Roberto Clemente was a Puerto Rican baseball player who spent his entire career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, becoming one of the greatest players in the history of the game. Clemente’s career spanned from his childhood in Puerto Rico to his untimely death in a plane crash during a relief effort to aid the people of Nicaragua from a devastating earthquake the in 1972. Clemente died helping others in need (only the good die young) and because of his heroic and selfless deed, Clemente is loved and cherished throughout the world, his legacy lives on.
Roberto Clemente left behind his wife Vera. three young sons, Roberto Jr., Luis Roberto, and Roberto Enrique. Within this story, you will take a glimpse into Roberto Clemente’s childhood in Puerto Rico, his struggles, his talents, his baseball career. His humanitarian ways and his untimely death.
Childhood and Early Life:
Roberto Clemente was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico on August 18, 1934. He was the youngest of seven children, his father worked as a foreman for sugar cane crops. Because the family’s resources were limited, Clemente and his brothers worked alongside their father in the fields, loading and unloading trucks.
As a youth, Clemente was a track and field star and Olympic hopeful before deciding to turn his attention to baseball. He began playing on the streets of his hometown when he was just a child, using sticks and bottle caps as makeshift equipment. His talent was quickly apparent, and he soon began playing for local teams.
In 1952, Clemente was signed by the Santurce Crabbers, a professional baseball team in Puerto Rico. He played with the Crabbers for several seasons, developing his skills and catching the eye of scouts from Major League Baseball teams.
In 1954, Clemente was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, but he was soon traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He made his major league debut with the Pirates in 1955, and quickly became a fan favorite with his impressive batting and outfield skills.
Clemente’s first full season with the Pirates was in 1956, and he continued to improve his game over the years. But it wasn’t all sunshine, Clemente deal with his share of racism, that was prevalent at the time.
The Ugly Face of Racism:
It wasn’t easy for when he first arrived to play in Major League Baseball in the Sates because Clemente was undervalued and unjustly disrespected by the media and reporters, which at that time was a unfortunately a natural occurrence. At his first spring training for the Pirates, reporters who did not even know him or cared about him wrote, “A Puerto Rican hot dog arrives in town.”
He was clearly being singled because of his racial differences. Reporters called him “Bob” or “Bobby”, even though he told them his name was Roberto. He was often quoted and made fun of by reporters because of his accent and this would often frustrate him, but regardless he would always cooperate and do interviews. He came across this adversity from the media many times, more so, in his earlier years in the majors.
The racial barrier that existed in Major League Baseball was “broken” many years before Clemente, when Jackie Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but that didn’t mean that it was easy for blacks Hispanics,
Players like Clemente, and it wasn’t, in fact it was a difficult thing to deal with for them. Including Clemente, who knew he had two strikes against him because he was black and Hispanic.
Other Latino and African American players came before him, but it was still hard because Clemente felt he was a “double minority”. A media outlet quoted Roberto on this point:
“Latin American Negro ballplayers are treated today much like all Negroes were treated in baseball in the early days of the broken color barrier. They are subjected to prejudices and stamped with generalizations. Because they speak Spanish among themselves, they are set off as a minority within a minority, and they bear the brunt of the sport’s remaining racial prejudices.”
Clemente would not stand for unjust prejudices in which he and others were subjected to. For example, when the Pirates would travel to the South, Clemente and other minority players would wait in the bus while the white players went to eat in a restaurant. This angered Roberto, who approached the Pirates management about it. Eventually, the Pirates got separate cars for the minority players to drive somewhere together to eat.
Another example of Clemente’s stance against being profiled was when he and his wife Vera went to shop at a furniture store which had six floors. The best furniture was on the first floor. The higher you went in the building, the lower the quality of furniture.
Initially, the salesman sent them to the fourth floor. The salesman then realized that he was Roberto Clemente and tried to send them to the first floor, but before he could sell them anything, Roberto and Vera were already out the door. Clemente knew that there was a racial inequalities but he refused to tolerate it.
Major League Basbeball:
Roberto Clemente played for The Pittsburg Pirates from 1955 to 1972, one of Clemente’s most notable accomplishments was his performance in the 1960 World Series. In game seven of the series, Clemente hit a home run and made a game-saving catch in the outfield, helping the Pirates win the championship. Clemente was named the Most Valuable Player of the World Series, and he became the first Latin American player to win the award.
15-time All-Star (1960-1967, 1969-1972)
- 12-time Gold Glove Award winner (1961-1972)
- National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 1966
- World Series MVP in 1971
- Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973
Led the Pittsburgh Pirates to two World Series championships in 1960 and 1971
- Had a career batting average of .317
- Hit 240 home runs and drove in 1,305 runs
- Recorded 3,000 hits in his career
- Stole 83 bases
- Won four National League batting titles (1961, 1964, 1965, 1967)
- Had 12 seasons with a batting average of .300 or higher
18 seasons played in MLB
- 2,433 games played
- 9,454 plate appearances
- 7,646 at-bats
- 1,416 runs scored
- 2,430 hits
- 440 doubles
- 166 triples
- 240 home runs
- 1,305 runs batted in (RBIs)
- 83 stolen bases
- .317 batting average
- .359 on-base percentage
- .475 slugging percentage
- 130 OPS+ (On-base plus slugging percentage adjusted for park and league averages)
Off the Field:
Clemente was not just a talented athlete; he was also a philanthropist and humanitarian. He was deeply committed to helping people in need, particularly in Latin America. In 1972, Clemente decided to personally deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He chartered a plane to take supplies to the country, but the plane crashed into the ocean shortly after takeoff, killing Clemente and everyone else on board, Clemente’s body was never found.
Roberto Clemente’s legacy lives on to this day. He is remembered as one of the greatest baseball players of all time, with a career batting average of .317 and 3,000 hits. He was also a trailblazer for Latin American players in the major leagues, paving the way for future generations of players.
Clemente was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, and his number 21 was retired by the Pittsburgh Pirates. In addition to his accomplishments on the field, Clemente’s humanitarian work is also remembered. The Roberto Clemente Foundation was established in his honor, and it continues to support humanitarian efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“All who saw Roberto Clemente in action, whether on the diamond or on the front lines of charitable endeavor, are richer for the experience. He stands with that handful of men whose brilliance has transformed the game of baseball into a showcase of skill and spirit, giving universal delight and inspiration. More than that, his selfless dedication to helping those with two strikes against them in life blessed thousands and set an example for millions. As long as Citizens Medals are presented, each will mean a little more because this first one went to him.” – President Richard M. Nixon, 1973
Roberto Clemente Day?:
Roberto Clemente already has his own day in Major League Baseball and now a few lawmakers want to cement Sept. 15 as Roberto Clemente Day in the State of Pennsylvania. State Rep. Nick Pisciottano of West Mifflin and two colleagues from Philadelphia are behind the resolution to honor Clemente’s life and legacy.
Clemente spent 18 years with the Pirates. He died at age 38 in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972, off the coast of Puerto Rico while transporting a shipment of supplies to Nicaragua after an earthquake.
“To honor the life and legacy of Roberto Clemente, we are introducing a resolution to recognize September 15, 2023, as ‘Roberto Clemente Day’ in Pennsylvania. Major League Baseball recognizes this date to honor Clemente, coinciding with the start of Hispanic Heritage Month,” the memorandum reads. The lawmakers called Clemente a “beloved humanitarian, athlete, and veteran.”
Authentic Coat of Arms Hats, Belts & T-Shirts