Robinson's daughter wrong on Clemente
BY DREW SHARP
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
January 28, 2006
There's nothing dishonorable about protecting a family's legacy. But the First Daughter of racial inclusion in baseball should understand better than anybody else that courage and inspiration aren't limited to one man.
Sharon Robinson doesn't want Major League Baseball to put Roberto Clemente on the same level as her father, the great Jackie Robinson.
Baseball retired Robinson's No. 42 in 1997 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his first season in the major leagues, when he broke the color barrier. And now the Hispanics Across America advocacy group wants a comparable honor for Clemente, a beacon of motivation and hope.
"To my understanding," Robinson told the New York Daily News this week, "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.
"When you start retiring numbers across the board, for all different groups, you're kind of diluting the original purpose."
But she's missing the point of what her father was all about.
If Jackie Robinson symbolized inclusion, then wouldn't honoring his Hispanic equivalent only magnify Robinson's importance?
Her criticism of the Clemente movement comes across as "this is ours, and you can't share it."
And isn't that attitude a small reflection of the segregation her father valiantly fought nearly 60 years ago?
It's ridiculous to debate who was braver or whose path toward history proved more perilous. Both should be appreciated for the uniqueness of their circumstances. And if that means having both of their numbers appear side-by-side at ballparks all over the majors, then that just shows how we continue to make gains as a melting pot.
Major League Baseball has taken the Clemente proposal under advisement. It's a delicate situation because the lords of the game don't want to slap the face of the culture that continually provides baseball with its biggest stars.
The Hispanic influence will be on full display in March in the inaugural World Baseball Classic. When the All-Star Game came to Comerica Park last summer, it was a Who's Who of Latin-born stars.
And it all started with Clemente, the first Latino superstar. He thought he was an outcast, mocked and demeaned because he didn't quickly grasp English and basically was branded as a lesser light in God's eyes.
But Clemente maintained a quiet dignity, never lashing out at his detractors because he understood the long-term and far-reaching consequences.
Did Jackie Robinson open the door for all people of color? Absolutely. His courage cut a swath through Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Cuba as well as in the United States. But it's awfully close-minded for Sharon Robinson to think that the modern-day disciples of Latin heritage should worship only at the altar of her father's memory.
Clemente was as much if not more of a force behind the burgeoning numbers of Hispanics in the major leagues as Jackie Robinson.
Clemente joined the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955 -- eight years after Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was the first Latino to win a league most valuable award when he was named National League MVP in 1966.
He's a cultural icon not only for how he lived, but for how he died. He boarded a plane on New Year's Eve in 1972 to take supplies and other humanitarian aid from his native Puerto Rico to Nicaraguan earthquake victims. He was warned that the flight was risky because of excessive weight, but Clemente would not be left behind.
The plane crashed, and his body was never recovered.
Clemente was the first Latino elected to baseball's Hall of Fame, in 1973. Just weeks after his death, the Hall waived the five-year waiting period before eligibility.
Sharon Robinson asks: Where will the retiring of numbers end if baseball immortalizes Clemente's No. 21?
But the question should be: Why should we limit an honor to a man who personified inclusion?
Contact DREW SHARP at 313-223-4055 or email@example.com
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