Bone Daddy has told me the story about the day that he got his 1956 Topps Roberto Clemente baseball card more times than you can shake a stick at it…..and every time, the facts and events of that day are always the exact same as the story has been told….which simply means that this was a very special day indeed. So, as the story goes, Bone Daddy had just finished school on that special day…… when he met his good friends Throck & Peanut under the basketball hoop on the playground at Sam Houston Elementary School in Midland, Texas….and from there they took off on their bicycles in the direction of the West side of Midland Memorial Stadium on their way to Hank’s Grocery….which was across the street from the stadium on the corner of Cuthbert and North N Street….with their sole intent being to spend their entire allowance on baseball cards and big square sticks of bubblegum…..and since BD had earned a dollar for picking up the trash that some other dog had strewd….so, tell me, when will HUMANS learn to quit leaving piles of trash in plastic bags….DUH!!!….anyway,….BD had the $1 for the trash pick-up and 0.25 cents of weekly allowance for chores around the house….and $1.25 would buy him 5 packs of baseball cards at 0.25 cents….and when you consider there were 8 cards in every pack….which meant 40 new cards to look at….with hopes that at least a 4 or 5 would be Yankees. After opening 4 packs…BD was already very happy that he had added 4 Yankees collection 1956 team with P Johnny Kucks, OF Irv Noren, 3B Andy Carey and P Jim Konstanty….which was really a good haul, as all four filled in holes in his 1956 Yanks team collection….so, BD figured he had already maxed his card purchase day….but that was until he opened his 5th and final pack…..which held nothing of value to him thru the 1st seven cards…..and then it happened, there it was, a 1956 Pittsburgh Pirates OF Roberto Clemente card (worth well over $30,000 today in 2021)…..for like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Duke Snyder, Ted Williams, Stan Musial….Roberto Clemente was in a class of his own….and his baseball card was highly coveted in 1956. As you know if you’ve read very many of my stories here at ImaSportsphile….you know that BD has a wonderful Yankee baseball card collection that he has kept from back in the day when he, Throck and Peanut would take off on their bikes to Hank’s Grocery to buy some more cards. There were some other non-Yankee cards like his Roberto Clemente 1956 Topps #33, along with his entire Nolan Ryan card collection that he kept and are now a part of our collection of sports memorabelia here at ImaSportsphile….as it certainly supports all the reasons that justify that Roberto Clemente is being showcased in today’s story.
MLB – 1955 To 1972 – MLB Productions Presents – Tribute To Roberto Clemente
Roberto Clemente Walker (August 18, 1934 – December 31, 1972) was a Puerto Rican professional baseball right fielder who played 18 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973….while becoming both the 1st Latin American and Caribbean player to be enshrined. His untimely death established the precedent that, as an alternative to the five-year retirement period, a player who has been deceased for at least six months is eligible for entry into the Hall of Fame.
MLB – 1955 To 1972 – Special – “La Historia de Roberto Clemente Un Ejemplo de Humanismo”
Clemente was an All-Star for 13 seasons, playing in 15 All-Star Games…..plus, he was the National League (NL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 1966…..while being the NL batting leader in 1961, 1964, 1965, and 1967….and a Gold Glove Award winner for 12 consecutive seasons from 1961 through 1972. His batting average was over .300 for 13 seasons….and he had 3,000 hits during his major league career….while also was a two-time World Series champion…..as he was the 1st Latin American and Caribbean player to win a World Series as a starting position player in 1960….to receive an NL MVP Award in 1966….and to receive a World Series MVP Award in 1971.
MLB – 1971 – All Star Game Highlights – Freaturing Roberto Clemente’s Home Run
As great as Roberto Clemente was on the field…..he was even more outstanding off the field….where he was involved in charity work in Latin American and Caribbean countries during the off-seasons….while often delivering baseball equipment and food to those in need….which is what he was doing on December 31, 1972….when he died in a plane crash at the age of 38 while en route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. The following season, the Pirates retired his uniform # 21….and MLB renamed its annual Commissioner’s Award in his honor….which is now known as the Roberto Clemente Award,…which is given to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.”
MLB – 1955 To 1972 – Roberto Clemente Tribute – “The Greatest Plays & Games In His Career Which Ended In Tragedy”
Clemente was born in Barrio San Antón, Carolina, Puerto Rico, to Melchor Clemente and Luisa Walker…. when he was the youngest of seven kids. During his childhood, his father worked as foreman of sugar crops located in the municipality…..and as a result of their family’s resources being limited, Clemente worked alongside his father in the fields, loading and unloading trucks. Clemente was a track and field star and Olympic hopeful before deciding to turn his full attention to baseball…..as he showed interest in baseball early in life….while often playing against neighboring barrios. He attended Julio Vizcarrondo Coronado High School in Carolina….when during his 1st year in high school, he was recruited by Roberto Marín to play softball with the Sello Rojo team after Marín saw Clemente playing baseball in barrio San Antón….as he was with the team two years as a shortstop….then Clemente joined Puerto Rico’s amateur league when he was 16 years old….while playing for the Ferdinand Juncos team….which represented the municipality of Juncos.
