Clemente in 1958
August 18, 1934|
Barrio San Antón, Carolina, Puerto Rico
|Died: December 31, 1972
San Juan, Puerto Rico
|April 17, 1955, for the Pittsburgh Pirates|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 3, 1972, for the Pittsburgh Pirates|
|Runs batted in||1,305|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
|Vote||92.7% (first ballot)|
Roberto Enrique Clemente Walker[a] (Spanish pronunciation: [roˈβeɾto enˈrike kleˈmente (g)walˈkeɾ]; August 18, 1934 – December 31, 1972) was a Puerto Rican professional baseball player. Clemente spent 18 Major League Baseball (MLB) seasons playing in the National League (NL) as a right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, becoming the first Latin American and Caribbean player to be enshrined. His untimely death established the precedent that, as an alternative to the five-year retirement period, a player who has been deceased for at least six months is eligible for entry into the Hall of Fame.
Clemente was an All-Star for twelve seasons and fifteen All-Star Games.[b] He was the NL Most Valuable Player in 1966, the NL batting leader in 1961, 1964, 1965, and 1967, and a Gold Glove winner for twelve consecutive seasons from 1961 through 1972. His batting average was over .300 for thirteen seasons and he had 3,000 major league hits during his career. He also played in two World Series championships. Clemente is the first Latin American and Caribbean player to help win a World Series as a starter (1960), to receive an NL MVP Award (1966), and to receive a World Series MVP Award (1971).
Clemente was married in 1964; he and his wife had three children. He was involved in charity work in Latin American and Caribbean countries during the off-seasons, often delivering baseball equipment and food to those in need. On December 31, 1972, he died in a plane crash while en route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
Clemente was born in Barrio San Antón,[c] Carolina, Puerto Rico, to Don Melchor Clemente and Doña Luisa Walker. He was the youngest of seven siblings; Clemente had four brothers and two sisters. During his childhood, his father worked as foreman of sugar crops located in the municipality. Because the family's resources were limited, Clemente worked alongside his father in the fields, loading and unloading trucks. Clemente showed interest in baseball early in life and often played against neighboring barrios. He attended Vizcarrondo High School in Carolina. During his first year in high school, he was recruited by Roberto Marín to play softball with the Sello Rojo team after Marín saw Clemente playing baseball in barrio San Antón. He was with the team two years as shortstop. Clemente joined Puerto Rico's amateur league when he was 16 years old, playing for the Ferdinand Juncos team, which represented the municipality of Juncos.
Clemente's professional baseball career began when Pedrín Zorilla offered Clemente, 18, a contract which he signed on October 9, 1952, with the Cangrejeros de Santurce, a winter league team and franchise of the LBBPR. He was a bench player during his first season but was promoted to the Santurce Cangrejeros ("Crabbers") starting lineup the following season. During this season he hit .288 as the Crabbers leadoff hitter. While Clemente was playing in the LBBPR, the Brooklyn Dodgers offered him a contract with one of the team's Triple-A affiliates.
After signing with the Dodgers on February 19, 1954, Clemente moved to Montreal to play with the Royals. Affected early on by both climate and language differences, Clemente received assistance from bilingual teammates such as infielder Chico Fernandez and pitchers Tommy Lasorda [d] and Joe Black.
In fact, it was Black who was the original target of the Pittsburgh Pirates' June 1, 1954 scouting trip to Richmond. Conducted by pitching coach Clyde Sukeforth, the mission's focus quickly shifted when he witnessed Clemente's throwing and batting prowess in pre-game drills. Nonetheless, Clemente barely played during Sukeforth's three-day visit. With his suspicions further aroused by manager Max Macon's dismissive remarks ("You mean you want him?!") and the fact that Clemente took batting practice with the pitchers rather than his fellow position players, Sukeforth made inquiries and soon ascertained Clemente's status as an unprotected bonus baby. Before leaving Richmond, he informed Macon that such subterfuge was pointless since the Pirates, well on their way to a fourth consecutive last-place finish, would thereby secure first pick in the winter draft.
