Roberto Enrique Clemente Walker Sr[a] (Spanish pronunciation: [roˈβeɾto enˈrike kleˈmente (ɣ)walˈkeɾ]; August 18, 1934 – December 31, 1972) was a Puerto Rican professional baseballright fielder who played 18 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After his early death, he was posthumously inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, becoming both the first Caribbean and the first Latin-American player to be enshrined. Because he died at a young age and had such a stellar career, the Hall of Fame changed its rules of eligibility. As an alternative to a player having to be retired for five years before eligibility, a player who has been deceased for at least six months is eligible for entry.
Clemente was involved in charity work in Latin American and Caribbean countries during the off-seasons. He often delivered baseball equipment and food to those in need. On December 31, 1972, he died in a plane crash at the age of 38 while en route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. The following season, the Pirates retired his uniform number 21, and MLB renamed its annual Commissioner's Award in his honor. Now known as the Roberto Clemente Award, it is given to the player who "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team."
Roberto was born in Barrio San Antón,[c]Carolina, Puerto Rico, to Melchor Clemente and Luisa Walker. He was the youngest of seven children. During Clemente's childhood, his father worked as a foreman for sugar cane crops located in the municipality, located in the northeastern part of the island. Because the family's resources were limited, Clemente and his brothers worked alongside his 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.
Clemente had first shown interest in baseball early in life and often played against neighboring barrios. He attended Julio Vizcarrondo Coronado 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 he was seen playing baseball in barrio San Antón. He was with the team two years as a 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.
Puerto Rican baseball (1952–1954)
Clemente's professional baseball career began at age 18 when he accepted a contract from Pedrín Zorilla with Cangrejeros de Santurce ("Crabbers"), a winter league team and franchise of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League (LBPPR). Clemente signed with the team on October 9, 1952. He was a bench player during his first season but was promoted to the Cangrejeros' starting lineup the following season. During this season he hit .288 as the team's leadoff hitter.
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.
Black 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. The manager had been instructed to use Clemente "sparingly," acknowledged Macon almost 12 years later. "We tried to sneak him through the draft, but it didn't work." As Sukeforth told Pirates beat writer Les Biederman, "I knew then he'd be our first draft choice." Before leaving Richmond, he recalled, "I told Montreal manager Max Macon to take good care of 'our boy' and see that he didn't get hurt."
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. Perhaps prompted by Sukeforth's followup visit ("I don't care if you never play him; we're going to finish last, and we're going to draft him number one"), Clemente's appearance ended 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. Clemente would complement his July 25 walk-off homer with another on September 5, as well as a game-ending outfield assist (cutting down the potential tying run at the plate) on August 18, his 20th birthday. As promised, the Pirates made Clemente the first selection of the Rule 5 draft that took place on November 22, 1954.
Major League Baseball (1955–1972)
For all but the first seven weeks of his major league career, Clemente wore number 21. After his death, this number was retired by the Pirates. For his first few weeks, Clemente wore the number 13, as his teammate Earl Smith was wearing number 21. It was later reassigned to Clemente.
During the off-seasons (except the 1958–59, 1962–63, 1965–66, 1968–69, 1971–72, and 1972–73 seasons), Clemente played professionally for the Santurce Crabbers, Criollos de Caguas, and San Juan Senadores in the Puerto Rican baseball winter league, where he was considered a star. He sometimes managed the San Juan team.
In September 1958, Clemente joined the United States Marine Corps Reserve. He served 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 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.
Pittsburgh Pirates, 1950s
The Pirates struggled through several difficult seasons through the 1950s. They did have a winning season in 1958, their first since 1948.
Letter from State Senator John M. Walker to U.S. Senator Hugh Scott requesting an early release for Roberto Clemente from the Marine Corps for the 1959 season
Clemente debuted with the Pirates on April 17, 1955, wearing uniform number 13, in the first game of a doubleheader against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Early in his career with the Pirates, he was frustrated by racial and ethnic tensions, with sniping by the local media and some teammates. Clemente responded to this by saying "I don't believe in color." He noted that, during his upbringing, he was taught never to discriminate against someone based on ethnicity.
