TRENTON – A state Senate committee unanimously approved a measure sponsored by state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) Monday that asks Major League Baseball retire the number 21 in honor of baseball legend Roberto Clemente.
Clemente, a Hall of Fame inductee who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates for 18 seasons, was killed in a plane crash on a relief mission to bring supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
“Roberto Clemente was not only an outstanding major league baseball player, he was a role model for children in the Latino community, for people across the country and around the globe,” said Ruiz. “Retiring his number is a fitting honor for a man who made such tremendous contributions both to the world of baseball and to the world as a whole.”
Born in Puerto Rico, Clemente played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in a highly successful baseball career, from 1955 through 1972. He overcame dual obstacles of both racism and language to become the first dark-skinned Latino player to achieve superstar status. His accomplishments as a Major League Baseball player include: collecting 3,000 hits, winning four National League batting titles, a .317 lifetime batting average, and 12 Gold Glove awards making him arguably the best defensive right fielder of all time.
Clemente was voted the Most Valuable Player of the 1971 World Series, and made history by addressing a national television audience in Spanish during the clubhouse celebration. Following the 1972 baseball season, Clemente organized a relief effort designed to provide emergency assistance to the victims of a Nicaraguan earthquake. In order to ensure that essential supplies reached those for whom they were intended, Clemente decided to fly to Nicaragua on a cargo plane – a mission from which he would never return. On December 31, 1972, the plane carrying Roberto Clemente crashed into the sea, killing everyone on board.
Clemente was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, becoming only the second player for whom the five-year mandatory waiting period was waived. The Newark Bears held a ceremony at Riverfront Stadium to honor his number 21 jersey in 2009. Ruiz said his number should be retired by Major League Baseball as both a fitting tribute to a remarkable athlete and human being and as a testament of the best that America’s “National Pastime” has to offer.
“Roberto Clemente was a hero in life and death,” said Ruiz. “Not only was he a gifted and talented athlete who was respected and loved by his teammates and his fans, he was a man who was recognized outside of the game for his compassion, generosity and humanitarian concern for people around the world.”
Upon passage by both houses of the Legislature, duly authenticated copies of this concurrent resolution (SCR-27), signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the Assembly, and attested by each house’s respective clerks, would be transmitted to Major League Baseball and to the Commissioner of Baseball.
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