Athletics Machin All in Favor of Having MLB Retire Roberto Clemente's No. 21

John Hickey

There is a special spot in Vimael Machin’s persona reserved for Roberto Clemente.

Both are from Puerto Rico. Clemente, the Hall of Fame outfielder who played his entire career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, paved the path for Puerto Rican players to follow, Machin included.

What Machin didn’t know until Wednesday morning, which Major League Baseball is celebrating as Roberto Clemente Day, is that they share some baseball lineage.

Clemente is identified top to bottom as a Pirates, but he was actually first signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers and obtained by Pittsburgh when the Dodgers failed to protect him in the Rule 5 draft. True, he hit an unremarkable .257 in his one minor league season, 1954, at Triple-A, but he was just 19. The Phillies grabbed him, and he went on to collect 3,000 hits, twice be a World Series winner, be named an All-Star 15 times, an MVP once (1966) and a Gold Glove winner a dozen times.

Yeah, the Pirates got the best of that deal.

Machin, too, is a Rule 5 draftee, coming to the Oakland A’s at the Winter Meetings in December when the Chicago Cubs took him in the draft at the A’s prompting, then selling his contract to Oakland.

“To be honest, I just found out this morning, reading a tweet,” Machin said. “I didn’t know that. And when I was reading about it, I was like, `Oh, wow.’ He went through the same thing I did. And for me, I’ve just to look at him and be like `Oh, he did it and now I’m gonna have the same mentality and just try to be the best player I can be.’”

Machin, who has done some work filling in for A’s regular shortstop Marcus Semien, including three hits in the second game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, will be wearing Clemente’s No. 21. The other two dozen-plus Puerto Rican players currently on big league rosters are expected to do the same.

And Machin would like nothing better than to see Major League Baseball retired Clemente’s 21 in the manner that MLB has retired the No 42 of Jackie Robison.

“I don’t know if it’s going to happen,” Machin said, referencing the possibility floating around the baseball world that MLB might retire Clemente’s 21. “But for me and all Puerto Ricans like (Francisco) Lindor, (Javier) Báez, Yadi (Yadier Molina), I’m sure they want to retire that number."

And it's not just Puerto Rican players. Oakland manager Bob Melvin said he'd be all for 21 being retired, given what Clemente meant to the game.

"It would be a great idea," Melvin said. "If you've ever watched Puerto Rican players, he's The Guy. With his whole legacy and how abruptly it ended, what he was doing would all suggest that that's the guy you celebrate. I'd be all for that." 

For Puerto Rican players, Clemente is revered as a trailblazer and as a humanitarian. Clemente died on Dec. 31, 1972 in a plane crash while trying to organize a humanitarian response for Nicaragua, which had just been rocked by a major earthquake.

“For us, it’s like while he was not only helping Puerto Rico, he was also trying to help others in Latin America,” Machin said. “And that’s huge. You don’t see that often. It’s big for us back home.”

The number of Puerto Ricans playing in the big leagues, currently about 30, has fallen over the years, and Machin said it’s up to him and the other Puerto Ricans to turn that trend around.

“Over the years all the (number of Puerto Rican players in the big leagues has been going down,” Machin said. “For us, that’s something we need to take care of, like he did. Because thanks to him, we get the chance to play the best baseball in the world.

“And it’s time for us to do the same as he did and represent Puerto Rico, give it all and see what happens.”

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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Comments (3)
No. 1-2
John Hickey
John Hickey


I'm old school, too. Fortunate to have seen Clemente play at few times at Candlestick Park (grandparents were Pirates fans). Safe to say they don't make them like him anymore. MLB needs more like him. All sports do.


I was fortunate to see Clemente play in person. He had incredible charisma. I don't want to sound like an old school guy, but players today can't match up to Clemente, Mays and Mantle for charisma.