June 13, 2006

Latinos petition baseball to retire Clemente’s 21

By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hispanic supporters delivered a
petition with 30,000 signatures on Tuesday asking Major League
Baseball to retire the jersey No. 21 belonging to Roberto
Clemente, one of the game's greatest Latin heroes.

The honor would recognize the growing status of Latin
American ballplayers in the U.S. national pastime at a time
when Hispanic immigrants are asserting their rights in U.S.
society amid a political debate about immigration policy.

Clemente, of Puerto Rico, was a Hall of Fame outfielder for
the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was revered for the way he lived --
as a proud ambassador for Latin America -- and how he died --
in a plane crash at age 38 while delivering relief supplies to
Nicaraguan earthquake victims on December 31, 1972.

Major League Baseball is considering the move but
acknowledged that one issue was whether it would dilute the
recognition given to the only player to have his number retired
throughout baseball, Jackie Robinson.

Robinson's No. 42 was retired from all Major League teams
in 1997 for the 50th anniversary of his breaking the color
barrier, when he became the first black player of the modern
era, joining the Brooklyn Dodgers.

"I think there's enough space for a great Latin American
alongside a great African American," said Fernando Mateo,
president of Hispanics Across America, who delivered the
petition in cardboard boxes to the league's office in

"It would be the best company that Jackie Robinson could
ever have," Mateo said.

The signatures were the first 30,000 of 100,000 to be
delivered this week, Mateo said.

But Robinson's daughter Sharon Robinson opposed retiring
Clemente's number, the New York Daily News reported.

"The purpose of retiring my father's number is that what he
did changed all of baseball, not only for African Americans but
also for Latinos, so I think that purpose has been met," she
told the paper in a January interview.

At the start of this season, 26 percent of Major League
players and 40 percent of minor leaguers were foreign born, the
overwhelming majority of them from Latin America, baseball
spokesman Richard Levin said.