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Remembering Roberto Clemente
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Remembering Roberto Clemente

An Ode to #21

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By Caelin Grambau, University of Pittsburgh English Writing & Spanish double major

Roberto Clemente was one of the first Latin American men to become a baseball star in the United States, and the first ever Latin American born baseball star to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Now, 50 years after his death, his legacy of sport and service still lives on. 

As noted in Clemente’s biography in the Hall of Fame, Jimmy Cannon of the New York Journal-American wrote “Baseball survives because guys like Clemente still play it.”

Roberto Clemente got his start with the Pirates in 1955 and spent his entire 18 season career with the team following his original contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954. 

He was known in the baseball world for his strong arm, talent in the outfield, and ability as a hitter, all of which won him 12 Gold Gloves and four National League batting titles with a compiled lifetime average of .317. 

In 1966, he was selected as the National League MVP and in 1971 he received the title of World Series MVP. By 1972, during his very last at bat as a player Clemente reached his 3,000th base hit, which had only been achieved by 10 other players at the time. 

Although Clemente stood out for his innate athletic abilities and his dedication to the sport, he was also recognized as a champion of social justice, both in the United States and beyond. In 1973, shortly after his death, the annual award presented to a Major League Baseball player for “exemplary sportsmanship and community service” was renamed the Roberto Clemente Award. 

Clemente, a native of Puerto Rico, was a unique figure in that he was not only a baseball icon, but an activist as well. “My greatest satisfaction comes from helping to erase the old opinion about Latin Americans and Blacks,” Clemente famously noted near the end of his career. In the same vein, Spanish-language sportscaster and close friend of Clemente’s, Luis Mayoral said “Roberto Clemente was to Latinos what Jackie Robinson was to Black baseball players. He spoke up for Latinos; he was the first one to speak out.”

Roberto Clemente died in 1972 at the age of 38. He spent much of his time in the off season doing charity work in Latin American and Caribbean countries, and was accompanying a plane delivering supplies to Nicaragua after an earthquake when it crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico. 

Now, Clemente is survived not only by family, but by memory and his legacy that has left a lasting impact on Pittsburgh, and on the Latino communities of this city and beyond. Roberto Clemente Day is celebrated on September 15th and Pittsburgh’s own Clemente Museum usually holds yearly celebrations in his honor.

In addition to the celebrations, the Clemente Museum is exhibiting a 3,000th hit exhibit through the rest of this year, and they are holding their 13th annual Clemente Museum fundraiser to help benefit community outreach and youth programs. For more information on the Clemente Museum and their fundraiser, including exclusive auctions, signature series wines, and more check out their fundraiser page.

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