Evidently, Macon took Sukeforth at his word; scarcely had the Pirate scout departed when, on June 4, Clemente started his first game in over a month. In the course of two days and three games (two of which he started), Clemente amassed ten at-bats, two more than in the previous thirty games combined. Yet just as abruptly, the moment was over and he was back to riding the bench, this time for almost two months.
Clemente's extra inning, walk-off home run of July 25, 1954, the first home run of his North American baseball career,[e] was hit in his first at-bat after entering the game as a defensive replacement, ending a nearly two-month-long drought starting on June 6 (17 appearances, 6 starts, and 24 at-bats in 60 games). From this point forward, Clemente's playing time increased significantly; he started every subsequent game against a left-handed starting pitcher, finishing the season with a batting average of .257 in 87 games. As promised, the Pirates made Clemente the first selection of the rookie draft that took place on November 22, 1954.
During much of his MLB career, Clemente was commonly referred to as "Bob Clemente" by sportswriters and announcers, and on baseball merchandise such as his annual Topps baseball trading cards (except the early 1950s and 1970s cards); this despite the fact he clearly preferred being called by his given first name. Also, most of his English-speaking teammates, uncomfortable with the foreign-sounding "Roberto", likewise resorted to Bob or Bobby. By the late 1960s, this practice had become the exception, not the rule; still, it was never entirely eradicated, as evidenced on September 30, 1972, the occasion of Clemente's 3,000th and final regular season hit, when Pirates announcer Bob Prince referred to him as "Bobby" while calling the game for KDKA. Clemente wore number 21, later retired by the Pirates, representing the number of letters in his full name, Roberto Clemente Walker.
During the off-seasons (except the 1958-59, 1962-63, 1965-66, 1968-69, 1971-72, and 1972-73 seasons), Clemente played professionally (and sometimes managed the San Juan team) for the Santurce Crabbers, Criollos de Caguas, and San Juan Sanadores in the Puerto Rican baseball winter league, where he was considered a star.
In September 1958, Clemente joined the United States Marine Corps Reserve. He went on to serve his six-month active duty commitment at Parris Island, South Carolina, Camp LeJeune in North Carolina, and Washington, D.C. At Parris Island, Clemente received his recruit training with Platoon 346 of the 3rd Recruit Battalion. The rigorous Marine Corps training programs helped Clemente physically; he added strength by gaining ten pounds and said his back troubles (caused by being in a 1954 auto accident, see below) had disappeared. He was a private first class in the Marine Corps Reserve until September 1964.
The Pirates experienced several difficult seasons through the 1950s, although they did manage a winning season in 1958, their first since 1948.
Clemente debuted with the Pirates on April 17, 1955 wearing uniform number 13, in the first game of a doubleheader against the Brooklyn Dodgers. At the beginning of his time with the Pirates, he experienced frustration because of racial tension with the local media and some teammates. Clemente responded to this by stating, "I don't believe in color." He noted that, during his upbringing, he was taught to never discriminate against someone based on ethnicity.
Clemente was at a double disadvantage, as he was a Latin American and Caribbean player who knew very little English, and was Black, being of African descent. The year before, the Pirates had become the fifth team in the NL and ninth in the major leagues to break the baseball color line when they hired Curt Roberts who debuted with the team. This was seven years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line with the Dodgers. Upon arriving in Pittsburgh, Roberts befriended Clemente and helped him adjust to life in the major league, as well as to get used to life in the Pittsburgh area.
Clemente had to sit out several games during his rookie season, due to a back injury suffered the previous winter in Puerto Rico, when a drunk driver rammed into his car at an intersection. He finished his rookie season with a .255 batting average, despite confronting trouble hitting certain types of pitches. His defensive skills were highlighted during this season.
