Roberto Clemente is somewhat of a mythical creature on the island of Puerto Rico. The Greeks have Zeus, Poseidon, Dionysus, and Hera. India has Gandhi. Puerto Rico has Roberto Clemente.
In today’s day and age, baseball is under a sort of scrutiny unseen in sports for some time, if ever. The stars of today are blitzed by the media on a daily basis. The players are under a microscope; magnifying their personal lives which may or may not be any of our business. We have allegations of steroid and growth hormone use which has tainted many records and legacies. The negative light that is shone on the game leaves it nearly impossible for a player to get his name in the papers for doing some good. The good guys of the game are overshadowed by these cowards and cheaters. Well, I’d like to shed some light on one of the game’s greatest players and quite possibly the most impactful humanitarian the game has ever seen. What ever happened to using your power and stature for good anyway?
Much intrigue surrounds the legacy left behind by Roberto Clemente. His body was never recovered after a plane accident took his life while he was on the way to deliver aid to Nicaraguan earthquake victims on New Year’s Eve 1972. His body was never recovered…crazy. This tragedy came on the heels of Clemente’s coming out party at the 1971 World Series where he was named MVP. He ended his Major League Baseball career with exactly 3,000 hits, which happens to be the milestone which all great hitters aspire to achieve. If you get to 3,000 hits, that means you’ve been in the game at a high level for a long time. When Roberto Clemente died, he was stuck on exactly 3,000. Weird.
We’ll talk more about his extraordinary baseball career as the best right fielder ever to play the game, but we’re going to start with where his life began: Puerto Rico.
Roberto Clemente was born and raised in Carolina, Puerto Rico where he quickly learned the value of hard work and looking out for your fellow human. He took up baseball at a very young age, but he never forgot about his roots in Puerto Rico and his responsibility to uphold the strong values that epitomize the culture. When he graduated to the Major Leagues, he would use his stardom for the good of the planet, something I believe all celebrities have the responsibility to uphold. To this day, Major League Baseball hands out the Roberto Clemente Award to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of the fallen star, although based on the following quote from “Saint” Clemente himself, I doubt any of today’s players can truly match his efforts:
”Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.”
Roberto Clemente: a socially conscious and globally aware superstar. It almost sounds impossible to imagine today’s egomaniacal players reaching for these types of heights. I am sure there are players out there doing their part, but I don’t think the media gives them enough credit and exposure for such deeds.
So we’ve scratched the surface of Clemente’s humanitarian work. Now let’s talk about that God given baseball ability, summed up by this quote: ”I am convinced that God wanted me to be a baseball player. I was born to play baseball.” Born to play baseball. What a gift! And boy did he ever use that gift to its absolute fullest potential. A .317 lifetime batter, Clemente seemed to somehow save his best for when it counted most-the postseason, where he batted an astounding .362 in two World Series appearances. The MVP of the aforementioned ‘71 Series, Clemente showed the baseball world right where he belonged on the list of all-time greats: the top. The 1966 National League MVP was also well known for his intimidating defense, posting an outfield record (tied with the great Willie Mays) 12 Gold Gloves. Did I mention he is the only player in history to receive a special posthumous vote, bypassing the usual wait time, to get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame? Or that he was the first Latino voted into Cooperstown? The man’s legacy, his desire and passion to play the game, his visionary ethics, these are the traits that set Roberto Clemente on a special type of pedestal. These are the traits that are lacking in today’s watered down, juiced up version of sports.
I could sit here and go on and on about why I think Roberto Clemente is not only the greatest baseball player of all-time, but also one of the best people the game will ever know. Puerto Rico is lucky to be home to such an icon. Chicago is lucky to be home to a high school bearing such an incredible man’s name.
Not enough space exists on these pages to truly convey the impact Roberto Clemente has had on the game of baseball and Latin America as a whole. I only hope to direct attention to where attention needs to be directed to…
Thank you Roberto Clemente…and rest in peace.