Photo credit: sportingnews.com
By: Amaury Pi-Gonzalez
El Cometa de Carolina (translation: The Carolina Comet).
Roberto Clemente was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico August 18,1934. His father, Don Melchor Clemente, was a sugar cane worker; his mother, Luisa, was a laundress. On December 31, 1972, an airplane he chartered to bring food and other relief supplies to survivors of a recent earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua crashes shortly after takeoff from San Juan, P.R. It was 46 years ago that five people were killed in the crash, including Clemente, whose body was never recovered. Many of you reading this, were not born 46 years ago; but Roberto Clemente was more than a superstar trailblazer baseball player.
There are 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean and Clemente is one of those athletes adored and recognized in all of them. His name represents the best of Latin America and is a unifying force for all of us who were born in Latin America.
A great life of a humanitarian and world recognized figure. MLB’s The Roberto Clemente Award (previously known as the Commissioner’s Award) is given annually to the MLB player who best exemplifies the game of baseball sportsmanship, and community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team. This award has been given each year since after the untimely death of the superstar. The statistics of this legendary baseball player are well documented as listed at National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y.
Al Campanis was managing winter ball in Cuba when he went to Puerto Rico and saw Clemente play as an 18 year old and graded Clemente an A or A+ in most categories. There were a lot of moves by management, and at the end Clemente signed with Montreal (Dodgers’ minor league club), but the Dodgers didn’t even wanted to contemplate the possibility of the young future superstar playing with N.Y. Giants in the same outfield with another great young player, by the name of Willie Mays. At the end, Clemente started his glorious career with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
How much is Roberto Clemente revered? During an exhibit of the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum and Hall Of fame at the main library in San Francisco,California, many people of Puerto Rican descent and prayed, right in front of the famous #21 history and memorabilia display.
United States postage stamps honor those whose memories and accomplishments mark an enduring legacy. Postal service policy states that individuals (excepting U.S. Presidents) may only be considered for this honor a decade after their death. This is a tremendous feat and Roberto Clemente Walker has been honored twice. The first stamp honoring Roberto appeared August 17,1984, and then he was selected again in 2000 for the U.S. Postal Service Legends of Baseball series. Clemente enlisted in the US Marines Corps Reserves after the 1958 season and spent six months in active duty at Parris Island, South Carolina and Camp LeJeune in North Carolina. He served until 1964 and was inducted into the Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame on 2003.
Clemente was the first Hispanic player to win a World Series as a starter, be named league MVP, be named World Series MVP and be elected to the Hall of Fame. He was the first to win a World Series as a starter, be named league MVP, be named World Series MVP and be elected to the Hall of Fame. Some in the media called him Bob or Bobby. He did not like that and said he wanted to be called by his name Roberto (Bob is Spanish for Roberto).
He suffered discrimination, according to NBC News, he once said “I don’t believe in color.”
During one game I was covering at Candlestick Park for El Mundo News of Oakland, Calif., the Pirates were visiting the Giants. Towards the end of his career, I remember he struck out and a writer in the press box shouted “send him back on a banana boat” and some other reporters laughed at it, like it was a joke. He began his career in the major leagues in 1955, just eight years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Players of color including Latinos of dark skin at that time were “tolerated,” but still not really accepted. I know Roberto would be very proud today to see that almost 30% of all players in the majors are Hispanic/Latino.
There might be more statues of Clemente (around 12) in P.R., U.S. and Nicaragua than any other athlete in history, including Diego Armando Maradona, Pelé and Muhammad Ali. Before he wore #21, Clemente wore #13 during his first season in the majors in 1955. His full name Roberto Clemente Walker has a total of 21 letters.
Clemente collected his 3,000 career hit in his final at-bat, during the last week of the 1972 MLB season on September 30,1972 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. A double against the left field wall from Mets lefty Jon Matlack. The recordings of this historic moment is at the archives of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum at Cooperstown, N.Y. in the voices of Bob Prince, longtime Pirates announcer and my colleague, mentor and friend, the great Cuban-born announcer Rafael “Felo” Ramírez in Spanish. Little did we know that would be the last hit of Clemente’s life. Clemente gave everything he had on the field playing baseball and ultimately he gave his life to help others unknown to him, in another country. In my opinion,this is the best quote that actually did justice to this great man.
“I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all he had to give.”
— Roberto Clemente.