Remembering Roberto

By Jason Shetler

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What Babe Ruth was to the New York Yankees is what Roberto Clemente was to the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s one of those magical names in baseball that even the most casual fan has heard of. Clemente began his playing career for the Santurce Crabbers of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League. In 1954, he signed with the Montreal Royals, who were the Brooklyn Dodgers AAA affiliate. Former big leaguer and Pirates scout Clyde Sukeforth, suggested that the Bucs take Clemente in that offseason’s MLB Rookie Draft. Clemente made his Major League debut for the Pirates on April 17th, 1955. Just like Jackie Robinson, Clemente had to put up with constant racism and discrimination from media and fans alike. Most never gave him credit for what he was able to do on the field. For example, In 1960, Clemente hit .314 with 16 home runs and 94 RBI. His teammate Dick Groat won the National League MVP award that year, hitting .325 with two homers and 50 RBI. Not only did Clemente have a better overall season than Groat, but he didn’t even finish in the Top 5 of the MVP voting. In 1961, Clemente would win the first of four batting titles, as he hit .351 that year. He would finally earn the respect from the baseball writers as he was named the NL MVP in 1966, becoming the first Latin American player to win the MVP award. In the 1971 postseason, Clemente would make it his own personal showcase, hitting .374 with two homers and eight RBI in 11 postseason games. In 1972, Clemente would eclipse the 3,000 hit mark, becoming the first and only Pirate to reach 3,000. Clemente’s life however would end tragically, as he died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve of that year. Clemente compiled a .317 average with 240 home runs and 1,305 RBI in 18 seasons as a Pittsburgh Pirate. Along with being a 12-time All-Star, he was also a 12-time Gold Glove winner and is arguably the greatest defensive right fielder of all-time. Clemente was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame the season after his death in 1973, becoming the first Latin American player inducted into Cooperstown. Jackie Robinson’s #42 has been retired throughout Major League Baseball since 1997. A lot of people, including myself, have wondered why Major League Baseball hasn’t retired Roberto Clemente’s #21? – Jackie Robinson blazed a trail for African American ballplayers, just like Roberto Clemente did as it related to Latin American players. The fact that Roberto Clemente should have his number retired throughout Major League Baseball shouldn’t even be debated. 


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