Some readers may be too young to remember him on the field, but today is the day for remembering Roberto Clemente. In addition to being a top-notch Hall of Famer, Clemente was also quite the savior off the field, ultimately leading to his untimely death.
Remembering Roberto Clemente for old-school baseball fans means remembering not only the man but the legend that he became – even if that did occur posthumously. If ever there were an underrated Hall of Fame inductee, it was Clemente. His bat was golden and his arm was like a laser-guided canon.
As great a player as Clemente was, the lines get blurred as to whether he’s best remembered for his contibutions in the park or outside of it.
Remembering Roberto Clemente: The Accident
For those who only know the name and the award which carries his name, Roberto Clemente died 48 years ago today (December 31, 1972) in a plane crash. In an effort to continue with his philanthropy, Clemente was determined to spend New Year’s Eve in 1972 delivering relief supplies to Managua, Nicaragua, following a devastating earthquake.
The plane never made it.
Having just turned 38 in August of 1972, Roberto Clemente’s act of kindness for the Nicaraguans would be his final contribution to this world, as the four-engine plane that he was aboard crashed into the sea, killing all on the flight.
Remembering Roberto Clemente: The Player
Remembering Roberto Clemente on the baseball diamond is equally as important. His accolades and awards read like a Who’s Who in the annals of Major League Baseball history.
- Clemente was a 13-time All-Star, appearing in 15 All-Star Games
- He finished first in the MVP balloting in 1966
- Led the NL in hitting four times (1961, 1964, 1965, and 1967)
- Clemente won a Gold Glove in 12 consecutive seasons from 1961 through 1972
- Two-time World Series champion
- He was the first Latin American player inducted into the Hall of Fame (1973)
- Over the course of 18 seasons (all with the Pittsburgh Pirates), Roberto Clemente amassed a slash line of .317/.359/.479, with a career OPS of .834.
- In addition, he had (exactly) 3,000 hits and 240 home runs.
Remembering Roberto Clemente: The Humanitarian
When Roberto Clemente wasn’t playing professional ball during the offseason, he focused his time on relief efforts for Latin American and Caribbean countries. Whether food relief, emergency supplies, or even baseball equipment, Clemente ensured that those in need got whatever he could deliver.
In 1973, the Pittsburgh Pirates retired Clemente’s number 21. The same year, Major League Baseball honored Clemente in a different way, acknowledging his charity work. Formerly named the Commissioner’s Award, MLB elected to honor Clemente by renaming it the Roberto Clemente Award in honor of the fallen hero.
The award (as per MLB) is defined as, and awarded to, the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.”
There was no one more fitting than Clemente to rename the award after.
Yes, MLB needs to retire Roberto Clemente’s number alongside Jackie Robinson’s. Both players made immeasurable contributions to the game, in addition to even larger contributions off the diamond.
Whether old or young, take a minute out of your day today and dedicate it to remembering Roberto Clemente. The man was (and remains) a legend.
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