SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -For many baseball fans in Puerto Rico, no ball player could ever rival island-bred Roberto Clemente.
So White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen's statement that Clemente was only the third-best player produced by the island, behind Ivan Rodriguez and Roberto Alomar, has angered some.
``No one is going to take No. 1 away from Roberto for the moment,'' said Ramiro Martinez, a retired Puerto Rican sports reporter who covered Clemente's career beginning in the 1950s.
Clemente, a Hall of Fame right fielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates, ended his career with 3,000 hits. He died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1972 on a trip to deliver relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
Guillen set off debates across this U.S. Caribbean territory when he made the comparison Saturday to the Detroit Free Press. He elaborated Monday, saying he placed Rodriguez ahead of Clemente in part because he plays a more demanding position as a catcher and has endured the Texas heat for so many seasons.
``That's my opinion,'' said Guillen. ``It doesn't have to be the right one.''
Guillen, a Venezuelan, also described himself as the ``biggest Roberto Clemente fan on earth'' and said he carries a picture of Clemente in his wallet.
Clemente's son, Luis Roberto Clemente, who owns a nonprofit athletic center catering to children in Puerto Rico, said he learned of the statement in a text message from an exasperated friend in New York.
``I am very certain and very at ease about what my father has accomplished,'' Clemente told The Associated Press on Tuesday. ``That is history that will never change.''
A local newspaper, Primera Hora, entered the debate Tuesday with two full pages comparing statistics from each of the three players and commentary that overwhelmingly favored Clemente.
Ivan Rodriguez, for his part, said he was flattered to be compared to Hall of Famers.
``Kind of nice to hear that from a manager,'' he said. ``It motivates me to keep playing hard.''
Jorge Colon, a local sports historian, said Guillen's comments caused a stir simply because Puerto Ricans revere Clemente so deeply.
``What happens is that Clemente is the most admired and loved, and we tend to be overprotective,'' he said. ``But there is nothing wrong in saying that other players have surpassed him.''
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Associated Press writers Omar Marrero in San Juan, Andrew Seligman in Chicago and freelance writer Mark Altman in Boston contributed to this report.
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