Clemente was at a double disadvantage, as he was a Latin American and Caribbean player whose first language was Spanish and was of partially African descent. The year before, the Pirates had hired Curt Roberts, their first African-American player. They were the fifth team in the NL and ninth in the major leagues to do so, seven years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line by joining the Dodgers. When Clemente arrived in Pittsburgh, Roberts befriended him and helped him adjust to life in the major league, as well as in the Pittsburgh area.
During his rookie season, Clemente had to sit out several games, as he had suffered a lower back injury in Puerto Rico the previous winter. A speeding, drunk driver rammed into his car at an intersection.
He finished his rookie season with a .255 batting average, despite trouble hitting certain types of pitches. His defensive skills were highlighted during this season.
The following season, on July 25, 1956, in Forbes Field, Clemente hit the only documented walk-off, inside-the-parkgrand slam in modern MLB play. Pittsburgh-based sportswriter John Steigerwald said that it "may have been done only once in the history of baseball." [Emphasis added.])
Clemente was still fulfilling his Marine Corps Reserve duty during spring of 1959 and set to be released from Camp Lejeune until April 4. A Pennsylvania state senator, John M. Walker, wrote to US Senator Hugh Scott requesting an early release on March 4 so Clemente could join the team for spring training.
Pittsburgh Pirates, 1960s
A statue of Clemente outside of PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Early in the 1960 season, Clemente led the league with a .353 batting average, and the 14 extra-base hits and 25 RBIs recorded in May alone resulted in Clemente's selection as the National League's Player of the Month. His batting average would remain above the .300 mark throughout the course of the campaign. On August 5 at Forbes Field, Clemente crashed into the right-field wall while making a pivotal play, depriving San Francisco's Willie Mays of a leadoff, extra-base hit in a game eventually won by Pittsburgh, 1–0. The resulting injury necessitated five stitches to the chin and a five-game layoff for Clemente, while the catch itself was described by Giants beat writer Bob Stevens as "rank[ing] with the greatest of all time, as well as one of the most frightening to watch and painful to make." 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 HOFersHank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Frank Robinson to engineer a come-from-behind 5–4 NL victory, culminating in Clemente's walk-off single off knuckleballerHoyt 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 33 out of 34 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.
Clemente was an All-Star every season he played in the 1960s other than 1968—the only year in his career after 1959 in which he failed to hit above .300—and a Gold Glove winner for each of his final 12 seasons, 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 a career-high 29 home runs and 119 RBIs. In 1967, Clemente registered a career-high .357 batting average, hit 23 home runs, and batted in 110 runs. Following that season, in an informal poll conducted by Sport Magazine at baseball's Winter Meetings, a plurality of major league GMs declared Clemente "the best player in baseball today," edging out AL Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski by a margin of 8 to 6, with one vote each going to Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Bill Freehan and Ron Santo.
Pittsburgh Pirates, 1970s
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 101 games (third season in row with 100+ wins) 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.
Although he was frustrated and struggling with injuries, Clemente played in 102 games and hit .312 during the 1972 season. He also made the annual NL All-Star roster for the twelfth time (he played in 14/15 All-Star games)[f] and won his twelfth consecutive Gold Glove. On September 30, he hit a double in the fourth 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. By playing in right field in one more regular season game, on October 3, Clemente tied Honus Wagner's record for games played as a Pittsburgh Pirate, with 2,433 games played. 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 1972 NLCS. 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. Vera Clemente died on November 16, 2019, aged 78.
In the 1958–59 off-season, Clemente enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, and served during off-seasons through 1964. He was inducted into the Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame in 2003, and into the Puerto Rican Veterans Hall of Fame 15 years later.
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 visited 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-7cargo plane, had a history of mechanical problems and an insufficient number of flight personnel (missing both a flight engineer and copilot), and was overloaded by 4,200 pounds (1,900 kg). It crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Isla Verde, Puerto Rico immediately after takeoff on December 31, 1972, due to engine failure.
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 him load the plane. Because Clemente wanted Walker, who was single, to go enjoy New Year's, Clemente told him not to join him on the flight.
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 broadcaster and future fellow Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn in July 1971 during the All-Star Game activities about when he would get his 3,000th career hit, 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.
