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No, we do not need to retire Roberto Clemente’s number across baseball

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Today Major League Baseball recognizes Roberto Clemente Day. As has become tradition, it is also the day when people stump for Major League Baseball to honor him in the same way that it honored Jackie Robinson in 1997: by permanently retiring Clemente’s number 21 across the game. Buster Olney of ESPN has a column up on it. His third this year on the topic if I’m counting correctly.

The surface appeal of such an honor is undeniable. When I first heard of the Clemente family’s desire to do such a thing, I thought it was a fantastic idea. But then I thought about it a bit more deeply. And, despite that appeal and despite the clear worthiness of Clemente to be honored in some higher fashion, I decided that it’s not an idea I can endorse and not one Major League Baseball should endorse.

As I’ve argued before, Clemente was a special player and the example of both his life and his death were inspiring ones, but Jackie Robinson’s honor — having his number retired throughout baseball — 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, with “inspirational” being able to be defined in any way at any given time depending on one’s chosen criteria. I don’t think we’re at risk of forgetting Clemente if we don’t retire his number and I do think we risk diluting baseball’s single greatest defining moment — Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier while segregation was still reigning supreme in America at large — by bestowing that honor on someone else.

Indeed, if anything, I think the manner in which Major League Baseball has chosen to venerate Clemente has, in some ways, obscured his legacy rather than helped it.

For one thing, we don’t really talk too much about Clemente the baseball player as opposed to Clemente the inspiration. Obviously the latter is more important in a real world sense, but if you talk to baseball fans now it’s amazing how little of Clemente’s baseball legacy is known or understood. Some people put him on the same level as Aaron or Mays which, with all apologies to Clemente, is overrating him. Others, in contrast, know very little about his actual playing career, which serves to underrate him (he was going into the Hall of Fame even before his heroic death). That’s to say nothing of the manner in which he was treated by the press and the baseball establishment while he lived, which often reflected how a lot of Latin players today are, to put it kindly, misunderstood by the American media and American fans. It’s probably worth noting that baseball’s version of sainthood, for lack of a better term, has in some ways obscured Robinson’s legacy in this regard as well, actually — 42 is retired and we need not think too hard about it all anymore! — and doing it even more so with Clemente does not seem like the best idea.

And that’s before you talk about how Major League Baseball handles the Roberto Clemente Award. As I noted yesterday, MLB has given hashtags to every team’s nominee for the award and is using fan tweeting and voting as a means of helping determine who wins it. How does getting random people on Twitter to come up with new and creative ways to tweet out “#VoteGardy” or “#VoteGrandy,” honor or appreciate a player’s humanitarian efforts? What does it say about how MLB values such humanitarian efforts? All it says to me is that Major League Baseball wants to use Clemente as a means of ramping up social media engagement which is . . . something less than inspirational.

Maybe, rather than retire Clemente’s number 21, Major League Baseball could do less to make Clemente a symbol and do more to illuminate his life and career in real terms. And maybe it could be more serious about how it handles the Roberto Clemente Award, which might serve to elevate its stature beyond some Internet contest. Doing that, I believe, would be better than giving Clemente an identical honor to that of Jackie Robinson in the misguided name of honoring him in a singular fashion.

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”