Early in the 1960 season, Clemente led the league with a .353 batting average, and he registered runs batted in (RBIs) in 25 out of 27 games. Clemente's batting average stayed above the .300 mark throughout the course of the campaign. In August, he missed five games as a result of an injury to his chin that he suffered when he crashed into the outfield wall. The Pirates compiled a 95–59 record during the regular season, winning the NL pennant, and defeated the New York Yankees in a seven-game World Series. Clemente batted .310 in the series, hitting safely at least once in every game. His .314 batting average, 16 home runs, and defensive playing during the course of the season had earned him his first spot on the NL All-Star roster as a reserve player, and he replaced Hank Aaron in right field during the 7th and 8th innings in the second All-Star game held that season (two All-Star games were held each season from 1959 through 1962).
During spring training in 1961, following advice from Pirates' batting coach George Sisler, Clemente tried to modify his batting technique by using a heavier bat to slow the speed of his swing. During the 1961 season, Clemente was named the starting NL right fielder for the first of two All-Star games and went 2 for 4; he hit a triple on his first at-bat and scored the team's first run, then drove in the second with a sacrifice fly. With the AL ahead 4–3 in the 10th inning, he teamed with fellow future HOFers Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Frank Robinson to engineer a come-from-behind 5-4 NL victory, culminating in Clemente's walk-off single off knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm. Clemente started again in right field for the second All-Star game held that season and was 0 for 2, flying and grounding out in the 2nd and 4th innings. That season he received his first Gold Glove Award.
Following the 1961 season, he traveled to Puerto Rico along with Orlando Cepeda, who was a native of Ponce. When both players arrived, they were received by 18,000 people. During this time, he was also involved in managing the Senadores de San Juan of the Puerto Rican League, as well as playing with the team during the major league off-season. During the course of the winter league, Clemente injured his thigh while doing some work at home but wanted to participate in the league's all-star game. He pinch-hit in the game and got a single, but experienced a complication of his injury as a result, and had to undergo surgery shortly after being carried off the playing field;
This condition limited his role with the Pirates in the first half of the 1965 season, during which he batted .257. Although he was inactive for many games, when he returned to the regular starting lineup, he got hits in thirty-three out of thirty-four games and his batting average climbed up to .340. He participated as a pinch hitter and replaced Willie Stargell playing left field during the All-Star Game on July 15. In the 1960s, he batted over .300 every year except 1968, when he hit .291. He was an All-Star every season he played in the 1960s except for the 1968 season (it was the only year in his career after 1959 in which he failed to hit above .300), and he was a Gold Glove winner every season in the 1960s beginning in 1961. He won the NL batting title four times: 1961, 1964, 1965, and 1967, and won the league's MVP Award in 1966, hitting .317 with 29 home runs and 119 RBIs. In 1967, he registered a career high .357 batting average, hit 23 home runs, and batted in 110 runs.
The 1970 season was the last one that the Pirates played at Forbes Field before moving to Three Rivers Stadium; for Clemente, abandoning this stadium was an emotional situation. The Pirates' final game at Forbes Field occurred on June 28, 1970. That day, Clemente noted that it was hard to play in a different field, saying, "I spent half my life there." The night of July 24, 1970, was declared "Roberto Clemente Night"; on this day, several Puerto Rican fans traveled to Three Rivers Stadium and cheered Clemente while wearing traditional Puerto Rican attire. A ceremony to honor Clemente took place, during which he received a scroll with 300,000 signatures compiled in Puerto Rico, and several thousands of dollars were donated to charity work following Clemente's request.
During the 1970 season, Clemente compiled a .352 batting average; the Pirates won the NL East pennant but were subsequently eliminated by the Cincinnati Reds. During the offseason, Roberto Clemente experienced some tense situations while he was working as manager of the Senadores and when his father, Melchor Clemente, experienced medical problems and underwent surgery.
In the 1971 season, the Pirates won the NL East, defeated the San Francisco Giants in four games to win the NL pennant, and faced the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. Baltimore had won 100 games and swept the American League Championship Series, both for the third consecutive year, and were the defending World Series champions. The Orioles won the first two games in the series, but Pittsburgh won the championship in seven games. This marked the second occasion that Clemente helped win a World Series for the Pirates. Over the course of the series, Clemente had a .414 batting average (12 hits in 29 at-bats), performed well defensively, and hit a solo home run in the deciding 2–1 seventh game victory. Following the conclusion of the season, he received the World Series Most Valuable Player Award.
