While in New York City for a conference last week, I was chatting with a hotel doorman (I realize how Upper Crusty-New Yorky this sounds; for some perspective, the hotel in question was a Comfort Inn, not the Ritz Carlton). I mentioned to this gentleman, named William Garcia, that I was headed home to Pittsburgh, and that I was a little concerned about my Pirates.
His eyes lit up. "Roberto!" he said, and launched into a passionate discussion of Roberto Clemente's legend. A native of Puerto Rico, he said he's always idolized Clemente, despite being a Yankees fan at heart.
"He was a great man," Garcia said of Clemente. "Not just a great baseball player but a great man. He died trying to help people he didn't even know."
Garcia is among the people still trying to convince Major League Baseball that Clemente's number should be retired across the league, that no other player should ever wear it. This is an honor reserved for few players in any sport; no MLB player will ever wear No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson after it was retired in 1997 (although players wearing it at the time were allowed to keep it), and no future NHL player will ever again wear Wayne Gretzky's No. 99.
But current MLB commissioner Bud Selig said in 2009 that there were no plans to retire Clemente's No. 21 league-wide. The Pirates retired it in 1973.
With Selig announcing last month he would retire after the 2014 season, is it finally time for William Garcia and all the other Roberto Clemente fans to again take up the cause of retiring No. 21?
With the Pirates in the playoffs for the first time in 21 years, all signs seem to be saying, "Yes, yes it is."
Note: The site is undergoing a redesign right now, but the efforts to retire Clemente's number live online here: http://retire21.org/