August 18, 1934 - December 31, 1972
Birthplace: Carolina, Puerto Rico
Height: 5'11" Weight: 180
"He gave the term 'complete' a new meaning. He made the word 'superstar' seem inadequate. He had about him the touch of royalty." Former MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
"Clemente is a great hero for all Latin players especially Puerto Ricans." "Not only was he one of the best baseball players ever, but he was a great human being as well." Juan Gonzalez, Texas Rangers.
"Growing up in Puerto Rico we got to learn a lot about his character, it was obvious that not only was he one of the greatest players, but a great human being as well." Bernie Williams, New York Yankees.
"He's the strangest hitter in baseball, figure him one way and he'll kill you another." Sandy Koufax, former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher.
"I would be lost without baseball. I don't think I could stand being away from it as long as I was alive." Roberto Clemente.
Searching for Roberto Clemente - The loss of a hero at sea.
He was one of the greatest baseball players ever to play right field and arguably to play the game. Watching Clemente track down balls that were bound for an extra base hit was thrilling. Watching him gracefully catch a deep fly ball and throw a strike to the catcher to cut down the runner was incredible. Tearing around the bases at full speed, legging out another extra base hit was exciting. Those were some of the natural skills that Latino legend Roberto Clemente portrayed when he played the game of baseball.
Born in small barrio San Anton in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Roberto Clemente was the youngest of seven children and was raised in a modest home with mother Luisa and father Melchor.
Early on he excelled in track and field, winning medals in the javelin throw and short distance races. However, Roberto's real love was baseball.
When Roberto graduated from high school, he received best wishes from family & friends because they all knew he was bound for greatness as a baseball player.
At the young age of 17, Roberto was playing for the Santurce Cangrejeros in the Puerto Rican Winter League where he attracted legions of big-league scouts because of his hitting, fielding and throwing ability.
He signed with the Dodgers for $10,000, but never got to play a single game in Brooklyn or Los Angeles.
A rule back then in effect required that any player signed for more than $4000 had to stay on the parent club for a full season. The Dodgers attempted to keep Clemente's profile low, but the keen eye of the Pittsburgh Pirates general manager knew Clemente and he was selected by the Pirates for $4,000 on Nov. 22, 1954.
In his first Major League season with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955, Clemente had a solid rookie season batting .255 with five homers and 47 RBI's. He built upon that foundation and batted .311 in his sophomore season. After that, Clemente hit above .300 for the next 12 seasons.
In the 1960's, Clemente joined the likes of Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as one of the top players in the National League.
In his pro career, he got over 200 hits four times (1961,64,66,67), hit over .350 three times (1961, 67 & '70), lead the league in batting four times and won 12 consecutive gold glove awards.
In the 1960's, no other player dominated the entire decade like Roberto Clemente did.
No other Latin American has ever achieved the numbers and recognition like Clemente did. But even though with his stellar, consistent play, Clemente thought the fame achieved was all too slow in coming as it always seemed for players of Hispanic background. For example, in 1960 while helping the Pirates win its first World Series victory in 33 years, the Puerto Rican star with a solid season and a brilliant series performance, finished only 8th in the National League MVP balloting. It was another evidence for Roberto, that Latino players could never get a fair shake from the media and the American fans.
Clemente only won one MVP crown (1966) during a decade (the 60's) which he dominated so thoroughly -- ironically is was the one season he was not the best hitter in the National League. When it came to selecting a "Player of the 60's" Clemente was obviously overlooked and the award went easily to Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers as Clemente only received a handful of ballots.
He starred in two World Series triumphs and dominated all pitchers in the 1971 Series with a sizzling .414 batting average. In one memorable play he showcased his cannon-like arm that the National League had feared for several years.
In game six of the World Series versus Baltimore, slugger Frank Robinson came to the plate and launched a 300-foot fly toward Clemente that was sure to score Merv Rettemund who was on third base. The minute Clemente pinched the ball in his glove, he ripped it out and rifled a strike to the awaiting catcher's mitt. Rettenmund scuffled back to third base and the Orioles was held at bay. After the series win, Clemente was named the 1971 World Series MVP.