On March 20, 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 92.7% of the vote.
Clemente's Hall of Fame plaque originally had his name as "Roberto Walker Clemente" instead of the proper Spanish format "Roberto Clemente Walker"; the plaque was recast in 2000 to correct the error.
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 are 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.
The Roberto Clemente Walker Congressional Gold Medal
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Presidential Citizens Medal
Citizens Medal Citation
"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 the 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 has blessed thousands and set an example for millions. As long as athletes and humanitarians are honored, Roberto Clemente's memory will live; as long as Citizens Medals are presented, each will mean a little more because the first one went to him."
Clemente's uniform number 21 was retired by the Pirates on April 6, 1973.
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.
A US Post Office in Clemente's hometown, Carolina, Puerto Rico, was named after him by congress on October 10, 2003.
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 coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico was named the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in 1973; two baseball parks are in Carolina: the professional one is named Roberto Clemente Stadium for him; the other is a Double-A. The Escuela de los Deportes (School of Sports) has the Double-A baseball park. Today, this sports complex is called Ciudad Deportiva Roberto Clemente. Because of Clemente, the Pittsburgh Pirates have continued as one of the most popular baseball teams in Puerto Rico.
Near the old Forbes Field where Clemente began his pro career, the city of Pittsburgh renamed a street in his honor.
Thoroughbred racehorse Roberto, bred in 1968 and owned by John W. Galbreath, then the Pirates owner, was named for Clemente. The horse became a champion in Britain and Ireland. In June 1973, after Clemente's death, he won the Group I Coronation Stakes at Epsom.
The U.S. state of New York in 1973 renamed Harlem River State Park in The Bronx as Roberto Clemente State Park. A statue of the Hall of Fame icon, sculpted by Cuban-American Maritza Hernandez, was installed at the park in June 2013. It depicts Clemente doffing his cap after notching his 3,000th hit on September 30, 1972.
In Brentwood, Suffolk County, New York, Timberline town park and pool was renamed as Roberto Clemente Park in 2011.
The Roberto Clemente Little League in Branch Brook Park in Newark, New Jersey is named for him.
During the 2003 and 2004 MLB seasons, the Montreal Expos (who at the time were owned by MLB) 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. It was the last series the Expos hosted there 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 this was the Expos' first season and Clemente's 15th with the Pirates.
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, as was done with Jackie Robinson's #42, has been broached and supported by groups such as Hispanics Across America. Sharon Robinson disagrees, believing that her father's honor should be his alone and that MLB should honor Clemente in another way.
Roberto Clemente Park is a neighborhood park located near downtown Miami, Florida; it has a ball field, community center, playground and basketball courts. 101 NW 34th St, Miami, FL 33127
The Pittsburgh Pirates took #21 out of retirement for a game against the Chicago White Sox at PNC Park on September 9, 2020. The MLB has celebrated the date as "Roberto Clemente Day" since 2002, and all members of the Pittsburgh team were to wear #21.
The Fort Buchanan Fitness Center annex in Puerto Rico was dedicated to Roberto Clemente on January 15, 2021.
The US Post Office serving the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago is named in honor of Roberto Clemente.
In Boston, Massachusetts a baseball diamond in the Back Bay Fens was rededicated as Roberto Clemente Field in the 1970s and feature a cast stone monument with a bronze relief of likeness and plaque in his honor.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., speaking on July 9, 1961 with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports editor Al Abrams, said "They are honoring a great one in Clemente. I have been watching his career ever since he joined the Pittsburgh club. Roberto should wind up as one of the all-time stars before he is through."
Willie Mays, while fielding questions from reporters following the announcement of his election to the Hall of Fame on January 23, 1979, called Clemente the best player he ever saw, other than himself. Mays reiterated his assessment of Clemente on January 26, 1979, stating that, "He could do anything with a bat and in the field." Mays has repeatedly through the years stood by his statements regarding Clemente.
Barry Bonds, speaking in 1992, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "When I’m done, I want people to say, 'He’s the best.' Right field belongs to Roberto Clemente, center field belongs to Willie Mays. I want left field to belong to me."
