LaTroy Hawkins wears number 21 out of respect.
“It’s for Roberto Clemente,” Hawkins explained. “The man died trying to help people. How can you not respect that? He has this cool quote: ‘Anytime you have an opportunity to make things better and you don’t, you’re wasting your time here on earth.’”
Clemente was killed more than 35 years ago in a plane crash – trying to bring relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua – but he still lives with Hawkins in the Bronx and with Carlos Delgado who wears the 21 in Queens and with Paul O’Neill who used to wear it in the Bronx and in Cincinnati, too.
Clemente will always live with every Major Leaguer and Minor Leaguer and Little Leaguer who asks for the 21 jersey. He will also be with the kids in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and Highbridge and Washington Heights who write 21 on the backs of their T-shirts.
There is a fascination with retiring numbers these days. There has even been talk about permanently retiring the 21 throughout the Major Leagues for Clemente.
Hanging a numbered sign in every big-league ballpark doesn’t seem like much of an honor for a man like Clemente. He understood that empty promises can’t change things, but people can. I think he would rather have those people wearing 21 and doing the work that he never got to finish.
The 21 can live forever on the backs of people like Hawkins and Delgado…
Clemente would appreciate that kind of respect.