MLB – 2018 – Special Interviews – Puerto Rican MLB Players Thoughts About Roberto Clemente
Clemente’s professional baseball career began when Pedrín Zorilla offered Clemente, 18, a contract which he signed on October 9, 1952 with the Cangrejeros de Santurce (“Crabbers”)….which was a winter league team and franchise of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League (LBBPR). He was a bench player during his 1st season….but was promoted to the Cangrejeros starting lineup the following season….when during this season he hit .288 as the team’s lead-off hitter. While Clemente was playing in the LBBPR, the Brooklyn Dodgers offered him a contract with one of the team’s Triple-A affiliates….and after signing with the Dodgers on February 19, 1954, Clemente moved to Montreal to play with the Royals. Affected early on by both climate and language differences, Clemente received assistance from bilingual teammates such as infielder Chico Fernandez and pitchers Tommy Lasorda and Joe Black. In fact, it was Black who was the original target of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ June 1, 1954 scouting trip to Richmond. Conducted by pitching coach Clyde Sukeforth, the mission’s focus quickly shifted when he witnessed Clemente’s throwing and batting prowess in pre-game drills. Nonetheless, Clemente barely played during Sukeforth’s three-day visit….then with his suspicions further aroused by manager Max Macon’s dismissive remarks “You mean you want him?!”…..along with the fact that Clemente took batting practice with the pitchers rather than his fellow position players….as Sukeforth made inquiries and soon ascertained Clemente’s status as an unprotected bonus baby. The manager had been instructed to use Clemente “sparingly,” acknowledged Macon almost 12 years later. “We tried to sneak him through the draft, but it didn’t work.” As Sukeforth told Pirates beat writer Les Biederman, “I knew then he’d be our first draft choice.” Before leaving Richmond, he recalled, “I told Montreal manager Max Macon to take good care of ‘our boy’ and see that he didn’t get hurt.” Evidently, Macon took Sukeforth at his word; scarcely had the Pirate scout departed when, on June 4, Clemente started his first game in over a month. In the course of two days and three games (two of which he started), Clemente amassed ten at-bats, two more than in the previous thirty games combined. Yet just as abruptly, the moment was over and he was back to riding the bench, this time for almost two months.
MLB – 1955 To 1972 – Baseball Hall of Fame Biography – Roberto Clemente
Clemente’s extra inning, walk-off home run of July 25, 1954 was the first home run of his North American baseball career….while being hit in his 1st at-bat after entering the game as a defensive replacement….of which perhaps prompted by Sukeforth’s followup visit saying “I don’t care if you never play him; we’re going to finish last, and we’re going to draft him number one”…..as Clemente’s appearance ended a nearly two-month-long drought starting on June 6 (17 appearances, 6 starts, and 24 at-bats in 60 games)….and from this point forward, Clemente’s playing time increased significantly….as he started every subsequent game against a left-handed starting pitcher….while finishing the season with a batting average of .257 in 87 games. Clemente would complement his July 25 walk-off homer with another on September 5….as well as a walk-off outfield assist while cutting down the potential tying run at the plate on August 18, his 20th birthday. As promised, the Pirates made Clemente the 1st selection of the rookie draft that took place on November 22, 1954.
MLB – 1955 tO 1972 – Special Film Tribute To Roberto Clemente – “Roberto”
For all but the first six weeks of his major league career (during which time his jersey bore the # 13….. while the number now indelibly linked to his name was taken by then-teammate Earl Smith….as Clemente wore # 21, later retired by the Pirates. During the off-seasons (except the 1958–59, 1962–63, 1965–66, 1968–69, 1971–72, and 1972–73 seasons), Clemente played professionally for the Santurce Crabbers, Criollos de Caguas, and San Juan Senadores in the Puerto Rican baseball winter league…. where he was considered a star….and he sometimes managed the San Juan team.
MLB – 1955 To 1972 – Sportes Special – “The Roberto Clemente Story”
In September 1958, Clemente joined the United States Marine Corps Reserve….when he went on to serve his six-month active duty commitment at Parris Island, South Carolina, Camp LeJeune in North Carolina, and Washington, D.C. At Parris Island, Clemente received his recruit training with Platoon 346 of the 3rd Recruit Battalion. The rigorous Marine Corps training programs helped Clemente physically….as he added strength by gaining ten pounds and said his back troubles (caused by being in a 1954 auto accident) had disappeared. He was a private 1st class in the Marine Corps Reserve until September 1964.
MLB – 1966 – Roberto Clemente Highlights – “Two Catches And A Throw”
The Pirates experienced several difficult seasons through the 1950’s, although they did manage a winning season in 1958….which was their first since 1948. Clemente debuted with the Pirates on April 17, 1955, wearing uniform # 13 in the 1st game of a doubleheader against the Brooklyn Dodgers….plus, in the beginning of his time with the Pirates….that is when he experienced frustration because of racial tension with the local media and some teammates….as Clemente responded to this by stating, “I don’t believe in color.” …..as he noted that, during his upbringing, he was taught to never discriminate against someone based on ethnicity. Clemente was at a double disadvantage…..as he was a Latin American and Caribbean player who knew very little English and was Black….from being of African descent. The year before, the Pirates had become the 5th team in the NL and 9th in the major leagues to break the baseball color line when they hired Curt Roberts…..who debuted with the team….which was seven years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line with the Dodgers. Upon arriving in Pittsburgh, Roberts befriended Clemente and helped him adjust to life in the major league….as well as to get used to life in the Pittsburgh area.