Clemente always played like a man possessed, fielding superbly, unleashing his rifle arm, and hitting in clutch situations, where it counts the most. That attitude won the World Series for the Pirates in 1971 and made him the Series MVP. Many people often said that Clemente played "something close to the level of absolute perfection."
Roberto Clemente was not only a great player on the field, but he was a greater person off the field. He was a National hero to everyone, especially Latinos.
On December 31, 1972, Clemente had taken upon himself to direct personally a relief mission to earthquake torn Nicaragua. Bound to Nicaragua, Clemente and four others loaded a small DC-7 plane with food and supplies that never got past the San Juan border as the plane almost immediately crashed into 30 feet of water in the Caribbean Sea.
One Navy man speculated during a broadcast that it seemed the plane was over-crowded and the cargo wasn't secured enough and shifted during take-off. Rescue efforts started immediately, but five people died and Clemente's body was never recovered. The world was in shock. Here was a man who was struck down due to his desire to help a country in need. His death was not only a loss to his family and friends, but a loss of a hero to the entire nation.
The Baseball's Writer Association of America immediately waived the customary five-year wait and voted Roberto Clemente into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on August 8, 1973 -- making him the first Latino to be inducted
At the ceremony in 1973, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn honored him by creating the "Roberto Clemente Award", the highest award in baseball for sportsmanship and community activism. Kuhn spoke proudly about Clemente, "He was so very great a man, as a leader and humanitarian, so very great an inspiration to the young and to all in baseball, especially to the proud people of his homeland, Puerto Rico."
On April 7th 1999, the County of Allegheny, Pittsburgh announced that the Sixth Street Bridge, which spans the Allegheny River and joins downtown Pittsburgh to the North Side at Federal Street, will now be known as the Roberto Clemente Bridge. The announcement was made by the current Chairman of the Allegheny County Commissioners, Bob Cranmer.
"I can think of no better tribute to the memory of Roberto Clemente and the pride that he brought to Pittsburgh than renaming the Sixth Street Bridge, the Roberto Clemente Bridge," said Commissioner Cranmer. "'The Great One exemplified Pirate baseball at its finest. PNC Park and Roberto Clemente Bridge will serve as a constant reminder to all generations that Clemente and Pirate baseball will forever be an important part of Pittsburgh."
The 995-foot suspension bridge, constructed in 1928, is one of three identical spans that join the North Side to the downtown area at Sixth, Seventh and Ninth streets. On days when the Pirates play home games at PNC Park, Clemente Bridge will serve as a pedestrian walkway and fans will be able enter the new Pirates ballpark directly from the bridge. A great tribute for one of this country's most cherished and prestigious athlete.
In 2002, Major League Baseball's Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig announced that on Sept. 18 will be known as "Roberto Clemente Day."
The celebrations will be a league-wide effort that has been initiated to honor the memory of Roberto Clemente, and coincides with Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations. As part of the tribute, the local recipients of the Roberto Clemente Award presented by John Hancock will be recognized at each club’s home game on Sept. 18.
"It has been almost thirty years since Roberto Clemente’s untimely death," said Commissioner Selig. "He will be
remembered as a great baseball player and humanitarian. To honor his legacy, we have designated this special day to not only remember Roberto, but to honor those players who have contributed so much to their communities."
Roberto married Vera Cristina Zabala on November 14, 1964 and has three sons; Roberto Walker Clemente Jr. , Louis Roberto Clemente and Roberto Enrique Clemente.
Roberto Clemente Foundation: (412) 772-3444
Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown NY. (607) 547-7200
Revised March 2004
Clemente | Lefty Gomez | Martin
Dihigo | Wilfred
Benitez | Sammy Sosa
Chi-Chi Rodriguez | Orlando Cepeda | Eusebio Pedroza | Anthony Muñoz | Adrian Fernandez
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