Son defends request to retire Clemente's number

NEW YORK -- One of Roberto Clemente's sons says the request that baseball retire his father's No. 21 is being misunderstood.

Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball's color barrier in 1947, and his No. 42 was retired for all teams on April 15, 1997 -- the 50th anniversary of his big league debut. Some Latinos are pushing to get the same status for the number of Clemente, who died in a plane crash Dec. 31, 1972, while trying to deliver relief supplies following an earthquake in Nicaragua.

Clemente's team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, retired his number in 1973.

"It's not based on being the first Latino," Luis Clemente said. "It's more as a person -- who he was and what he taught. That's why still today newborns are given the name Roberto or Clemente in admiration."

Luis Clemente and Roberto Clemente Jr. attended a news conference Monday held by the Hall of Fame, which is launching a traveling "Baseball! Beisbol!" exhibit honoring Latino baseball.

Sharon Robinson, Jackie Robinson's daughter, was quoted by the New York Daily News last week as saying baseball shouldn't retire Clemente's number for all teams.

"To my understanding, 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 said. "When you start retiring numbers across the board, for all different groups, you're kind of diluting the original purpose."

Baseball spokesman Rich Levin declined comment.

Speaking at the news conference, Roberto Clemente Jr. said his family was "100 percent with Sharon" but also spoke of his father's contributions.

"My father was the 87th Latino to be in the major leagues, but he was the first one ... to be able to speak up and become an activist against prejudice, not only in baseball but also in society, and that took a lot to be able to do that," he said.

Roberto Clemente was a 12-time All-Star, 12-time Gold Glove winner and four-time batting champion who had exactly 3,000 hits in 18 seasons. He was 38 when he died.

Hall of Famers Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Luis Aparacio and Tony Perez attended the news conference. Marichal said he had read Sharon Robinson's remarks and said of Clemente: "He also should be recognized by [every] baseball player in the world."

Baseball's Hall of Fame is receiving $5 million over five years from Citgo, which is sponsoring the exhibit. Part of the initiative will be a forum at July's All-Star Game in Pittsburgh to commemorate Roberto Clemente.