Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Great Moments in Pandering

The New York City Council has passed a resolution will debate a resolution today (Update: it has passed) asking baseball to retire Roberto Clemente's number 21 for all teams just like Jackie Robinson's 42 was retired several years ago. Their basis: Clemente was the first Hispanic ballplayer.

Wait, er, that's not right because he wasn't. Their basis: Clemente was the first Puerto Rican ballplayer.

Um, nope, he wasn't that either. How about this: their basis: Clemente was the first Hispanic star.

Damn, this is getting hard. I guess we're left with this: their reason for wanting to honor Clemente is to pander to an important New York City voting demographic.

Yes, that seems to fit nicely.

Look, I love Roberto Clemente. Fabulous ballplayer. An even better human being. But that can be said about a lot of players, and we don't go retiring their numbers all willy nilly. The best way to honor Clemente is to (a) not forget his accomplishments and, ultimately, his sacrifice; and (b) allow players who wish to honor his legacy to actually wear number 21 -- as many have done since he died -- rather than hang it up in ballparks to collect dust.

If they do go ahead and retire number 21 anyway? Look out, because the floodgates will open. Sure, no one would argue with honoring Hank Greenberg or whoever the first Jewish ballplayer was (Update: the judges will accept Lip Pike), but things are going to start looking silly when the Dutch lobby gets Bert Blyleven's number retired or the Canucks pull strings for Bill Phillips.

Update: Deaner from Blue Collar Baseball disagrees with me, as I imagine a lot of people do. Can't help it. I'm just not a big fan of gestures and symbolism and stuff, even when it's well-intentioned.

Update: I may not have Deaner, but I do have the New York Post:

Few players would merit such an honor more than Clemente - a Hall of Famer and a tireless humanitarian. Indeed, he was killed in a 1972 plane crash while delivering disaster-relief aid in earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua.

But only one number has ever been retired league-wide: Jackie Robinson's 42.

That decision was announced on the 50th anniversary of Robinson's breaking the sport's color barrier - suggesting that baseball knows how best to honor its groundbreaking players.

And it does: The league presents the Roberto Clemente Award every year to the player who best embodies Clemente's humanitarian spirit.

But the council, forever in search of ways to justify itself, now figures it knows better.

It's simply beyond comprehension.

Get a life, councilpersons.


urayoan said...

Shyster - I love your blog, but the article clearly states that no resolution has yet passed. From pragraph 2 - "The council will debate a resolution today calling on the commissioner of baseball, Allan "Bud" Selig, to permanently set aside Clemente's number in honor of the player's achievements on and off the field."

Shyster said...

Thanks for catch, urayoan (In my defense I plead 5:30AM blogging). I'll correct it in the post ASAP

Deaner said...

We will have to agree to disagree on this one.

Shyster said...

That's cool, Deaner. I can't win 'em all.

64cardinals said...

Shouldn't Bob Uecker have his number retired as the first ballplayer to star in his own sitcom? I mean, fair is fair.

Shyster said...

Not until Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich have their numbers retired for being the first ballplayers to swap wives . . .

barrypopik said...

I agree completely. Your arguments make absolute sense. Clemente was a great ballplayer and a great human being, and he's received many honors. Even in New York City (where he did not play professionally), Clemente has been honored.

Retiring numbers, however, is just too much.

What does the New York City Council have to do with baseball uniform numbers? Shouldn't they be worried that New York City can't pay its bills?

What about Native American ballplayers? People like Jim Thorpe, who actually played for the New York Giants? Clemente is better than Thorpe? Or is it that the Native American vote just ain't bean bag in New York City?

This is political pandering, nothing more and nothing less. We should all be above that.

Dozen! said...

This is all part of a vast conspiracy to force ballplayers to wear fractional numbers a la Futurama.

jk said...

The NYC Council was defanged in the 70's, when the City went broke. Most of the legislative power was given to the NY State Legislature. The NYC Council has been reduced to recent debates on outlawing aluminum bats, a ban on feeding the pigeons (no joke) and Clemente.

Jake said...

would Dolf Luque count as an earlier Hispanic star? ("star" is pretty subjective, but Luque had some very good seasons in '23 and '25)