The Humanitarian Baseball Legend
Written and linked by Brian R. Dye
Grades 4th- 8th
Roberto Clemente was born on August 18, 1934 and rose from an impoverished background in Caroline, Puerto Rico, to fame and fortune in the U.S. Roberto Clemente is known as one of the all- time baseball greats, who played with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955 to 1972, but was quickly recognized for his concern for others and his humanitarian efforts.
Clemente was a pioneer of Puerto Rican baseball. In 1952, Pedrin Zorrilla, owner of the Puerto Rican Winter League's Santurce baseball team, received a tip from someone who saw Clemente playing softball. Zorrilla saw him play and offered him a contract for the 1952-1953 season. Clemente was then signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers on February 19, 1954 as a member of their minor league team. The Pittsburgh Phillies then took Clemente with the first pick of the 1954 major league draft. This is where he would become a legend for the next 18 years.
Among Clemente's achievements as a player, he was the National League batting champion four times- 1961, 1964, 1965, 1967- and he was voted the league's most valuable player in 1966. He was awarded twelve Gold Gloves and set a major league record in leading the National League in assists five times. He served on fourteen all star teams, and he was only one of six players to have 3,000 or more hits during their career. Clemente had accumulated 240 home runs and a lifetime batting average of .317.
He was a major contributor to the Pirates winning the World Series in 1960 and 1971. When the Orioles threatened to break the 1971 series open, Clemente made defense an offensive weapon. In Game 6, with Merv Rettenmund on third, Frank Robinson lofted a sure sacrifice fly 300 feet down the right field line. Clemente caught the ball and fired a perfect strike to catcher Manny Sanguillen. Rettenmund never moved. When, with Mike Cuellar pitching, and the Pirates in need of a hit, Clemente hit a topper back to the mound. Cuellar fielded it cleanly and looked up in astonishment to see Roberto racing up the line to first. Cuellar, rattled, hurried his toss- too late! Clemente was safe, and the Pirates stayed alive. When presented with his MVP trophy for the series, Clemente had this to say, "I want everybody in the world to know that this is the way I play all the time. All season, every season." He said this because he had been greatly overshadowed throughout his career by the likes of Mickey Mantle and Jim Palmer.
But it wasn't his baseball skills that he has been remembered so much as for who he was as a man.
"Roberto Clemente represented a level of excellence and honor, pride and dignity which we never saw so graphically displayed. You could see all those things in the man, in his face, in the way he handled himself, in the way he played baseball. He understood how much he meant to us, and he took very seriously his role as a leader of youth, as a citizen of the world."
-Duquesne University Law Professor Joseph Sabino Mistick
In the end, it was his role as a humanitarian that got him killed. Only fourteen months after the 1971 World Series victory, Roberto Clemente was attempting to take relief supplies to earthquake- torn Nicaragua. It was New Year's Eve, December 31, 1972. After hearing that supplies were being stolen, he declared that they would not steal from Roberto Clemente. He had been warned that the old DC-7 was seriously overloaded. He never heeded this warning. Packed with 16,000 pounds of supplies, the airplane never made it to Nicaragua. The plane, along with Roberto Clemente, was tossed into the sea off the coast of San Juan as the engines burst into flames. It was never found. The next summer, the Baseball Hall of Fame waived its five- year waiting period after a player's retirement and immediately elected him into membership as the first Latin American player to be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame. This ended the life of not only a great baseball player but of even a greater humanitarian and hero. It is losses such as this that can not be replaced.
The following are given as a help in the clasroom. Click any of the following titles to bring up each separately. These can then be printed off for classroom use.