Sandy Koufax, interviewed shortly after the selection of MLB's All-Century Team (from which Clemente was conspicuously absent), was asked to assess fellow honorees. Dubbing Mays the greatest player he'd ever seen and Aaron the greatest hitter, Koufax noted that this "raises the question of where you put Clemente; he's right there." This is consistent with Koufax's 1965 magazine article ranking Clemente just behind Aaron at the top of his "toughest batter" list, while also emphasizing the former's immense power. "The longest ball I ever saw hit to the opposite field was hit off me by Clemente at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1961. It was a fastball on the outside corner, and he drove it out of the park – not just over the fence, he knocked it way out. I didn’t think a right-handed batter could hit it out of the field just at that point but Clemente did." Moreover, it appears that, by his own estimation, the longest blast ever yielded by Koufax in any direction was launched by Clemente at Forbes Field on May 31, 1964.
Duke Snider wrote that "Carl Furillo was the best right fielder I ever saw until Roberto Clemente came along, and Clemente was possibly the best ballplayer I’ve ever seen. And just think that we could have had Clemente in our outfield."
Sparky Anderson, in his eponymous 1990 memoir, writes, "Walking away… Roberto Clemente is my premier outfielder – period. I saw more of Clemente than I wanted to when I managed against him. He could hit for power when he had to. When he wanted to slap it to right, he shot the ball like a bullet. Plus, he could fly. When he hit a ground ball to the infield, he was flying to first. That fielder better not be napping. Clemente was a remarkable man because at the ages of thirty-four and thirty-five, he played like he was twenty-one. I never saw anything like it. [...] That’s how I’ll always remember him – as a man who played with youthful energy."
Dave Bristol (Anderson's predecessor as Reds' manager), speaking in May 1967, said "The best player in the game today. I’d have to take him over Aaron and all the rest. [...] I've only been in the league a little over a year and a half, but I don't think I've ever seen him make an easy out." Quoted in September 1969, Bristol reiterated, "Clemente is the best player I’ve ever seen. I said so when I first came into the league and I still say so."
Paul Richards, taking part in a poll of MLB general managers at the 1967 winter meetings (speaking as the then-Atlanta Braves GM),[j][k] said, "I don’t know how a man can be running away from the ball and hit it into the upper deck. I shudder to think what he would do if he stood at the plate on every pitch and defied the pitcher to pitch to him.[l] Clemente’s a one-man show as far as I’m concerned. He’s not only the best today; he’s one of the best that’s ever played baseball. He’s got power, and he’s so fast that any bouncing ball is a potential base hit. He can hit the ball into the upper deck in anybody’s ballpark – right field or left field. He’s got one of the strongest and most accurate throwing arms I’ve ever seen. He can throw from the most awkward and seemingly impossible positions. He can throw people out at second base on balls that would be triples to any other right fielder. And the thing about this fellow is that he actually breaks many of the fundamental rules of hitting. Many times he sticks his fanny out – but he still manages to hit the ball with authority. To me he is one of the most amazing athletes of all time."
Lou Boudreau, speaking in 1964, said that Clemente was "one of the worst-looking great hitters I’ve seen. Everything is a line drive. There isn’t one phase of baseball in which he doesn’t excel."
Lou Brock, speaking with reporters in June 1967, explained, "I'm looking at the best hitter in baseball," in response to queries regarding the "rapt attention" he had given one of Clemente's at-bats. In July 1980, Brock told The New Pittsburgh Courier, "Willie Mays was the greatest player I ever saw. Clemente was second and Hank Aaron was the greatest slugger. But pound for pound, play-for-play, Willie Mays could do it all well. You can name four or five in what I call that elite category."
Clete Boyer, circa 2002, said that Clemente was "by far the greatest defensive right fielder who ever lived, but because he played in Pittsburgh, he didn't get the credit he deserved. I played with Roger Maris and against Al Kaline, and they were both great right fielders. But they weren't in Clemente's class."
Smoky Burgess, looking back in 1978 at his long MLB career, told former Pittsburgh Press sports editor Les Biederman, "The one player who impressed me the most was Roberto Clemente, both as a man and as an athlete. He was one of the nicest individuals and just tremendous as a ball player. I never saw a better player, although I always regarded Ted Williams as the best hitter."
