Which number should each Latin American country retire?
Each year Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day by having uniformed personnel wear Robinson’s retired No. 42, we’re reminded of the loud chorus of fans who wish MLB would also retire Roberto Clemente’s old No. 21.
Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947, about three months after Larry Doby broke the American League’s color barrier with the Cleveland Indians. Both of those Hall of Famers carried immense weight as they dealt with the Jim Crow racism of that era while also opening the door for Afro-Latino men like Clemente.
MLB officials have been hesitant to retire No. 21 in part because of the precedent such a move might set. Where do they stop? Would other ethnic groups want their iconic heroes’ numbers retired? Whether you view those concerns as valid or not, you’ll at least have fun trying to determine which icons would be worthy of having their numbers retired throughout baseball if MLB was indeed flooded with such requests.
From this small corner, it’s important to note that those concerns don’t seem valid because there isn’t any movement anywhere similar to the Retire 21 campaigns that have surfaced over the years. Nonetheless, let’s have a little fun and go around the world to see which icons from Latin America would be the most worthy players to have their numbers retired.
To be clear, we’re not saying that MLB should retire these numbers.
In Puerto Rico, the choice is clear: No. 21.
Yet, it’s important to note that Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda’s No. 30 has been retired by the Giants. Fellow Hall of Famer Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez’s No. 7 was retired by the Rangers and Roberto Alomar‘s No. 12 was retired in Toronto where he won two World Series rings.
Edgar Martinez, who will be inducted into the 2019 Hall of Fame class, had his No. 11 retired by the Mariners.
It’s a testament to the Dominican Republic’s rich history that there isn’t a clear choice. Hall of Famer Juan Marichal’s No. 27 is retired by the San Francisco Giants.
Hall of Famer Pedro Martínez’s No. 45 is retired by the Red Sox, who also retired David Ortiz’s No. 34. Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero’s jersey hasn’t been retired by the Angels. Albert Pujols’ number hasn’t been retired by the Cardinals, which makes sense because he’s still active.
If we’re going with trailblazing stars, though, we have to go with the Dominican Dandy’s No. 27 to represent this baseball rich island.
The choice for Venezuela is also easy with Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio. The brilliant shortstop’s No. 11 was retired by the Chicago White Sox long ago.
There have been many Venezuelan superstars since then, including Cy Young Award winners and league Most Valuable Players. Yet, there is still just one Venezuelan in the Hall of Fame. He stands alone.
David Concepción’s No. 13 was retired by the Reds, who acknowledged his immense contributions to the Big Red Machine.
When it comes to Cuban trailblazers, Minnie Miñoso stands atop the list. His No. 9 has been retired by the White Sox. Cepeda and many other Latino stars have credited Miñoso with serving as their Jackie Robinson.
Hall of Famer Tony Pérez’s No. 24 was retired by the Reds, and he deserves consideration too.
Let’s start with Mexico, which produced arguably the player who captivated America’s Latin American fans in a way no other player had since Robinson drew thousands of black fans to MLB stadiums to see him around the majors in 1947.
What Fernando Valenzuela created during his magical 1981 season with Fernandomania has not been replicated in MLB. He drew Mexican fans by the thousands to every stadium where he and the Dodgers played in 1981 and throughout his impressive career.
Valenzuela, the former National League Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award winner, wore No. 34 with the Dodgers. His jersey remains among the most popular at Dodger Stadium.
There has not been another Mexican player of Valenzuela’s renown since he retired, but one player before him deserves at least a mention. Roberto Francisco Avila Gonzalez, who was called Bobby Avila during his career, was the first Latin American to win a batting title.
Wearing No. 1 for the Cleveland Indians, Avila set the trail and served as an inspiration for Valenzuela.
This one is easy. Former Braves star Andruw Jones was one of the best center fielders of his era, earning 10 Gold Glove Awards during his stellar career.
Jones, who wore No. 25 for the Braves, hasn’t garnered much support on the Hall of Fame ballot. He might pick up more votes now that the ballot isn’t as crowded.
Kenley Jansen, who wears No. 74, has had a fine career with three All-Star nods. Nonetheless, Jones is the clear choice here.
For a country that hasn’t produced many major league ballplayers, Panama makes up for it in star power. Mariano Rivera’s number is already retired throughout the majors. Granted, he was the last player in the majors to wear No. 42 because he was allowed to keep wearing it after MLB retired it in Robinson’s honor.
Rivera, the all-time saves leader, became the first player elected unanimously into the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. With a resume like his, you would think he’d clearly be the most worthy Panamanian to have his jersey retired throughout the majors.
Yet, Panama also produced Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who was special enough to have his No. 29 retired by two franchises – the Angels and Twins.
We’re taking the easy route here and picking Carew in part because Rivera’s number is already retired.
For the sake of this exercise, we must also look at Colombia. This South American country, however, has yet to produce a player who could sit on the stage with the men mentioned above. Edgar Rentería would be Colombia’s candidate, though.
Featured Image: National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.