Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pirates to wear No. 21 on Sept. 9 to honor Roberto Clemente

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PITTSBURGH — Roberto Clemente’s legacy in Pittsburgh and his native Puerto Rico is secure. The club the Hall of Fame outfielder spent two decades playing for is trying to ensure that legacy – both on and off the field – is acknowledged regularly by the masses.

The team announced Tuesday that all Pittsburgh players and coaches will wear Clemente’s No. 21 when the Pirates host the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 9 at PNC Park, where there’s a statue honoring him outside the stadium and a bridge named for him beyond the outfield wall.

It’s a move Clemente’s family and the organization hope is a step toward having Major League Baseball retire his number as it did with Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 in 1997, a half-century after Robinson broke MLB’s color barrier.

“I feel that this is just the beginning,” said Luis Clemente, the second of Clemente’s three sons. “That’s why it’s so important. It’s so exciting that it happened, that it was approved. It is a platform to continue to grow on it. So we’re very happy and thankful to MLB also for this.”

Clemente collected 3,000 hits during his 18-year career while helping the Pirates win a pair of World Series titles. He died in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972, at age 38 while attempting to bring humanitarian aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. The team retired Clemente’s number before the start of the 1973 season. That streak will end next week against the White Sox.

The importance of slipping a No. 21 jersey over his shoulders isn’t lost on current Pirates third base coach Joey Cora, a Puerto Rico native and former major leaguer.

“I’m getting goosebumps right now,” Cora said. “Wearing No. 21, as a Puerto Rican, as a Pirate, it means a lot. It’s a responsibility on that one, but hopefully I can wear it and make him proud with the fact that I’m wearing it and that we all are. As a Puerto Rican, it’s a little bit more special, obviously. To honor Roberto Clemente, not only the player but the person, it’s a huge, huge honor.”

While the drumbeat for finding a way to honor Clemente annually has been growing for years, it received a loud advocate when the Pirates hired manager Derek Shelton last fall. He approached owner Bob Nutting and president Travis Williams about having a one-day celebration, then connected with the Clemente family in hopes of building momentum.

“I think that it says something that the last time it was worn was in 1972 and it’s still probably the jersey that you see the most, it’s the number that you see the most,” Shelton said. “And you know, when people are out walking their dogs or doing things, there’s always a 21 around. I just think it’s an extremely important thing not only to honor Roberto the player but Roberto the humanitarian and the person, and I think we never lose sight of how those things work together.”

The plan is limited to this season for now, but the Pirates and the Clementes hope to make it a regular occurrence.

“Our hopes as an organization are that this is something that we’ll do every year,” Shelton said. “I would like to continue to do it. I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to honor Roberto on Roberto Clemente Day.”

Roberto Clemente Jr. said the family has spoken to MLB about different ways to honor Clemente, with celebrating his number annually just one of them. He pointed out a couple of key years that are approaching: Next season is 2021, and 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of Clemente’s passing.

“It’s not just retiring (the number) for the sake of retiring it,” Clemente Jr. said. “It is the right thing to do, but it should be done in such a way that it becomes more prestigious with that action. We have some ideas that we will be sharing. In the meantime, I think this program just got started. It’s moving in the right direction. At least the conversations are beginning.”

Angels’ Andrelton Simmons opts out of final 5 games

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Shortstop Andrelton Simmons has opted out of the remainder of the Los Angeles Angels’ season.

The Angels announced the four-time Gold Glove-winning shortstop’s decision Tuesday before they faced the San Diego Padres.

Los Angeles (24-31) is still technically in the playoff race with five games left in the regular season, and Simmons clearly caught the Angels by surprise, although the club said it respected his decision.

The 31-year-old Simmons, who can be a free agent this winter, is finishing his fifth year with the Angels. After spraining his ankle in late July and missing 22 games, Simmons is currently batting .297 with 10 RBIs while playing his usual stellar defense, albeit with four errors in 30 games.

“At this time, I feel this is the best decision for me and my family,” Simmons said in a statement. “We don’t know what the future holds, but we would like to sincerely thank the Angels organization and Angels fans for welcoming and making us feel at home.”

Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged he was caught by surprise when general manager Billy Eppler told him about Simmons’ decision Monday night after Simmons went 1 for 4 with an RBI single in the Angels’ home finale. Maddon texted Simmons, but hadn’t heard back by Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ve really enjoyed this guy a lot,” Maddon said. “I’m a big fan. This guy is a good baseball player, and I’ve enjoyed the conversations, too. It’s just unfortunate. He’s really a big part of what we’re doing right now.”

Simmons is a favorite of Angels fans for his defensive wizardry, and owner Arte Moreno has described Simmons as perhaps his favorite player to watch on the roster. Simmons has batted .281 with 36 homers and 281 RBIs during his five seasons with Los Angeles, and he won the Gold Glove in 2017 and 2018.

“He’s a thinking kind of a player, and I’ve enjoyed him a lot,” Maddon said.

Simmons will be a free agent this winter, and the Angels have an obvious replacement for him in David Fletcher, who has a .374 on-base percentage while regularly hitting leadoff for the Angels during his breakout major league season. Fletcher has been playing second base since Simmons’ return from injury.

But the Angels haven’t publicly closed the door on Simmons’ return, and he could be given a qualifying offer. Maddon has repeatedly said he would like Simmons to return in 2021 if possible.

The Angels haven’t had a winning season during Simmons’ five years in Anaheim, although Simmons said last week he wasn’t discouraged by the lack of team success. Simmons played his first four major league seasons in Atlanta, and he hasn’t appeared in the postseason since 2013.

Simmons also said he hadn’t been involved in any recent contract talks with the Angels, but he had enjoyed playing for the club. When asked if he wanted to return to the Halos, Simmons said he would have to “plead the fifth.”