Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
All-time baseball great and humanitarian, Roberto Clemente played his entire career with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Awards: Baseball Hall of Fame, Presidential Medal of Freedom
Born in 1934, Roberto Clemente was the number one pick in the 1954 MLB draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Clemente was the National Batting Champion four times and was awarded twelve Golden Gloves. He was awarded the National League MVP in 1966 and the World Series MVP in 1971. He was ranked number 20 in The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players and the highest ranking Latino player. Clemente is also commended for getting exactly 3,000 hits in his career. He died in 1972 while bringing aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
Roberto Walker Clemente was born on August 18, 1934, in Carolina, Puerto Rico. Clemente, the youngest in his family, had six brothers and sisters: his half-brother Luis Oquendo; his half-sister Rosa Oquendo; his three brothers Osvaldo, Justino, and Andres; and his sister Anairis. His parents were Melchor and Luisa Clemente. Clemente was a very pensive boy. He was always analyzing everything he did, and he hated to be interrupted. His favorite word was "momentito," (Spanish for "just a moment"); he said it so much that his family and friends started to call him "Momen" for short.
In his early life, Clemente would play variations of baseball with his friends. Baseball was his favorite sport. He and his friends would use anything for a bat or a ball, as long as it worked. Sometimes they used a tied-up ball of string or even an empty tin can for a baseball. For a bat they would use anything from a stick to the end of a broomstick. They would use anything, as long as they were able to play baseball. Even when it was dark or his friends were not around, Clemente would always be throwing a ball or whatever was in his hand at the time. Clemente went to Julio Vizcarrando Coronado High School, where he played track and field. He ran the 440m and threw javelin.
In 1952, Clemente was signed by the Santurce Crabbers in the Puerto Rican Winter League. He was the youngest player to get signed by the Crabbers and he got paid $40 a week. He was 18 and still in high school. He wasn't in the same high school at this time though. He transferred to Instituto Comercial de Puerto Rico in Hato Rey. His old high school would not let him play for the Crabbers and go to school at the same time because there were time conflicts. About a month after Clemente was signed, Al Campanis, a Brooklyn Dodgers scout, scouted him at a tryout that the Dodgers held at Sixto Excobar. At this tryout, Clemente stood out from the other 70 players; Campanis gave him all A's and A-pluses in every category, including: arm, fielding, hitting, running speed, accuracy, reactions, power, and base running. Fifteen months after Campanis scouted Clemente, the Brooklyn Dodgers drafted him. He was assigned to play for the Dodgers minor league team, the Montreal Royals. In the past, Major League Baseball had practice called a bonus player salary. If a player in the minors was paid less than $6,000, he would become a free agent the next year and anyone could draft him. Brooklyn decided to keep Clemente in the minors so that he would gain some experience, but they made the mistake of keeping his salary below the $6,000 mark. The next year, on November 22, 1954, the Pittsburgh Pirates had the privilege of the #1 pick and they picked Roberto Clemente.
Clemente played his whole professional career with the Pirates. It spanned eighteen years. He played right field, and he played it well. He was known for his rocket arm and consistent batting. Throughout his career, he had many great accomplishments. He was in the World Series of baseball twice. The first time he was in the World Series, the Pirates beat the New York Yankees in 1960. He had a batting average of .310 in the series of seven games they played. Clemente was selected the National League MVP in 1966. The second World Series that Clemente was in was against the Baltimore Orioles in 1971. The Pirates came from behind to win in seven games. Clemente was chosen MVP for this World Series with a phenomenal batting average of .414. He was the National League batting champion four times. Clemente also earned twelve Golden Gloves in his career, tying Willie Mays. He got exactly 3,000 hits in his career and he was the 11th player to ever reach that number. Clemente appeared in 12 all-star games.
On November 14, 1964, Clemente married Vera Cristina Zabala. Clemente was very proud of where he was from so they had the wedding in his hometown of Carolina, Puerto Rico. They went on to have three sons: Roberto Jr., Luis Roberto, and Roberto Enrique. Clemente's accomplishments were not all on the baseball field. In the off-season he helped out many unfortunate people because Clemente believed in giving other unfortunate people the chance that he had.
On December 31, 1972, off the coast of Isla Verde, Puerto Rico, Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash on his way to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He was 38. At the start of the 1973 baseball season, the Pirates retired Roberto Clemente's number: 21. Debate is still going on about his number 21 being retired for every team in the MLB. At PNC Park, the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball stadium, the right field wall is 21 feet high in honor of his number. The 6th Street Bridge was also renamed in his honor at the start of the 1973 baseball season. Clemente was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973. In New York, a state park was named in his honor. Clemente also has many schools named after him. In Miami, Florida, the Roberto Clemente Youth Club was created to help at-risk Hispanic youth to keep away from drugs and violence. In San Juan, Puerto Rico the coliseum was named Coliseo Roberto Clemente. In his hometown of Carolina a street was named after him. Also, a sports center was built in his honor to honor his idea that children should have the chance he had for sports to help relieve them of poverty. This was called the Ciudad Deportiva Roberto Clemente. There is also an award named in his honor that is awarded every year in the MLB for the player that most represents Clemente's humanitarianism.
Many years after his death, Clemente is still being awarded commencements for his deeds. In 1999, he was placed 20th in The Sporting News list of 100 Greatest Baseball Players and the highest ranking Latino player. In 1999, Clemente also was put on the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. In 2002, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2003, he was inducted in to the United States Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame. In 2005, Clemente became a member of the Major League Baseball's Latinos Legends Team.