Major League Baseball: The Meaning of 21

NEW YORK, NY  –  The world of sports is broken down into numbers. The numbers on a box score, the numbers of the all time leaders, or a uniform number. When 44 comes to mind I envision Hank Aaron is #44, Michael Jordan #23, #99 Wayne Gretzky. #42 is Jackie Robinson’s number, and Major League Baseball made sure of that when they retired it throughout the league.

The morning of April 4th I was watching the ESPN show Get Up. The show, hosted by Mike Greenberg, had the question of, “Who is the most famous number 21 in all of sports?” It was broken down to three players, basketball’s Tim Duncan, football’s Deion Sanders, and baseball’s Roberto Clemente.

The three panelists behind the desk, which will remain anonymous because of their idiotic choices, stunned me with their picks. Two chose Sanders and one chose Duncan.

These panelists, who get paid for their outlooks on sports, apparently don’t have a clue of the impact that Clemente left. It’s been 50 years since that fatal New Years Eve plane crash which took the lives of the Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder along with four other passengers. Clemente was more than a great ballplayer; he was a humanitarian who gave back until the day he died.

His number 21 has been the subject that MLB has avoided when it comes to putting it out of circulation like Jackie’s. Latino Sports founder Julio Pabon has led the campaign for years to retire #21. During the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh back in 2006 Pabon was interrogated by MLB officials as he collected signatures from the fans who agreed with the Retire 21 movement.

When I first watched what these Get Up panelists chose for the face behind 21 my first reaction was, Get the F*** outta here! I immediately called Pabon to get his reaction and he also responded with Get the F*** outta here!

My respect goes out to both Duncan and Sanders but to have them represent the number 21 is like having Jackie’s 42 representing Times Square.

Aristostle “Mugsy” Sakellaridis

A little flashback here. Back in 1955 when Roberto came up with the Pirates he wore the number 13. Another rookie center fielder named Earl Calvin Smith wore number 21. During that season Smith, who passed away in 2014, got sent down to the minors and never made it back to the big leagues. Clemente jumped at the number 21 when it became available. Among his career highlights were 3000 hits, four time batting champ, 12 time Gold Glove winner, one MVP award, and two World Championships in 1960 and 1971, where he showed the world what a 5-tool player is. After that Game 7 he showed how fluent he was in two languages during the live clubhouse interview when he spoke in Spanish to his native Puerto Ricans.

Those professional panelists on Get Up need to do their homework on the meaning of 21 or Get the F*** outta here!

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About Aristotle "Mugsy" Sakellaridis 119 Articles
Aristotle "Mugsy" Sakellaridis is the junkiest of baseball junkies. He plays in 4 leagues, well past his 40th birthday, and spends the winter in Florida shagging flies at Yankees minor league complexes. He's also a retired Riker's Island Corrrection Officer - having worked the night shift for 20+ years.