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Elephant Rumblings: Happy Roberto Clemente Day!

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Good morning, Athletics Nation! And Happy Roberto Clemente Day!

Today is September 9, which marks the annual celebration of Clemente’s life and legacy. The tradition began in 2002, when the Pittsburgh Pirates honored their old star on this day by all wearing his retired jersey No. 21, similar to how all teams now do for Jackie Robinson’s 42 once per season. The idea caught on, and the league began officially observing Clemente Day as an official event.

For anyone not familiar with Clemente, the Baseball Hall of Fame has a nice summary to start with. For more detail, check out this thorough personal profile by insider Jesse Sanchez.

Beyond being a Hall of Fame performer, with 3,000 hits, around 80-90 career WAR, an MVP, two rings, and a dozen Gold Gloves, Clemente is also a cultural icon. The outfielder was one of the first Latin American stars in the majors, including being the first to win an MVP, the first to win a championship as a starting position player, and the first to be elected into the HOF. Countless players of the last couple generations cite him as a hero and an influence.

However, Clemente’s story has a tragic ending. In 1972, at the age of 38 and still active as a player, he passed away in a plane crash while flying to Nicaragua to deliver aid to earthquake victims.

As part of the 2020 celebration of Clemente’s memory, the league is allowing any Puerto Rican players to wear No. 21 for the day; the whole Pirates team will also do so, as is customary. The Oakland A’s have one player from the island, rookie infielder Vimael Machin, and he plans to participate by wearing the number, reports insider Martin Gallegos.

Extra coincidence: Machin arrived in Oakland via the Rule 5 draft, though he was picked by another team and then traded to the A’s. Clemente is the most famous Rule 5 draft pick in history, having been swiped from the Dodgers in 1954 as a 20-year-old “bonus baby” prospect whom Los Angeles was attempting to stash in the minors.

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