PITTSBURGH (AP) – In the latest effort to recognize the increasing numbers of Latin American baseball players, an advocacy group wants Major League Baseball to retire Roberto Clemente’s No. 21 by next year’s All-Star Game in Pittsburgh.

“We’re not doing this because he was the first Hispanic player to have 3,000 hits, or because he was a 12-time Gold Glove winner or 12-time All-Star,” said Fernando Mateo, president of New York-based Hispanics Across America. “We’re doing it because of the way he lived his life and the way he died.”

Clemente’s Hall of Fame career spanned 18 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He died at age 38 on Dec. 31, 1972, when a plane loaded with relief supplies for victims of a Nicaraguan earthquake crashed shortly after takeoff from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Clemente organized the relief effort and boarded the overloaded plane to make sure the supplies wound up in the hands of the needy.

“Giving your life is the ultimate sacrifice and if they were able to do it for Jackie Robinson, they should be able to do it for Roberto Clemente,” Mateo said.

Baseball retired Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 in 1997, the 50th anniversary of his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers as the league’s first black player.

While Clemente is far from its first Latin player – many credit Luis Castro, who was born in Colombia and played for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902 – he is arguably the most famous and is revered among Latin Americans.

His widow, Vera, continues to run the Roberto Clemente Sports City in Puerto Rico, a haven that gives poor youths a chance to participate in sports. Ballparks named after him dot Latin American countries.

Last month, baseball announced that fans could vote for a “Latino Legends Team,” six years after no Latin American player was selected to baseball’s All-Century Team. Clemente came closest, finishing 10th behind Pete Rose in balloting for nine outfield positions. The Latino Legends effort was organized to combat the notion that Latin ballplayers were being overlooked, even as their presence in the game has reached record numbers. More than 29 percent of players on opening day roster were born outside the United States, including 91 Dominicans, 46 Venezuelans, 34 Puerto Ricans and 18 Mexicans.

Fan balloting for the Latino team is ongoing, and the roster will be announced during the World Series.

Major League Baseball spokesman Rich Levin said it is taking the effort to retire Clemente’s number under advisement.

Mateo said Clemente’s family is supportive of the effort, but doesn’t want to speak publicly about it.

“The family was not involved in the creation of that movement, however, they honor and respect the wishes of the people,” said Ray Schulte, the Clemente family’s agent. “If it should come to fruition, they would be honored.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.