Though he was frustrated and struggling with injuries, Clemente played in 102 games and hit .312 during his final season in 1972. He also made the annual NL All-Star roster for the 12th time (he played in 14/15 All-Star games)[f] and won his 12th consecutive Gold Glove. On September 30, he hit a double in the 4th inning off Jon Matlack of the New York Mets at Three Rivers Stadium for his 3,000th hit. It was his last regular season at-bat of his career; he played in right field in one more regular season game on October 3 and in the 1972 NLCS against the Cincinnati Reds. In the NL playoffs that season, he batted .235 as he went 4 for 17. His last game was October 11, 1972 at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium in the fifth and final game of the series. He and Bill Mazeroski were the last Pirate players remaining from the 1960 World Series championship team.
Clemente was married on November 14, 1964 to Vera Zabala at San Fernando Church in Carolina. The couple had three children: Roberto, Jr., born in 1965, Luis Roberto, born in 1966, and Roberto Enrique, born in 1969.
Clemente spent much of his time during the off-season involved in charity work. When Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, was affected by a massive earthquake on December 23, 1972, Clemente (who had been visiting Managua three weeks before the quake) immediately set to work arranging emergency relief flights. He soon learned, however, that the aid packages on the first three flights had been diverted by corrupt officials of the Somoza government, never reaching victims of the quake. He decided to accompany the fourth relief flight, hoping that his presence would ensure that the aid would be delivered to the survivors. The airplane he chartered for a New Year's Eve flight, a Douglas DC-7 cargo plane, had a history of mechanical problems and subpar flight personnel, and was overloaded by 4,200 pounds. It crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Isla Verde, Puerto Rico immediately after takeoff on December 31, 1972. A few days after the crash, the body of the pilot and part of the fuselage of the plane were found. An empty flight case apparently belonging to Clemente was the only personal item recovered from the plane. Clemente's teammate and close friend Manny Sanguillén was the only member of the Pirates not to attend Roberto's memorial service. The Pirates catcher chose instead to dive into the waters where Clemente's plane had crashed in an effort to find his teammate. The bodies of Clemente and three others who were also on the four-engine plane, were never recovered. Montreal Expos pitcher Tom Walker, then playing winter league ball in Puerto Rico (in a league later named after Clemente), helped Clemente load the plane, but either because of the plane's weight load or because he wanted Walker, who was single, to go enjoy New Year's, Clemente told him not to join him on the flight. Walker's son is current Mets second baseman and former Pirate Neil Walker.
In an interview for the ESPN documentary series SportsCentury in 2002, Clemente's widow Vera mentioned that Clemente had told her several times that he thought he was going to die young. Indeed, while being asked by a reporter about when he would get his 3,000th career hit in July 1971, Clemente's response was "Well, uh, you never know. I, I, uh, if I'm alive, like I said before, you never know because God tells you how long you're going to be here. So you never know what can happen tomorrow." Clemente's older stepbrother, Luis, died on December 31, 1954 and his stepsister a few years later.
At the time of his death, Clemente had established several records with the Pirates, including most triples in a game (three) and hits in two consecutive games (ten). Clemente also tied the record for most Gold Glove Awards won among outfielders with twelve, which he shares with Willie Mays. He also is the only player to have hit a walk-off inside-the-park grand slam. He accomplished this historic event on July 25, 1956 in a 9–8 Pittsburgh win against the Chicago Cubs, at Forbes Field. In addition, he was one of four players to receive ten or more Gold Glove awards and have a lifetime .317 batting average.
On March 30, 1973, the Baseball Writers' Association of America held a special election for the Baseball Hall of Fame. They voted to waive the waiting period for Clemente, due to the circumstances of his death, and posthumously elected him for induction into the Hall of Fame, giving him 393 out of 420 available votes, for 92% of the vote. Clemente's Hall of Fame plaque had originally read "Roberto Walker Clemente". In 2000, the plaque was recast to express his name in the proper Spanish format, "Roberto Clemente Walker".
