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The son of Puerto Rican sugar cane plantation workers, Roberto Clemente was born on August 18, 1934 in Carolina, Puerto Rico. His father (Melchor) served as a foreman and his mother (Luisa) worked as a laundress and cook.

In 1952-53 and 53-54, the teen-aged Clemente experienced professional baseball for the first time. Clemente played for the Santurce Crabbers, a Puerto Rican winter league team that featured a mix of Latin, Negro League and major league players, including future Hall of Famer Willie Mays.  In 1954, Clemente signed a minor league contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers’ organization. The contract paid him a bonus of $10,000 and a salary of $5,000.  Since the total package exceeded $4,000, baseball’s bonus rule mandated that the Dodgers place him on the major league roster, or potentially lose him in a special draft after the season. After the Dodgers assigned him to their minor league affiliate at Montreal for the 1954 season, Pittsburgh Pirates’ president Branch Rickey selected him in the post-season draft.

During the 1960s, Clemente developed into one of the game’s greatest all-around right fielders.  Clemente’s whipping bat speed helped him capture National League batting crowns in 1961, ’64, ’65 and ’67, and his powerful throwing arm and quickness afoot aided him in winning 12 consecutive Gold Glove awards. In 1966, Clemente earned National League MVP honors. Labeled “The Great One” by Pirate broadcaster Bob Prince, Clemente played exceptionally well in the post-season.  A lifetime .362 hitter in 14 World Series games, Clemente helped the Pirates to surprising World Championships over the New York Yankees in 1960 and the Baltimore Orioles in 1971.  In 1972, in his final regular season at-bat, Clemente collected his milestone 3000th base hit. For his career, which stretched from 1955 to 1972, he batted .317 with 240 home runs.

               In December, 1972, after a devastating earthquake struck the Nicaraguan city of Managua, Clemente responded to reports that relief supplies were being intercepted by government authorities. Organizing a collection of food, clothing and medicine, Clemente accompanied the airlifting of supplies from the San Juan International Airport. Shortly after takeoff, the aging, overloaded DC-7 encountered engine trouble and plunged into the Atlantic Ocean.  All five passengers, including the 38-year-old Clemente, were presumed dead. The Puerto Rican government declared an official three-day period of mourning. After the Hall of Fame announced that it had waived its standard five-year waiting period, the baseball writers made Clemente the first Latin American member of the Cooperstown shrine.

As a Puerto Rican and black man, Clemente considered himself a double minority, often speaking out against racism. Clemente, who involved himself in many charitable community efforts, laid the groundwork for the building of the “Roberto Clemente Sports City,” an athletic complex for Puerto Rican youngsters. The complex is currently run by his widow, Vera, and two of their sons, Luis and Enrique. In 1998, Vera was named the National League’s honorary captain for the All-Star Game.






Partial Bibliography

* Rob Ruck, “Remembering Roberto Clemente,” Pittsburgh Magazine, December 1992

* Claire Smith, “Clemente’s Widow Keeps His Dreams Alive,” New York Times, November 1994

* Deron Snyder, “Clemente Inspires Even After Death,” USA Today Baseball Weekly,

December, 29, 1992

Bruce Markusen is the author of The Orlando Cepeda Story, a new release in 2001, and Roberto Clemente: The Great One. Bruce's newest book is A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s.

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