The Clemente family would like to semi-retire Roberto Clemente’s number

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A few years ago, the family of Roberto Clemente got behind a movement to try to have Roberto Clemente’s number 21 retired across all of baseball, just as Jackie Robinson’s 42 is retired.

Bud Selig put the kibosh on that. I agreed with Bud, frankly. Clemente was a special player and the example of both his life and his death were inspiring ones, but Robinson’s honor should remain singular. If you do it for Clemente, you open the door for good arguments for retiring the numbers of lots of special players/inspirational men.

But, as Dejan Kovacevic reports in today’s Pittsburgh Tribune, the Clementes have an alternative suggestion.  Fine, don’t retire Clemente’s number. But make it special. Semi-retired if you will, with it being handed out sparingly to those who are deemed worthy:

So, if a Puerto Rican such as the New York Mets’ Carlos Beltran asks to wear the number and honor Clemente as many Latino players have done …

“No,” Vera interjected. “He has to earn it.”

That’s when it resonated: The only players who could wear No. 21 would be those who have won the Roberto Clemente Award, which has been given annually since 1972 — the year of Clemente’s death — to players of all 30 teams who best exemplify excellence on and off the field.

There’s a certain cool-factor to this. You win the Clemente award and you win the right to wear 21.  It’s not retired, it’s just special. It’s certainly a unique idea.

My biggest problem with it: players are weird about their numbers and don’t like to change them. If they did this, would the player be obligated to wear 21?  If not, would he be slammed if, for some reason, he decided that good luck and fate and habit demanded that he keep the number that has served him so well in the past?  “Derek Jeter thinks he’s too good to wear Clemente’s number!” some headline might scream. Does anyone really want that?

And that’s the thing: check out the list of Clemente Award winners.  Lots of guys on there already have their own iconic numbers that either have been or one day will be retired. We cool with Jeter changing from number 2 in 2009?  How about Cal Ripken? Ozzie Smith? Pujols? Willie Freakin’ Mays?

I appreciate that the Clementes and Roberto Clemente supporters want to do something special to honor him.  But there are practical limitations to what can and should be done in this regard. I don’t think we’re at risk of forgetting Clemente. But if we start doing this kind of thing, we’re going to make things more awkward than they need to be.

Joe Girardi won’t use Masahiro Tanaka in Game 7

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The Yankees and Astros are set for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, and neither team will hold back as they seek a World Series berth. The Astros are prepared to back starter Charlie Morton with any able-bodied pitcher in their ranks — including Justin Verlander, though A.J. Hinch said it would be a “dream scenario” to get anything more from his ace — while the Yankees are prepared to utilize all but a few of their arms. One pitcher you won’t see? Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who last took the hill for the Yankees during their Game 5 shutout on Wednesday.

Tanaka expended 103 pitches over seven scoreless innings in his last start, fending off the Astros with three hits, a walk and eight strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched on fewer than three days of rest all year, and even with a do-or-die scenario facing the Yankees on Saturday night, manager Joe Girardi doesn’t want to compromise his starter’s ability to stay rested and ready for the World Series.

Girardi will also play it safe with fellow right-hander Sonny Gray, who dominated in a five-inning performance in Game 4. All other pitchers should be available and ready to go, though the club is hoping for a lengthy outing from veteran starter CC Sabathia. Sabathia is no stranger to the postseason: over eight separate playoff runs, he touts one championship title and a collective 4.24 ERA in 123 innings. He held the Astros scoreless in his Game 3 start, blanking them over six innings on three hits, four walks and five strikeouts for an eventual 8-1 win.

Even without Tanaka or Gray likely to take the mound for Game 7, the Yankees will enter the series finale with history on their side. Per MLB.com, they have a 4-3 road record in Game 7s and are 6-7 in all 13 Game 7 finales to date. The Astros, on the other hand, dropped their first and only Game 7 clincher back in 2004, when the Cardinals capped the NLCS with a 5-2 win in St. Louis. The teams are scheduled to face off for the first-ever Game 7 at Minute Maid Park on Saturday at 8:00 PM ET.