Roberto Clemente

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“Anytime you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t do it, you are wasting your time on this earth.”(17)

In 1934, Roberto Clemente was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico where he was the youngest of seven children (18). Early on, Clemente excelled in track and field, winning medals in the javelin throw and short distance races. However, Roberto's real love was baseball. When Roberto graduated from high school, he received best wishes from family & friends because they all knew he was bound for greatness as a baseball player. Roberto used to practice the sport using crushed tin cans instead of an actual baseball (19).  At only 17 years old, Roberto was playing for the Santurce Cangrejeros in the Puerto Rican Winter League where he attracted legions of big-league scouts because of his hitting, fielding and throwing ability (20).

Roberto’s life was changed in 1954 by a man named Clyde Sukeforth (21). Sukeforth was looking for new players for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates were about to finish last in the National League for the third consecutive year. The Pirates chose Roberto Clemente in a special baseball draft. At the age of 20, Roberto at last joined the major leagues (22).

In his first Major League season with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955, Clemente had a solid rookie season batting .255 with five homers and 47 RBI's. He built upon that foundation and batted .311 in his sophomore season. Clemente hit above .300 for the next 12 seasons.  In the 1960's, Clemente joined the likes of Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as one of the top players in the National League(23). 

In his pro career, he got over 200 hits four times (1961,64,66,67), hit over .350 three times (1961, 67 & '70), lead the league in batting four times, and won 12 consecutive gold glove awards. In the 1960's, no other player dominated the entire decade like Roberto Clemente did (24).

Roberto Clemente was not only a great player on the field, but he was a greater person off the field. He was a National hero to everyone, especially Latinos. He was the finest baseball player Puerto Rico ever produced. He also spent a lot of time during the off-season helping his community. He set up baseball clinics for kids and visited sick children in local hospitals .

On December 31, 1972, Clemente decided to direct a relief mission to the earthquake torn region of Nicaragua. Clemente and four others loaded a small DC-7 plane with food and supplies that never got past the San Juan border as the plane almost immediately crashed into 30 feet of water in the Caribbean Sea.  Clemente's body was never recovered. The world was in shock. Here was a man who was struck down due to his desire to help a country in need. His death was not only a loss to his family and friends, but a loss of a hero to the entire nation (25).

The Baseball's Writer Association of America immediately waived the customary five-year wait and voted Roberto Clemente into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on August 8, 1973, making him the first Latino to be inducted (26).

At the ceremony in 1973, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn honored him by creating the "Roberto Clemente Award", the highest award in baseball for sportsmanship and community activism. Kuhn spoke proudly about Clemente, "He was so very great a man, as a leader and humanitarian, so very great an inspiration to the young and to all in baseball, especially to the proud people of his homeland, Puerto Rico" (27).