Tommy John considered Clemente one of the most difficult hitters he ever faced as a pitcher. "He hit the same way I pitched: with his head, outthinking you."
Tom Seaver, speaking with Phil Pepe, circa 1997, said, "I had a kind of dual relationship with a Roberto Clemente, a Henry Aaron, a Willie Mays. You watch them and you appreciate their professional approach and their God-given expertise of the game. Then you're competing against them. [...] Clemente and Mays and Aaron. These are the guys who, when you weren’t pitching, you just sat there and watched them play, watched what they did. Anybody who watched the ball when Willie Mays was on the field was crazy. And Clemente was very much the same."
Rusty Staub, speaking in April 1968, said, "Clemente has fantastic power, fantastic speed, a fantastic ability to hit the ball to the opposite field, a fantastic arm – he is the complete ballplayer. Roberto is not merely good at everything, but great at everything. He just beats you, and beats you at everything you can do in baseball. I know of no other player comparable to him." Interviewed in the fall of 1971, Staub added, "Clemente is the greatest defensive outfielder I've ever seen. I’ve never been on his ball club and I don’t know what he’s like as a team player, but this guy can do just everything to beat you – run, hit, throw, catch, and just kill you with power. He’s the best player I’ve seen in the big leagues."
Coot Veal, one of Clemente's teammates on the 1960 Pirates, told Danny Peary, "There were many guys on the Pirates who had leadership qualities: Roberto Clemente, Dick Groat, Don Hoak, Vernon Law, even Smoky Burgess. Clemente led with his play. There wasn’t a better player than Roberto Clemente. Clemente, Mantle and Kaline were the best all-around players I ever saw, and I think Clemente was the best."
Eddie Yost, baseball's onetime "Walking Man", when asked to name the best players of his era, replied, "Yogi... and all the Yankees, for that matter. But I saw Clemente when I was coaching for the Mets. I believe he was the best I saw."
Dick Young, following Game 3 of the 1971 World Series, wrote, "The best damn ballplayer in the World Series – maybe in the whole world – is Roberto Clemente and, as far as I’m concerned, they can give him the automobile right now. Maybe some guys hit the ball farther, and some throw it harder, and one or two run faster, although I doubt that, but nobody puts it all together like Roberto. [...] Clemente is a 37-year-old roadrunner. He has spent 18 summers of those years playing baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He has batted over .300 thirteen times, and for the last three seasons, in his decrepitude, he has hit .345, .352, .341. But everybody has numbers. Don’t mind the numbers. Just watch how Roberto Clemente runs 90 feet the next time he hits the ball back to the pitcher and ask yourself if you work at your job that way. Every time I see Roberto Clemente play ball, I think of the times I’ve heard about how ‘they’ dog it, and I want to vomit."
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 Puerto Rican actors Raul Julia (in Spanish) and Héctor Elizondo (in English).
2006: Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero by David Maraniss.
2010: Chasing 3000 a movie based on a true story of two kids who travel from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh hoping 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.
Roberto Clemente's influence on Puerto Rican baseball players was very similar to that of Jackie Robinson for African American baseball players. While he was not the first Puerto Rican to play in Major League Baseball, he was arguably the most notable to play in his time; As with Robinson, Clemente faced discrimination and disrespect while playing in MLB.
MLB shortstop Carlos Correa has shared what he admired most about Clemente as a player: "The passion, the way he played, the way he went about his business every single day. Every time he put on his uniform he felt like the luckiest man in the world so that for me is what I admire most.
The scene spurred Rossi, a former evangelical minister, to submit a request to the Vatican for them to consider Clemente's canonization as a saint. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints, responsible for these issues, responded by confirming receipt of the letter and directing Rossi to work through the Archbishop of San Juan – the jurisdiction in which Clemente died; despite this, Rossi issued a press release showing a picture of the response and claimed that it showed that the Pope was personally supporting Rossi's effort.
