He Gave All He Had to America’s Past Time

James 4:14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.  You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

 Typically, I write about spiritual principles, but this is a great story and I already added a scripture to the beginning to make you think! 

For 20 years I have devoted my life investing into the Latin American community in Arizona and have had the time of my life!  Fifty years ago, today, a key figure in Latin American sports in America was whisked into Eternity.  Roberto Enrique Clemente Walker was a great humanitarian and was the first Latin American major leaguer to break through previous barriers thought impenetrable.  I started watching baseball in the early 1980s and would always hear about this Roberto Clemente, but never had watched many highlights on him until the last 5-10 years when YouTube started filling up with historic videos.  I think the name just shouted star and coolness to me: Roberto Clemente!!!

Clemente was born in Puerto Rico but was an American citizen from birth and learned English as a boy.  In 1955, when he entered the majors, less than 5% of the players were of Latin American descent.  Today, closer to 30% of players are Latin American.  He was a 15-time All-Star and brought skills to the game that rivaled the best of the era.  He could be compared to names like Mantle, Mays, and Aaron yet was often considered an outsider during his day, probably because he was a black Latin American.  On December 31, 1972, just months after getting his 3,000th hit and leading Pittsburgh to the pennant, he was assisting in transporting some relief aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua from his native Puerto Rico and he was killed in a plane crash.  This put the spotlight on Clemente and the Latin American community.

Roberto Clemente was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1954 and given $4,000.  Clemente needed fine-tuned but played with relentless and contagious passion!  He swung off his heals, ran into outfield walls going for fly balls, and had a cannon for an arm that could hit 3rd base or home plate from right field on a rope.  This made him a fan favorite and he would drop anything to speak to kids and give autographs.  His aggressiveness could be heard when he stated, “I do not have the patience to wait for a special pitch.  I go to the plate to hit, not to walk.” 

Although the fans loved Clemente, within the closer circles there were complaints and whispering.  Some thought he was moody and didn’t fit in with the team.  In reality, he was misunderstood!  Roberto adjusted and grew into the role of a great teammate. To this day he may be one of the most underrated players in the history of baseball.   Besides the 15 All-Stars and 3,000 hits Clemente accomplished the following:

  • L. Most Valuable Player in 1966
  • 4X N.L Batting Title (1961, 1964, 1965, and 1967)
  • 12X Gold Glove Winner (1961 – 1972)
  • World Series MVP (1971 and first Spanish speaking player to win it) & batted .414
  • 2X World Series Champion
  • 3X N.L. Leader in putouts
  • .317 Career Average
  • Played 18 Years/ 15 All-Stars
  • 2,433 Total Games
  • 4,492 Total Bases

A fellow Pittsburgh Pirate star, Bill Mazeroski, considers Clemente a neglected superstar.  Some say he rubbed to many the wrong way because he always said what he thought.  But later in his career his teammates said he was severely overlooked by many other MLB players and the media.  His hits and RBIs seemed to come at critical moments of the game and he had over 100 RBI’s twice and that’s at 5’11’ and 180 lbs. ¡Vamos, Roberto!

In December 1972, Roberto was on an overloaded cargo plane with 4,200 lbs. of supplies to help support the country of Nicaragua, who had just experienced a 6.3 magnitude earthquake.  All five people on board were killed and instantly were in eternity, always remember tomorrow is promised to nobody.  Clemente was only 38 years old.  In 1973, Roberto Clemente was enshrined in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and became the first Latin American player in the Hall.  Since then there have been 11 Latin Americans elected to the Hall!  The Pirates retired his number 21 on April 6, 1973. 

“I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all he had to give.” -Roberto Clemente 

“To me, that I could bring together a Black Latin and a Black American was my joy.” – Roberto Clemente

Further Resources:

Roberto Clemente Making Unbelievable Throws From the Outfield | Strongest Arm Ever? 

Roberto Clemente Highlights

Roberto Clemente ESPN Sports Century Documentary Pirates Plane Crash 



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