REACTION TO RETIRE 21 RUNS POSITIVE

The Retire 21 Campaign has qualitatively moved to another level recently due to the television airing of the campaign’s work. The segments aired by two separate productions on ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” and on Latino TV, two prime time programs with a huge audience.

ESPN is viewed internationally with approximately 130 million viewers and Latino TV is aired into approximately 68 million homes, majority Latino. Both programs were aired in the month of October, which is known as “Hispanic Heritage Month” celebrated nationally in the months of September and October.

The campaign to retire Roberto Clemente’s # 21 was organized in the South Bronx and was officially introduced in July 2006 in Pittsburgh, PA during the All Star Week. Since it’s introduction the campaign has continued to grow and gain momentum especially with the release in early 2007 of the documentary, The Legacy of #21 a film on the life and times of Roberto Clemente as told by others. Known African-American film producer and writer, Byron Hunter and Latino Sports President and Retire 21 Campaign National Coordinator, Julio Pabón, produced the film, a project of Latino Sports Ventures, Inc. The film is the only documentary done on Clemente that addresses the campaign to retire the #21; as such it has generated a lot of interest.

The campaign began to grow outside of New York when the film began to be screened in other cities. Every city that screened the film would produce a group of volunteers that were affected by what they learned about Clemente and wanted to get involved in retiring the number. As such there are committees in approximately 12 cities and towns that are actively involved in gathering petitions, disseminating information on the campaign and getting local elected officials to introduce non-binding resolutions urging Commissioner, Bud Selig to retire #21 in honor of Clemente. Today there are eight cities that have passed such resolutions and three states.

By now Commissioner, Bud Selig and many of the executives at Major League Baseball have to understand that this movement is not going to disappear especially when they been receiving a resolution from a mayor, or governor, or national union approximately every 3, or 4 months. When asked, Major League Baseball’s official response is that they are “taking the matter under advisement,” which could be interpreted in many ways. It could mean that they are at least discussing it every now and then, or that they are doing absolutely nothing. Either way the campaign continues to gain momentum.

The airing of a segment exclusively on the Campaign to Retire 21 by ESPN and LatinoTV is an indication that the campaign has achieved a level of respect that merits coverage. This is a testament to the consistent professional work that the campaign continues to put forth. It seems that the more people learn and hear about the campaign the more people join its ranks in support.

Tim McCarver said it best in the ESPN interview when speaking in support of retiring the number he said, “there are probably many more people against not retiring the number than those who don’t want to retire it.”

There is no question that with the airing of the campaign on both an international and national level it will continue to gather more support and momentum. “We received a lot of emails and the majority were in favor congratulating us and many asking to become involved to some degree”, stated Mr. Julio Pabón, President of Latino Sports a multi platform sports marketing and promotions firm and National Coordinator for the Retire 21 Campaign. “About 80% of the emails and calls were in favor of retiring Clemente’s #21, 15% were against retiring the number for a variety of reasons. Some felt that Clemente is already getting a lot of attention from Major League Baseball; others believed that if you retire Clemente’s #21 that would open up slew of other ethnic groups that would want to retire a number for other players. About 5% of the emails were a mixture of hate mail and mail from confused individuals. For example, one person wrote that he felt that MLB should only retire a number for “US citizens.” alluding that Roberto Clemente was not a U.S. citizen.

In game three of the World Series in Philadelphia Commissioner Bud Selig held a press conference to award Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals the annual Roberto Clemente Humanitarian Award. This award has become part of game three of the World Series and is one of the arguments that some say proves that Roberto Clemente is receiving his due recognition. One can also argue that this award is one hell of a marketing strategy for MLB to haul in additional sponsorship dollars from previous sponsor, John Hancock Insurance and this years sponsor, Chevrolet.

Since ESPN ran the “Outside The Lines” segment on Retire 21 for an entire week and again the day before game thereof the World Series as an introduction to the award, one can safely say that the Campaign was probably in the minds of many of the high level executive seating in the front row reserve seats section of the press conference. Latino Sports was present and when the floor was opened for questions, Mr. Pabón was picked to ask the first question.

When some of the executives noticed that it was Mr. Pabón holding the microphone for the first question you could feel a “tremor in the force.” The tension was so thick you could have cut through it with a plastic fork. If one studied body language, there were a lot of messages being sent for those brief seconds before Mr. Pabón began to ask his question.

Unlike what many MLB executives were brazing themselves for, perhaps an embarrassing and controversial question on the movement to retire Clemente’s 21 (it was a perfect scenario), Mr. Pabón asked Albert Pujols a very sincere question about his comparison to Roberto Clemente with his passion and respect for the fans and asked Mr. Pujols to elaborate on a comment that he had made in New York about how “good it feels to hit a home run, but much how better it feels to make a child smile.”

If there was a “tension meter” it would have gone from 60 to zero in less than 3 seconds and everyone in the front row breathe a sigh of relieve and you could see the commissioner’s shoulders drop and relax.

If all of this proved anything it demonstrated that the Retire 21 Campaign is not one to embarrass MLB. Though there is something to be said about the great Muhammad Gandhi’s tactic, believing that “the quickest way to educate is to embarrass.” The fact is that the Retire 21 Campaign is a campaign that is coordinated by people from all walks of life, from factory workers, students and housewives to judges, attorneys, medical doctors and elected officials. It is a campaign that is bringing a level of conversation that MLB needs to pay attention to and recognize that baseball is not all about marketing for profits, but also about the human value and the soul of the game that players like Roberto Clemente and Jackie Robinson, Albert Pujols and others embodied and that it is so being forgotten by today’s players.

If this campaign can open up MLB to listening to the very people that pay for their salaries, the fans, then regardless of the value of retiring a number, it would have helped to return baseball to being a true national pastime, something that it stopped being a long time ago.