A Shooting Star in Baseball History
More Than 40 Years After his Death, the Legend of Roberto Clemente Continues to Grow
by Jose Pedraza, age 14
Roberto Clemente Walker was a famous Major League baseball player. He was an all-star on the baseball field, and a hero off the field. For 18 seasons spanning from 1955 to 1972, Clemente contributed greatly to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a right fielder. He won the "Most Valuable Player" award in 1966. When Clemente wasn’t playing baseball, he was involved in public service.
Clemente was born August 18, 1934 in Carolina, Puerto Rico. He was the youngest of eight children born to Don Melchor Clemente and Luisa Walker.
In Clemente's early life, he attended a public school called Vizcarondo High School in Carolina. One day an employee from Sello Rojo Rice Company saw Clemente playing baseball outside of school and recruited him to play softball for the company's team. Clemente played on the team for two years as an amateur.
In 1952, when Clemente was 17 years old, he tried out at a camp sponsored by the Brooklyn Dodgers. Clemente’s father required him to finish high school before playing ball, so he was unable to sign with the Dodgers until after he finished school. In the meantime, Clemente was offered a contract with the Santurce Crabbers baseball team. He was soon in the team's starting lineup, but didn’t play very long.
On February 19, 1954 a coach from the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Clemente to play for his team. He played one minor league season with the Dodgers before moving on to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It was while playing for the Pirates that Roberto Clemente developed into one of the game’s greatest players. He was a star on both offense and defense. During his career, Clemente had 240 home runs, 3,000 hits and a .317 career batting average. He was the MVP of the 1971 World Series. In 1973, Clemente became the first Latin American to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Off the field, Clemente gave back to his home island of Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries. He personally delivered baseball equipment and food to the needy on many occasions. He was known for conducting himself with class, on and off the field.
Clemente reached his untimely end on a charity errand. On December 31, 1972, Clemente was killed in a plane crash. He was on his way to deliver aid supplies to Nicaragua after the country was hit by a devastating earthquake. The plane crashed in heavy seas only a mile and a half away from its take off.
Baseball requires that all players wait five years before they are eligible for election to the Hall of Fame. That rule was waived in the case of Roberto Clemente. He was inducted the summer after his death.
Clemente was committed to his charity work. He was a talented athlete who thought it was important to give back to his community. Clemente will be long remembered for both his athleticism and public service efforts. Even today, he is an icon to many baseball fans.
[Sources: The New York Times; Clemente, by David Maraniss; Wikipedia