Rossi did receive positive comments from the executive director of the Clemente Museum in Pittsburgh, while Carmen Nanko-Fernandez, from the Chicago Theological Union, was not confident that Clemente would be canonized, pointing out that Hispanic Catholics can continue to revere Clemente as an unofficial saint.Neil Walker, a devout Roman Catholic whose father was a teammate of Clemente, stated that "he's somebody who lived his life serving others, really. So if it would happen, I wouldn't be terribly surprised by it."
In July 2017, Rossi claimed that the canonization requirement of a miracle was met that month when Jamie Nieto, who played Clemente in Rossi's film and was paralyzed from the neck down in a backflip accident three years after the Clemente film was released, walked 130 steps at his own wedding to fellow Olympian Shevon Stoddart, though Nieto himself stated that the success was due to his hard work, while the Vatican stated that they were not in continued contact with Rossi.
^Both a 1955 interview with Clemente and a 1994 interview with his wife Vera confirm that Clemente's full name includes the middle name, Enrique. The discrepancy in spelling – 1994's 'Enrique' vs. 1955's E-n-r-i-c-q-u-e (as allegedly spelled out for the interviewer by Clemente) – is presumably due to a misunderstanding on the part of the Post-Gazette's non-Spanish-speaking interviewer, likely mistaking the word "Si" for the letter c.
^MLB held two All-Star Games each season from 1959 through 1962.
^To what extent Lasorda assisted Clemente is open to debate. Fellow Royals hurler Joe Black categorically denies Lasorda's characterization of Clemente as unable to "speak one word of English":
"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 ŚŚŚŚŚŚŚŚŚŚŚŚŚŚUnited 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.'"
^Oddly enough, the second home run of Clemente's North American career, and the only other he hit that season, was hit under almost identical conditions: an extra-inning, walk-off home run, hit in his first at-bat after entering the game as a defensive replacement, against a right-handed pitcher.
^MLB held two All-Star Games each season from 1959 through 1962.
^Presented annually to Pittsburgh's outstanding sports figure.
^It was Clemente's acceptance speech for this award that produced his oft-cited quote, "If you have an opportunity to accomplish something that will make things better for someone coming behind you, and you don't do that, you are wasting your time on this earth."
^In the interests of not embarrassing his own player, Hank Aaron, Richards requested that both his vote and comments remain anonymous. Ostensibly honoring that request, the article’s author nonetheless inadvertently ‘outed’ Richards by revealing both the source of every other Clemente vote and the preference of every other National League GM.
^In fairness to Richards, the brief 1964 Clemente quote that could have cleared up this commonly held misconception—i.e. that Clemente was "running away from the ball" (or, as per Rogers Hornsby, "half scared")—does not appear to have attracted much attention, judging from the fact that neither it nor the relatively straightforward explanation it offers—"In 1956 I was doing good until I hurt my back; since then I step to the side with my left foot faster so I don't have to twist my body so much"—has shown up in any of Clemente's biographies.
^O'Brien, Jim (1994). "Vera Clemente". Remember Roberto: Clemente Recalled by Teammates, Family, Friends, and Fans. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: James P. O'Brien Publishing. p. 54. ISBN0-916114-14-7. Retrieved July 19, 2015.
^Paul Rober Walker (1988). "Wearing the Uniform". Pride of Puerto Rico: The life of Roberto Clemente. United States: Harcourt Brace & Company. p. 33. ISBN978-0-15-307557-5. 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
^ abMcGowan, Lloyd. "Macon's Royals Register: Top Richmond A la Grant – Amoros Hits". The Montreal Star. June 2, 1954. "Clyde Sukeforth, once a Royal General, said the Amoros homer came off a high fastball. ... Joe Black hadn't reported from the Dodgers up to last night." See also:
McGowan, Lloyd. "Black, Roebuck Shelled by Richmond Artillery". The Montreal Star. June 3, 1954. "Clyde Sukeforth, in the stands again, thought Black looked real good, figures him to win for the Royals – but Sukey can't get over Roebuck's wildness."
McGowan, Lloyd. "Lehmann Lacks Usual Control As Royals Bow to Richmond". The Montreal Star. June 4, 1954. "It was midnight when Max Macon and Clyde Sukeforth came into the lobby of the hotel. They weren't quite in complete accord as to why the Royals dropped another game to the Virginians 7–2."
