?Roberto Clemente played in an era dominated by the likes of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente was usually overlooked by fans discussing great baseball players. Not until late in his 18-year career did the public appreciate the talents of the 12-time All-Star of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Even though he was arguably the best baseball player at that time he was also a devote humanitarian which ultimately led to his death.
Roberto Clemente Walker was born in Barrio San Anton in Carolina, Puerto Rico, August 18, 1934. Growing up he helped his father, who worked as a foreman on a sugar plantation and manager of a grocery store, load and unload trucks. The youngest of four children, Roberto excelled in track and field, winning medals in the javelin throw and short distance races. Despite his great success in the other sports his real love was baseball. He took advantage of the weather in Puerto Rico to play baseball year-round.
He became consumed with the game. He squeezed a rubber ball to build up his throwing arm. While in high school, he signed a $60-a-month contract and he also received a $5,000 bonus and a new glove to play for Santurce, a professional team in the Puerto Rican league. He was 18 then and hit .356 in the winter of 1952-53. The next season, Brooklyn Dodgers scout Al Campanis held a baseball tryout clinic.
He impressed Campanis enough that he offered him a $10,000 bonus. The 18 yr old had to wait until he graduated from high school before he could sign with a major league team. So he gave his word to Campanis that he would sign with the Dodgers. Later other teams were ready to offer him more money. The Milwaukee Braves were willing to give him a $30,000 bonus.
But being a man of his word he stuck to his agreement and signed with The Brooklyn Dodgers. The talent-laden Dodger organization of the mid-1950s knew it would be difficult for the teenager to break into the majors with the Dodgers, therefor they tried to hide him in the minors. They were afraid that another team would draft him after the 1954 season. (There was a rule stating that any player who received a bonus of at least $4,000 had to be placed on the major league roster within a year or he could be drafted for $4,000.) Though he batted only 148 times for the Montreal Royals. There fears came true the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted him that November. Though only 20 and still learning the English language, He became a starter for the Pirates in 1955.
He was rightfully Pittsburgh’s pride and joy. The fans laugh at his antics, ooh- and-ah at his spectacular plays, roar in anticipation of his performance, and in general love the man. The Pirates, who were awful in his first three seasons, gradually built a strong club. In 1960 they won the National League pennant, with him hitting .314 with 16 homers and a team-high 94 RBI and making his first All-Star team. He continued his awesome play in the World Series, hitting .310 as the Pirates defeated the New York Yankees on Bill Mazeroski’s famous ninth-inning homer in Game 7.
But He never wore his 1960 championship ring. Feeling snubbed by the writers because he only finished eighth in MVP balloting, he wore an All-Star ring instead. His performance in 1960 was just the beginning of his All-Star, Hall of Fame career. In 1961 he was in the best shape of his life, finally getting over the chronic back problems that had bothered him since his rookie season.
With his improved health, He hit .351 to win his first batting title, producing 201 hits. On November 14, 1964, he married Vera Cristina Zabala in Carolina, Puerto Rico. They had three sons. Roberto Jr., Luis Roberto and Roberto Enrique.
Proud of his heritage Roberto insisted that Vera give birth to all three sons in Puerto Rico. From 1964 through 1967, He won three more batting titles. And in the year he didn’t win one, he was voted the National League’s MVP. He had a career best .371 batting average in 1967. The year he won the MVP, he finished fifth in batting at .317 but had career-highs with 29 homers and 119 RBI (second best in the league).
The Pirates came in third, three games behind the first-place Dodgers. In 1971, Clemente (.341) led the Pirates to another pennant. Though one of the game’s finest players. He hadn’t received much national media attention. That changed in the World Series when he became a one-man wrecking crew against the Baltimore Orioles, chasing down fly balls, and making it hard on his opposing pitchers with a .414 average in the World Series. His home run in Game 7 provided the Pirates with their first run in a 2-1 victory.
He was voted the World Series MVP. In 1972, at the age of 38, he batted .312. On Sept. 30, He doubled off New York Mets left-hander Jon Matlack. It was his 3,000th hit.
Nobody knew it at the time, but it would be his last regular-season hit. During the winter of 1972, Clemente began work on a sports city for the young people of San Juan. But on Dec. 23, the city of Managua, Nicaragua, was rocked by an earthquake that killed thousands, and left many more homeless. Clemente worked organizing a relief effort for the quake victims.
On New Year’s Eve the plane was taking medical, food and clothing supplies to an earthquake stricken Nicaragua. Vera and friends begged him not to take the trip (poor weather and a unstable cargo plane) but He was determined. He was infuriated that the previous supplies had not made it to the victims. Roberto was going to personally see to it that the victims received the much needed supplies.
Unfortunately, the plane went down off the coast of Puerto Rico. His body was never found. Just months after he had joined an elite group of players with 3000 hits, he was gone. Clemente’s death shocked the world as well as the people of Puerto Rico, where a three-day mourning period was declared. The Baseball Writers Association of America held a special election and the mandatory five-year waiting period for the Hall of Fame was waived.
On Aug. 6, 1973, Clemente, who had a lifetime .317 average with 240 homers and 1,305 RBI, was honorably inducted into the Hall. He was the first Hispanic elected to the shrine. In memory of Clemente, the player and humanitarian, the Pirates in 1973 wore uniform patches with his No. 21 on them.
It has been just over 28 years since his unfortunate death and still today Roberto is remembered as one of the greatest athletes and humanitarians of all time. One of his dreams, the Roberto Clemente Sports City, is one part of the legacy he left behind. Visitors to Carolina, Puerto Rico are greeted by a twelve-foot statue as they enter into a 304-acre sports complex. Roberto Clemente’s legacy is continued by his wife Vera, Luis Roberto and Roberto Enrique, who have been instrumental in continuing Roberto’s Dream. Roberto Clemente Walker was one of the best baseball players ever and it is very tragic how it had to end for him.
I believe he was very generous in his ways and unfortunately led to his death. But he will always be remember by his children and their efforts to keep him alive through them. Sports and Games Essays