Roberto Walker Clemente was born in Barrio San Anton in Carolina, Puerto Rico on August 18, 1934. He was the youngest of four children and as he grew up he excelled at sports. He won medals in javelin and short distance races. His true sports love, however, was baseball. He started playing with the Juncos Double A Club and soon moved on to play with the Santurce Crabbers in the Puerto Rican Winter League. Being a minority, it was hard for him to break into the major leagues but he managed to sign with the Brooklyn Dodgers and played in their top farm club, the Montreal Royals.
In 1954 the Pittsburgh Pirates had the first pick in the draft and used it to pick up Clemente. He played his entire career with the Pirates as right fielder. He made his major league debut, ironically, against the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 17, 1955. He singled and scored in that game but that was only a tiny taste of what was to come from the young Puerto Rican. For the next five years he played stellar baseball with a batting average of .280. In 1960 the Pirates made it all the way to the World Series. In that seven game series he had nine hits, one run, and three runs batted in (RBI) had an average of .310 and played defense with his rocket arm. He was overshadowed, however, by the great Mickey Mantle-Whitey Ford New York Yankees, as well as teammate Bill Mazeroski's Series-winning homer in Game Seven.
Over the next twelve years Clemente earned four National League batting titles in 1961, 1964, 1965, and 1967. He won twelve Golden Glove Awards from 1961 through 1972. (He could throw a runner out from the outfield on his knees and did on many occasions.) He led all National League outfielders in assists five times and was named National League MVP in 1966. He played in twelve All-Star Games and hit better than .300 in thirteen seasons. Even with all of these accomplishments, Clemente was still overlooked and undervalued in Pittsburgh and they didn't get back to the World Series until 1971.
It was the 1971 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles that was to be Clemente's showcase in which he batted .414. He was a man with something to prove and he did. He became the team’s leader off and on the field, encouraging all of his team mates, especially his Latin team mates. He used his defensive prowess to its fullest. In Game Six, Frank Robinsonpopped up a sacrifice fly ball down the right field line with Merv Rettenmund on third. Clemente caught the ball and threw it down the middle of the plate from where he stood. Rettenmund never moved. When the Pirates needed a hit to survive Clemente hit a tapper back to the mound. Mike Cuellar fielded it with no problem but was amazed to see Clemente racing for first. Rattled, Cuellar hurried his toss but it was too late, Clemente was safe and the Pirates stayed alive. Finally in Game Seven the Pirates won 2-1. Clemente was named World Series MVP. When he was presented with the trophy he had two things to say. "I want everybody in the world to know," he said, "that this is the way I play all the time. All season, every season." And in Spanish, for the entire world to hear, he asked for his father's blessing. It was this sort of performance, and attitude, that made his teammates respect Clemente, and the fans adore him. In 1972 he had a .312 average and on September 30, 1972, in his second at bat of the game Roberto Clemente hit a double to left-center field off of pitcher John Matlock of the New York Mets. There were 13,117 fans in Three Rivers Stadium.
Fourteen months after his World Series victory, Roberto Clemente died on New Year's Eve, December 31, 1972, taking relief supplies to earthquake-torn Nicaragua. He was furious that previous supplies had been stolen and he proclaimed that they would not steal from Roberto Clemente. Against warnings from friends and family he boarded a seriously overloaded and aging DC-7. The plane, which was packed with five men and 16,000 pounds of supplies labored in the air. In moments the engines caught fire and the plane plummeted into the sea off San Juan. It was never found. The next year the Baseball Hall of Fame waived the traditional five year waiting period and inducted Clemente as the first Latin player.
"Anytime you have an opportunity to make things better and you don't, then you are wasting your time on this Earth" -- Roberto Clemente
MVP -- 1966
1971 World Series MVP
Won 4 N.L. batting titles
12 time all-star
Won 12 Gold Gloves
Led League in outfield assists 5 times
Had a hit in every game of the 1960 & 1971 World Series
Hit 3,000 hit on September 30, 1972
Died on New Years Eve, 1972 in an airplane crash while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua
All-time Pirate leader in games, at bats, hits, singles, and total bases
First Hispanic inducted into the Hall of Fame
Second baseball player to appear on a U.S. Postage Stamp (Jackie Robinson was the first)