Since 1971, MLB has presented the Roberto Clemente Award (named the Commissioner's Award in 1971 and 1972) every year to a player with outstanding baseball playing skills who is personally involved in community work. A trophy and a donation check for a charity of the player's choice is presented annually at the World Series. A panel of three makes the final determination of the award recipient from an annual list of selected players.
Citizens Medal Citation
|Roberto Clemente's number 21 was retired by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1973.|
1971: Babe Ruth Award from the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWWA).
2006: Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award (MLB award): On July 11, 2006 at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, many of the players on both teams wore yellow wristbands with the initials "RCW" in honor of Clemente. The award was presented and accepted at the end of the 4th inning by Clemente's widow. The Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig stated during the award presentation that "Roberto was a hero in every sense of the term".
1973: Clemente's uniform number 21 was retired by the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 6.
1984: The United States Postal Service issued a Roberto Clemente postal stamp on August 17, 1984. The stamp was designed by Juan Lopez-Bonilla and shows Clemente wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap with a Puerto Rican flag in the background.
2010: Clemente was inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame.
2015: Clemente was enshrined in the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame.
PNC Park, the home ballpark of the Pirates which opened in 2001, includes a right field wall 21 feet (6.4 m) high, in reference to Clemente's uniform number and his normal fielding position during his years with the Pirates. The Pirates originally erected a statue in memory of Clemente at Three Rivers Stadium, an honor previously awarded to Honus Wagner. The statue was moved to PNC Park when it opened, and stands at the corner near the Roberto Clemente Bridge. An identical smaller statue was unveiled in Newark, New Jersey's Branch Brook Park in 2012. The team considered naming PNC Park after Clemente, but despite popular sentiment the team chose instead to sell the naming rights to locally based PNC Financial Services, with the bridge being renamed after him considered a compromise.
The coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico was named the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in 1973; two baseball parks are in Carolina, the professional one, Roberto Clemente Stadium, and the Double-A. There is also the Escuela de los Deportes (School of Sports) that has the Double-A baseball park. Today, this sports complex is called Ciudad Deportiva Roberto Clemente. The Pittsburgh Pirates is one of the most popular baseball teams in Puerto Rico due to Clemente.
In Pittsburgh, the 6th Street Bridge was renamed in his memory. The City of Pittsburgh maintains Roberto Clemente Memorial Park along North Shore Drive in the city's North Side which includes a bronze relief by sculptor Eleanor Milleville. In 2007, the Roberto Clemente Museum opened in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh. Near the old Forbes Field where he began his pro career the city of Pittsburgh has renamed a street in his honor.
Champion thoroughbred horse Roberto, bred in 1968 and owned by then-Pirates owner John W. Galbreath, was named for Clemente. The horse would go on to become a champion in Britain and Ireland, and in June 1973, following Clemente's passing, won the Group I Coronation Stakes at Epsom.
The state of New York opened Roberto Clemente State Park in The Bronx in 1973. Some schools, such as Roberto Clemente High School in Chicago the Roberto Clemente Charter School in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Roberto Clemente Academy in Detroit, Roberto Clemente Elementary School and New Roberto Clemente Middle School in Paterson, New Jersey were named in his honor. There is also a Roberto Clemente Stadium in Masaya, Nicaragua, as well as a middle school in Germantown, Maryland, called Roberto W. Clemente Middle School. In addition, he is the namesake for the Roberto Clemente Little League in Branch Brook Park in Newark, New Jersey, the Roberto Clemente Independent School of the Arts (IS 195) in New York City, and Clemente Leadership Academy in The Hill neighborhood of New Haven, Connecticut.
