A Look Back: Roberto Clemente
“A Look Back”: legends of sport, great teams, heated rivalries, and amazing games of the past.
This week’s edition of “A Look Back” will be featuring one of the greatest Pittsburgh Pirates to ever play in the black and gold, Roberto Clemente. Clemente was born in San Anton, Carolina, Puerto Rico, and was the youngest of 7 children. He was signed to play Puerto Rican Baseball when he was 18, and he played there from 1952-1954. Clemente was the first selection of the Rule 5 draft in 1954 by the Pittsburgh Pirates because the Brooklyn Dodgers failed to put Clemente on their big league roster.
Roberto Clemente made his Major League debut with the Pirates on April 17th, 1955, against the Brooklyn Dodgers in a double header. Clemente was entering baseball just 7 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Clemente was at a double disadvantage because he was black and he was from Latin America. Curt Roberts befriended Clemente, and he helped him with his English and getting used to life in Pittsburgh.
During the 1960 season, Roberto Clemente had a .314 batting average and 16 home runs. Clemente helped lead the Pirates to a 95-59 record and the National League pennant, and a chance to play in the World Series. The Pirates beat the New York Yankees in 7 games. Clemente’s play earned him an All-Star selection.
Clemente was selected to the All-Star game and batted over .300 every year in the 60’s except for 1968. Clemente won the Gold Glove Award for an outfielder every season after 1961. Clemente also won the Batting Title 4 times: 1961, 1964, 1965, and 1967. Clemente also won the MVP award in he 1966 season. Even though he won the MVP in 1966, the 1967 season was his best statistical season. He batted .357, hit 23 home runs, and had 110 RBI’s (Runs Batted In).
The Pirates played their final season in Forbes Field before moving to Three Rivers Stadium in 1970. During the 1970 season, the Pirates won the National League East pennant, but were eliminated by the Cincinnati Reds.
The Pirates redeemed their 1970 loss to the Reds by beating the San Francisco Giants to get the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. The Pirates won once again in 7 games against the Orioles, and Roberto Clemente homered in the 7th game of the series that the Pirates won 2-1.
Roberto Clemente played his final season in 1972. Clemente recorded his 3000th hit on September 30th, 1972, against Jon Matlack of the New York Mets at Three Rivers Stadium. This was Clemente’s last at bat that he had in the regular season as a Pittsburgh Pirate.
Roberto Clemente was involved in charity work in the Latin American region, and in December of 1972 Nicaragua experienced an earthquake. Clemente was going to take aid packages to the people on December 31st 1972. One of the guys who helped Clemente was Tom Walker, and Walker wanted to go with Clemente to take the supplies to Nicaragua. Clemente told him to go enjoy New Years and have some fun. Tom Walker is the Father of current Pittsburgh Pirates’ second baseman Neil Walker. The airplane that Clemente was on crashed immediately after takeoff.
Some people say that had Clemente not passed away in 1972, he could have played on the 1979 World Series team because he was in such amazing physical shape. Others also say that the Pirates could have won another World Series title or two had Clemente been on the amazingly talented 1970’s Pirates rosters.
Roberto Clemente was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on March 30, 1973. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America held this special meeting to waive the waiting period for Clemente, due to the circumstances of his death. Clemente is one the best players in Pirates history, and I think the best Pirates outfielder in franchise history.