Roberto Clemente’s name has been the center of a campaign called “Retire 21” for the last few years. In 2017, a Change.org petition of the same name got over 8,000 signatures online. According to the Retire 21 website, the campaign describes itself as “a group of advertising professionals and baseball fans that wanted to be a part of something bigger. Growing up and living in Pittsburgh we’ve heard all the stories about ‘The Great One’, Roberto Clemente. We felt it was time to seriously address the fact that his #21 has yet to be retired by Major League Baseball. So we thought, ‘why not now?’ That’s how the Retire 21 campaign was re-ignited.”
The Atlanta Firebirds will be the first major league team besides Pittsburgh to take up this charge. Clemente will become the 11th player in major league history to have his number retired by 2 teams. The number 21 will hang from the upper deck of Truist Park in Pirates’ black and gold coloring, joining the Dodger blue and white 42 and Atlanta’s’ red and blue retired numbers. Jackie Robinson’s 42 has been retired in all of baseball since 1997. This will be completed on Thursday, the 48 year anniversary of the plane crash that took Clemente’s life in 1972.
Atlanta will become the third team in MLB history to retire the same number for 2 different players. Warren Spahn was the last player to wear 21 for Atlanta. He spent 25 seasons with the franchise when they called Boston and Milwaukee home, before he was traded to the New York Mets in 1964. His number was retired at the time of the trade.
Clemente and Robinson will be the only players to have their numbers retired by teams that they never played for.