Thursday, August 25, 2005

Clemente's Number, Robinson, No Aces and other stuff

Before I get into last night's debacle, I want to talk about this newspaper poll concerning Pirates great, Roberto Clemente. With a new documentary coming out on the Latin Baseball explosion and Hispanic Heritage Month coming up in October, The Daily News has come out with a poll asking readers whether MLB should retire Clemente's number 21. This means that no other team can ever reissue that number. Jackie Robinson's number 42 was the first to ever be retired by MLB.

Now let me start off by saying that I never saw Clemente play in person or live on television. He died the year I was born (1972). I only know about him from what I've read and seen on film\videotape. He was a fantastic player and a great ambassador for the game. First ballot hall of famer.

But he does not deserve to have his number retired by MLB

That might not be the popular consensus with some. Some are going to point out the Latin explosion in baseball and point to Clemente. They would be correct in pointing out that Clemente is the patron saint for Latin ballplayers. One of the first Latin superstars. Some would say that he was as good a ballplayer as Jackie Robinson, maybe better. That he was a humanitarian of the first order. I wouldn't dispute any of this.

He still doesn't deserve the honor.

What Jackie Robinson did in 1947, by breaking baseball's color barrier, is not only the most significant moment in American sports...It is one of the most significant moments in 20th Century American history. His emergence in the majors predates Truman's desegregation of the military by a year. Brown vs Board Ed by 7. The Voting Rights Act by 18. People forget (thankfully I never lived through it) what America was like in the first part of the century. How segregated this country was. Even in the North (though not to the degree of the South). America wasn't an Apartheid-like nation. It was an Apartheid state. Separate but equal was the law of the land for over half a century. Robinson's success helped to change all that. Helped change the way America looks at itself.

Robinson wasn't just a great baseball player. He's an historic figure. I'm going to get in trouble for saying this. But he's baseball's version of Abraham or Jesus Christ. After his coming, you can't possibly view the game or the world in the same way. As great as many of the pre-World War II players were, there will be always be questions of how good they were because they didn't play against the best black and Latin ballplayers of their era. With Robinson's arrival in 1947, the entire game's landscape changed within 10 years. Not just because of the way he played the game. But because he became a star, he opened the door for the Mays', the Aarons, the Campanellas and yes, the Clementes.

Without Robinson, there are no black Latins in the majors. Yes, there were some in the minors before World War II. But Robinson's success blazed a trail for teams to start serious scouting in Latin America as well. You could argue that the Latin explosion has resulted in MLB's neglect of Black American athletes. Allowing them to play football and basketball instead of recruiting them to the diamond to its detriment. But that's another story for another time.

So to Latinos who like to say that Clemente was their Jackie Robinson.... I say no, Jackie Robinson was your Jackie Robinson.

And all of this doesn't even deal with Jackie's social activism during and after his playing career. While he did have some burps in that arena (campaigning for Nixon), he remained a progressive in his own way for the remainder of his life.

The only player of equal or superior significance in baseball is Babe Ruth. Ruth not only saved the game after the Black Sox scandal, he changed the way the game was played. And I don't see anyone rushing to retire number 3.

I don't want to disparage Clemente's legacy. I have a picture of him with Aaron and Mays in my office. I'm in awe of the players of that era. But to retire number 21 would be water down what 1947 and number 42 means. You can't compare a SuperNova to the Big Bang.

Believe it or not, I'm not at all surprised with what happened to Moose last night. Yes, he's been pitching well, but he's essentially a 100 pitch pitcher at this stage of his career. And because of the Yankees pitching problems, he's been over-extending himself lately. He gets his six or seven innings, but usually with a very high pitch count. Not Leiter high, but high enough. Add that to the very inconsistent strike zone that's being called this year by the umps...I'm not surprised that Moose ran into some problems.

Hopefully, all this "Moose is our ace" stuff will die a very quick and timely death. Maybe in the mid-nineties with Baltimore, you could say that about him. He's never been an ace with New York. A solid two or three. On occasion, a 1-A. Never the ace. And I'm not trying to dog Mike. He's been a good pitcher for us. He's won a lot of big games for us over the last five years. But when I thought about who I needed to have on the mound in a do-or-die game, I thought about Clemens, Cone, Wells, Pettitte or El Duque. I never thought Moose. Not to say he wouldn't win. But he was never the first name to pop in my mind. He's probably the most consistent pitcher we've had here over the last half decade. Not the most dominant.

Having said that. The Yankees don't have an ace. A "Give me the damn ball, I've got this one in the bag" guy. Randy Johnson would like to be that guy, but he's been inconsistent all season. The rest of the group have acquitted themselves nicely, but throwing a couple of quality starts doesn't make you an ace. The Yankee pitching staff has come together quite nicely despite all the injuries. The fact that they've done this without an ace to point to is to their credit. But it doesn't change the fact that they don't have one.

In other news, Schilling has been mouthing off about Palmiero. Even though he's right, I just wish he would shut up. He forgets his own disgraceful performance in front of Congress. Where he pretty much went mum after mouthing off for a year about steroids. What a blowhard...


Blogger Kat said...

hey, what about retiring the babe's number 3 throughout baseball? if number 21 does retire throughout MLB, does that mean paul oneill gets his number retired as well?? ;-) I'm so iffy about this subject, it's gotta sink in for me to really give a full hearted comment. As for Moose last night, he's off my cute list!

7:52 AM  
Blogger Metstradamus said...

Why stop there?

Let's retire 16 throughout MLB for the first Japanese born player in the majors: Hideo Nomo
Let's retire 61 throughout MLB for the first Korean: Chan Ho Park
Let's retire Craig Shipley's number 35 for being the first Austrailian player.
Ching Feng Chen was the first Taiwanese player in the majors, so 52 is next.
Of course, let's immortalize 32 for Danny Graves (Vietnam).

9:30 AM  
Blogger Darth Marc said...


If the Yankees want to retire Paul O'Neill's number, they can do so. You just would two number 21's out there. One for Clemente, one for Paul. Like they have for Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra (#8).

Infidel Metstra...

Duck under your table because I think we're both about keel over like the cast of Six Feet Under. Why? Because we're in complete agreement.

Darth Marc

10:02 AM  

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