In 1999, Clemente ranked number 20 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, the highest-ranking Latin American and Caribbean player on the list. Later that year, Clemente was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
During the 2003 and 2004 MLB seasons, the Montreal Expos (who at the time were owned by MLB due to an aborted contraction attempt) played 22 home games each season at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Although the Pirates played their annual road series against the Expos in Montreal for 2003, the two teams did meet in San Juan for a four-game series in 2004, the last series the Expos hosted in San Juan before moving to Washington, D.C. and becoming the Washington Nationals the following season. During one of those games, in a tribute to Clemente, both teams wore throwback uniforms from the 1969 season, the Expos first season and, at the time, Clemente's 15th with the Pirates. The Pirates throwbacks, replicas of what Clemente wore from 1957–early 1970, were similar to their then-current uniforms, except that the road jerseys they wore for the game read "Pirates" instead of "Pittsburgh", and last names were absent from the backs of the jerseys. The Expos won the four-game series three games to one.
Clemente's #21 remains active in MLB and is worn by multiple players. Sammy Sosa wore #21 throughout his career as a tribute to his childhood hero. The number is unofficially retired in the Puerto Rico Baseball League. While the topic of retiring #21 throughout Major League Baseball like Jackie Robinson's #42 has been broached, and supported by groups such as Hispanics Across America, Jackie Robinson's daughter disagrees, believing that MLB should honor him another way.
In June 2013, at aforementioned Clemente Park in The Bronx, a statue of the Hall of Fame icon, sculpted by Cuban-American Maritza Hernandez, was installed. It depicts Clemente doffing his cap after notching his 3,000th hit on September 30, 1972.
Clemente's life has been the subject of numerous books, articles and documentaries:
1993: "Roberto Clemente: A Video Tribute to One of Baseball's Greatest Players and a True Humanitarian", documentary directed by Rich Domich and Michael Kostel, narrated by Raúl Juliá and Héctor Elizondo.
2006: Clemente: The Passion and grace of Baseball's Last Hero by David Maraniss.
2008: "Roberto Clemente": One-hour biography as part of the Public Broadcasting Service history series, American Experience which premiered on April 21, 2008. The film is directed by Bernardo Ruiz, narrated by Jimmy Smits and features interviews with Vera Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and George F. Will. The production received an ALMA Award.
2010: Chasing 3000 a movie based on a true story of two kids named Mickey (played by Ray Liotta, Trevor Morgan, and Blake Woodyard) and Roger (played by Jay Karnes, Rory Culkin, and Nicholas Brady) as they go on an adventure to travel across the United States to see Clemente's 3,000th hit.
2011: 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente was released, a graphic novel by Wilfred Santiago (published by Fantagraphics) detailing Clemente's life in a comic-book format. In their USA Today Magazine article titled "Saluting Pittsburgh's Finest" Richard E. Vatz and Lee S. Weinberg said Clemente was "arguably the best in the history of the game" and stated that "understanding the magnitude of Roberto Clemente requires an appreciation of the gestalt of his presence, which was greater than the sum of his statistics".
2011: DC-7: The Roberto Clemente Story, a bilingual musical about Clemente's life, had its world premiere in November 2011 with a full house at the Teatro SEA in Manhattan before moving to New York's Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre for a successful seven-week run. The show ran from December 6 through December 16, 2012 at Puerto Rico's Teatro Francisco Arrivi.
2013: "Baseball's Last Hero: 21 Clemente Stories", the first feature dramatic film on Clemente's life was finished by California filmmaker and Pittsburgh native Richard Rossi. Rossi returned to Pittsburgh to premiere his film on Roberto Clemente's birthday, August 18, 2013  before exhibiting the film in New York, other cities, and DVD.
The scene spurred several people to pitch the Pope for Clemente's canonization as a saint. Rossi, a former evangelical minister, received several messages of support, including a letter showing papal support from Pope Francis in starting the process  from the Vatican through the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C. and from Archbishop Jose Horacio Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. "I've never thought of him in terms of being a saint", said former Pirates second baseman Neil Walker, a devout Roman Catholic whose father was a teammate of Clemente. "But he's somebody who lived his life serving others, really. So if it would happen, I wouldn't be terribly surprised by it." 