McGowan, Lloyd. "Bits From The Batter's Box". The Montreal Star. June 5, 1954. "Clyde Sukeforth's attendance at the series between the Royals and Virginians was the cause of much conjecturing ... Sukey managed the Royals when Max Macon played on the club a dozen years ago."
^ abBiederman, Les. "Clemente, Early Buc Ace, Says He's Better in Summer: Sukey First to Glimpse Clemente". The Sporting News. June 29, 1955. p. 26. "Sukeforth, a Bucco coach, was sent to Richmond, Va., last June to get a look at pitcher Joe Black of Montreal. ... But Sukey practically forgot all about Black when he caught his first glimpse of Clemente. 'I arrived at the Richmond ballpark where Montreal was playing just in time to see the pre-game workout,' Sukey relates. 'I saw Clemente throwing from the outfield and I couldn't take my eyes off him. Later in the game, he was used as a pinch-hitter and I liked his swing. He impressed me a great deal. I started asking questions and learned he was a bonus player and would be eligible for the draft. I knew then he'd be our first draft choice. In fact, I told Montreal manager Max Macon to take good care of 'our boy' and see that he didn't get hurt.'"
^Biederman, Les. "Clemente, Early Buc Ace, Says He's Better in Summer: Sukey First to Glimpse Clemente". The Sporting News. June 29, 1955. p. 26. "Sukeforth, a Bucco coach, was sent to Richmond, Va., last June to get a look at pitcher Joe Black of Montreal. ... But Sukey practically forgot all about Black when he caught his first glimpse of Clemente. 'I arrived at the Richmond ball park where Montreal was playing just in time to see the pre-game workout,' Sukey relates. 'I saw Clemente throwing from the outfield and I couldn't take my eyes off him. Later in the game he was used as a pinch-hitter and I liked his swing. He impressed me a great deal. I started asking questions and learned he was a bonus player and would be eligible for the draft. I knew then he'd be our first draft choice. In fact, I told Montreal manager Max Macon to take good care of 'our boy' and see that he didn't get hurt.'"
^Paul Rober Walker (1988). "It's For Your Own Good". Pride of Puerto Rico: The life of Roberto Clemente. United States: Harcourt Brace & Company. p. 41. ISBN978-0-15-307557-5. 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.
^Paul Rober Walker (1988). "I play like Roberto Clemente". Pride of Puerto Rico: The life of Roberto Clemente. United States: Harcourt Brace & Company. ISBN978-0-15-307557-5. Once again he was playing for the Santurce Crabbers. In the winter league, he was an established star.
^Clemente, The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero; David Maraniss; p. 88; Simon & Schuster; ISBN978-0-7432-1781-1
^Clemente to Start Six-Month Marine Corps Hitch, October 4. The Sporting News. September 24, 1958. p. 7.
^Buc Flyhawk Now Marine Rookie. The Sporting News. November 19, 1958. p. 13.
^Paul Robert Walker (1988). "I play like Roberto Clemente". Pride of Puerto Rico: The life of Roberto Clemente. United States: Harcourt Brace & Company. ISBN978-0-15-307557-5. It was Sunday, April 17, 1955, and the Pittsburgh Pirates were playing the first game of a doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers... For Roberto Clemente it was his first time at bat in the major leagues.
^Paul Rober Walker (1988). "I play like Roberto Clemente". Pride of Puerto Rico: The Life of Roberto Clemente. United States: Harcourt Brace & Company. ISBN978-0-15-307557-5. Even on his own team, some of the players made fun of him and called him a "nigger." Roberto grew furious at their insults.
^Paul Rober Walker (1988). "I play like Roberto Clemente". Pride of Puerto Rico: The life of Roberto Clemente. United States: Harcourt Brace & Company. ISBN978-0-15-307557-5. 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.
^ abPaul Rober Walker (1988). "I play like Roberto Clemente". Pride of Puerto Rico: The life of Roberto Clemente. United States: Harcourt Brace & Company. ISBN978-0-15-307557-5. "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.
