortly thereafter.
The Pittsburgh Pirates retired number 21 in 1973, and other players such as Paul O’Neil and Sammy Sosa have worn 21 in honor of Clemente.
Clemente’s Impact Today
This weekend 21 will be brought back out with the approval of the Clemente family and all players will have the option to wear a 21 patch signifying Clemente Day. The Pirates take on the White Sox at home on Clemente Day with festivities starting at 6:30 PM with a pre-game ceremony.
Featured image via Daily American.