"I saw him on the field and I said, ‘Tommy, why did you tell that story?’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘One: Clemente didn’t hang out with you. Second: Clemente speaks English.' [...] Puerto Rico, you know, is part of the United States. So, over there, youngsters do have the privilege of taking English in classrooms. He wouldn’t give a speech like Shakespeare, but he knew how to order breakfast and eggs. He knew how to say, ‘It's a good day,’ ‘Let's play,’ or ‘Why I don’t play?’ He could say, ‘Let's go to the movies.’"
Roberto's father,Don Melchor Clemente, worked as a foreman in the sugar fields.
For the next two years, Clemente played for the Sello Rojo softball team.
When he was sixteen, he played for the Ferdinand Juncos team in the Puerto Rican amateur league.
Well, Marin", said señor Zorilla, "we can give him $400 bonus and maybe $ 40.00 a week until he learns to wear a uniform.
Roberto", said Pedrin Zorilla, "I have spoken with Mr. Campanis. The Dodgers would like to sign you to a contract with their Triple-A team in Montreal. They will pay you a signing bonus of $10,000 and a salary of $5,000 for the year
I noticed you haven't been playing Clemente much." Sukeforth smiled across the dinner table at Max Macon. The two men had known each other for years. There was no sense in trying to fool each other. "Well, I don’t care if you never play him" continued the Pittsburgh scout. "We're going to finish last, and we're going to draft him number one.
Once again he was playing for the Santurce Crabbers. In the winter league he was an established star.
It was Sunday, April 17, 1955, and the Pittsburgh Pirates were playing the first game of a double-header against the Brooklyn Dodgers.[...] For Roberto Clemente it was his first time at bat in the major leagues.
Even on his own team, some of the players made fun of him and called him a "nigger." Roberto grew furious at their insults.
There were other insults as well. In the newspapers, the writers called him a "Puerto Rican hot dog." When they quoted the things he said they exaggerated his accent.
"I don’t believe in color", Roberto said. "I believe in people. I always respect everyone and thanks to God my mother and my father taught me never to hate, never to dislike someone based on their color.
To make matters worse, Roberto had to sit out many games because of pain in his lower back. During the winter, a drunken driver had rammed into his car at sixty miles per hour.
Roberto continued to struggle at the plate throughout his rookie season, finally finishing with a .255 average.
In the outfield, however, he quickly established himself as an outstanding performer.
In May, while the Pirates were fighting the San Francisco Giants for first place, Roberto drove in 25 runs in 27 games. By the end of the month he was leading the league with a batting average of .353 and the Pirates were ahead of the Giants by one and a half games.
Roberto was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. The doctors stitched up his jaw and he sat out the next five games waiting for it to heal
Now, in the spring of 1961, he made another improvement. He began using a heavier bat to slow down his swing and make better contact with the ball.
Then he brought his bat around and smashed a line drive to right field. As Roberto raced for first, Willie Mays rounded third and headed for home. The National League had won by a score of 5-4!
When the plane landed, Roberto and Cepeda received a hero's welcome. Eighteen thousand people stood cheering on the side of the road as they were driven from the airport to Sixto Escobar Stadium.
The injury had not affected his swing, and he smashed a hard line drive to right field, but as he limped to first base, his leg collapsed beneath him. He was rushed to the hospital, and a few days later, the doctors cut open his leg to drain a pool of blood in his thigh.
Clemente was back and so were the Pirates. Roberto hit safely in 33 out of 34 games, raising his average all the way up to .340.
On June 28, 1970, the Pittsburgh Pirates played their last game at Forbes Field. For Roberto it was an emotional moment. "I spent half my life there", he said.
A young Puerto Rican businessman named Juan Jiménez presented Roberto with a scroll containing 300,000 signatures from the people of Puerto Rico.
At Roberto's request, thousands of dollars were donated to help the crippled children at Pittsburgh's Children's Hospital.
That winter, Roberto had other concerns as well. Don Melchor fell seriously ll and had to have surgery.
The daughter of Jackie Robinson thinks Major League Baseball should not retire Roberto Clemente's No. 21, the New York Daily News reported Tuesday. The Hispanics Across America advocacy group wants Clemente's number set aside the way the late Robinson's No. 42 was nine years ago. But Sharon Robinson said that honor should remain for her father only.
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