^Paul Rober Walker (1988). "I play like Roberto Clemente". Pride of Puerto Rico: The life of Roberto Clemente. United States: Harcourt Brace & Company. ISBN978-0-15-307557-5. 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.
^Paul Rober Walker (1988). "I play like Roberto Clemente". Pride of Puerto Rico: The Life of Roberto Clemente. United States: Harcourt Brace & Company. ISBN978-0-15-307557-5. Roberto continued to struggle at the plate throughout his rookie season, finally finishing with a .255 average.
^Paul Rober Walker (1988). "I play like Roberto Clemente". Pride of Puerto Rico: The life of Roberto Clemente. United States: Harcourt Brace & Company. ISBN978-0-15-307557-5. In the outfield, however, he quickly established himself as an outstanding performer.
^Steigerwald, John. "This Was Clemente's Grandest Slam". The Indiana Gazette. July 23, 2006. Retrieved September 4, 2015. "On July 25, 1956, Roberto Clemente did something that may have been done only once in the history of baseball. And I was there to see it. "
^Paul Rober Walker (1988). "Beat 'Em, Bucs!". Pride of Puerto Rico: The life of Roberto Clemente. United States: Harcourt Brace & Company. p. 63. ISBN978-0-15-307557-5. 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.
^Paul Rober Walker (1988). "Beat 'Em, Bucs!". Pride of Puerto Rico: The life of Roberto Clemente. United States: Harcourt Brace & Company. pp. 78–79. ISBN978-0-15-307557-5. 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 crazily from the airport to Sixto Escobar Stadium.
^Paul Rober Walker (1988). "It Is My Life". Pride of Puerto Rico: The life of Roberto Clemente. United States: Harcourt Brace & Company. p. 85. ISBN978-0-15-307557-5. The injury had not affected his swing, and he smashed a hard line drive to right field, but as he limped at 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.
^Roberts, Jerry (2006)."Timeline". Roberto Clemente: Baseball Player. New York: Ferguson. p. 90. ISBN9780816060726. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
^Richman, Milton. "Sports Parade: No Camp, No Disneyland". The Reading Eagle. February 2, 1973. Retrieved June 28, 2015. "'If Roberto was here, he would be planning to go to Florida for spring training now,' says his attractive, dark-haired widow, Vera Clemente, who has been caring for her three small sons, Roberto Jr., 7, Luis Roberto, 6, and Roberto Enrique, 3, since the tragedy."
^"Duquesne Cagers Given Welcome in Pittsburgh". The Greenville Record-Argus. March 15, 1954. p. 8. "Coach Dudley Moore received the Harvey Boyle award, presented annually to Pittsburgh's outstanding sports figure. Tho award is made by the Pittsburgh Chapter, Baseball Writers' Association of America."
^Wilson, John. "Standing Cheer for Roberto". The Sporting News. February 20, 1971. p. 44. "He began talking simply, stating a few of his views on life, baseball and duty. The crowd was moved by his sincerity. 'We must all live together and work together, no matter what race or nationality,' he said. He stressed that every individual must do his part. 'If you have an opportunity to accomplish something that will make things better for someone coming behind you, and you don't do that, you are wasting your time on this earth,' Clemente said."
^Ruck, Rob. "A Sentimental Journey Back to Nicaragua for Vera Clemente". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. May 4, 1989. Retrieved August 9, 2015. "On her fifth day in the country, Vera accepts for Roberto the highest honor Nicaragua bestows upon a sporting figure, the Eduardo Green award. Named for Nicaragua's best-ever ballplayer, the award has never before been given to a foreigner. Lang pays thoughtful tribute to Clemente at the ceremony before President Daniel Ortega Saavedra pins the award to Vera's dress and embraces her."
^"Sharon Robinson: honor Clemente some other way". ESPN. Associated Press. January 24, 2006. Retrieved August 17, 2009. 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.
^Finch, Frank (June 1, 1964). “Are Dodgers Waking Up? That’s 3 Wins in a Row!; Perranoski Staves Off Pirates, 6-4 PERRANOSKI SAVES 6-4 DODGER WIN”]. The Los Angeles Times. pp. C1, C3. Retrieved May 8, 2022.