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Effort to retire Clemente's 21 on hold

| Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, 5:06 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Roberto Clemente's sons, Roberto Jr. (left) and Luis, and his widow, Vera, stand at second base during a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of Clemente's 3,000th hit before the Pirates game against the Reds Sunday September 30, 2012 at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

Roberto Clemente's family essentially has given up the fight to have his No. 21 retired across Major League Baseball.

At least for as long as Bud Selig is commissioner.

“It's become pretty clear to us this commissioner doesn't want anything to do with it, to be perfectly honest,” Roberto Clemente Jr. said Sunday at PNC Park, where the family participated in a pregame ceremony to commemorate the Hall of Famer's 3,000th hit 40 years ago. “That just means we're going to have to wait until there's a new commissioner. And we will.”

Selig's position, as he reiterated in an interview with the Tribune-Review last summer, is that Jackie Robinson's No. 42 will remain the only one retired across the sport. Supporters of Clemente's No. 21 being retired maintain Clemente, a Puerto Rican, was just as much a pioneer for Latin American players in baseball as Robinson was for African-Americans.

“My dad was just the 11th player to 3,000 hits, and he was the first Latin American,” Roberto Jr. said. “We're all very proud of that as well as everything that he accomplished as a man. And his legend is only growing. It's not going anywhere.”

Vera Clemente, Roberto's widow, is an ambassador for Selig and has no plan on giving up the role despite her disappointment. She plans to attend Game 2 of the World Series to present the annual Roberto Clemente Award to the player judged to have made the greatest humanitarian contribution.

“I love to give the award,” she said. “To get that, you have to work very hard. You have to do it from the heart.”

The family had come up with an idea last year to retire Clemente's number in a unique way: The only player who could wear No. 21 would be each team's individual nominee for the Clemente Award. With the Pirates, that would be reliever Chris Resop.

That would keep it distinct from the honor bestowed upon Robinson.

It went nowhere.

“Maybe someday,” Vera Clemente said. “I hope.”

Before the game, the family — Vera, Roberto Jr. and another son, Luis — watched a video presentation from second base, where Roberto famously stood after doubling for his 3,000th hit Sept. 30, 1972, at Three Rivers Stadium.

Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dkovacevic@tribweb.com.

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