TRENTON – A measure sponsored by Senator M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) respectfully requesting that Major League Baseball retire the number 21 in honor of baseball legend Roberto Clemente was approved unanimously yesterday by the full Senate.
Approval of the resolution follows the June 3 unveiling of a bronze statue in Newark honoring the life of Clemente, a Hall of Fame inductee who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates for 18 seasons, and was killed in a plane crash on a relief mission to bring supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
The 8-foot-statue is located in Essex County Branch Brook Park in the North Ward, where Clemente’s family members were joined by city and state officials and thousands of fans to celebrate his life.
“Forty years after his death, Roberto Clemente is revered and appreciated, even by those who never had the privilege of watching him play,” said Ruiz. “While he was a gifted and talented athlete, he was a man recognized outside of the game for his compassion, generosity and humanitarian concern for people in need. For that reason, he continues to serve as a role model to children in the Latino community, to Newarkers and to people across the globe. Retiring his number is a fitting honor for a man who made such tremendous contributions 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.
Roberto 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. In his honor, the Newark Bears retired the number 21 jersey in 2009 at a ceremony at the Riverfront Stadium. Senator 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 Senator Ruiz. “He was an outstanding major league baseball player, but also made significant contributions to a better world that extended beyond the game and continue to inspire generations of Newark residents. His legacy will be celebrated and honored for years to come.”
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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