MLB – 1955 To 1972 – Special Tribute – “Nicaragua Recuerda Con Cariño a Roberto Clemente”
Due to a back injury suffered the previous winter in Puerto Rico….when a drunk driver rammed into his car at an intersection….Clemente had to sit out several games during his rookie season…and finished his rookie season with a .255 batting average….despite having trouble hitting certain types of pitches….but his defensive skills were highlighted during this season.
MLB – 1955 To 1972 – MLB Now Studio 21 – MLB Looks At The Legacy Of Roberto Clemente
The following season at Forbes Field on July 25, 1956, Clemente hit the only documented walk-off, inside-the-park grand am in modern MLB play. Clemente was still fulfilling his Marine Corps Reserve duty during spring of 1959 and wasn’t set to be released from Camp Lejeune until April 4th….and that is when a Pennsylvania state senator, John M. Walker, wrote to US Senator Hugh Scott requesting an early release on March 4th….so that Clemente could join the team for spring training.
Music & MLB – 1973 – Ramito – “Canta A Roberto Clemente”
Music & MLB – 1975 – Ismael Miranda – “Salsa Classico # 21: Un Tributo Musical A Roberto Clemente”
Early in the 1960 season, Clemente led the league with a .353 batting average….and the 14 extra-base hits and 25 RBIs recorded in May alone resulted in Clemente’s selection as the National League’s Player of the Month….as his batting average would remain above the .300 mark throughout the course of the campaign. On August 5 at Forbes Field, Clemente crashed into the right field wall while making a pivotal play….which deprived San Francisco’s Willie Mays of a lead-off, extra-base hit in a game eventually won by Pittsburgh, 1–0…..when the resulting injury necessitated five stitches to the chin and a five-game layoff for Clemente….while the catch itself was described by Giants beat writer Bob Stevens as “rank[ing] with the greatest of all time, as well as one of the most frightening to watch and painful to make.” The Pirates compiled a 95–59 record during the regular season….then went on to win the NL pennant…..and followed that up by defeating the New York Yankees in a seven-game World Series. Clemente batted .310 in the series….while hitting safely at least once in every game. His .314 batting average, 16 home runs, and defensive playing during the course of the season had earned him his 1st spot on the NL All-Star roster as a reserve player….when he replaced Hank Aaron in right field during the 7th and 8th innings in the second All-Star game held that season (two All-Star games were held each season from 1959 through 1962).
MLB – 1960 – World Series Game 7 – Pittsburgh Pirates Vs New York Yankees – Last 3 Innings
During spring training in 1961, following advice from Pirates’ batting coach George Sisler, Clemente tried to modify his batting technique by using a heavier bat to slow the speed of his swing….which resulted in Clemente being named the starting NL right fielder for the first of two All-Star games…when he went 2 for 4….while hitting a triple on his 1st at-bat and scored the team’s first run….then he drove in the 2nd run with a sacrifice fly. With the AL ahead 4–3 in the 10th inning, he teamed with fellow future HOFers Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Frank Robinson to engineer a come-from-behind 5–4 NL victory….which culminated in Clemente’s walk-off single off knuckle-baller Hoyt Wilhelm. Clemente started again in right field for the second All-Star game held that season….and went 0 for 2….while flying and grounding out in the 2nd and 4th innings. That season he received his first Gold Glove Award. Following the 1961 season, he traveled to Puerto Rico along with Orlando Cepeda….who was a native of Ponce…..and when both players arrived, they were received by 18,000 people. During this time, he was also involved in managing the Senadores de San Juan of the Puerto Rican League….as well as playing with the team during the major league off-season. During the course of the winter league, Clemente injured his thigh while doing some work at home….but wanted to participate in the league’s all-star game….when he pinch-hit in the game and got a single….but experienced a complication of his injury as a result….and had to undergo surgery shortly after being carried off the playing field. This condition limited his role with the Pirates in the first half of the 1965 season, during which he batted .257. Although he was inactive for many games….when he returned to the regular starting lineup, he got hits in 33 out of 34 games….and his batting average climbed up to .340. He participated as a pinch hitter and replaced Willie Stargell playing left field during the All-Star Game on July 15.
MLB – 1972 – MLB History – Pirates OF Roberto Clemente Gets 3000th Hit
Clemente was an All-Star every season he played in the 1960’s other than 1968….which was the only year in his career after 1959 in which he failed to hit above .300…..as well as being a Gold Glove winner for each of his final 12 seasons, beginning in 1961. He won the NL batting title four times in 1961, 1964, 1965, and 1967….and won the league’s MVP Award in 1966….while hitting .317 with 29 home runs and 119 RBIs. In 1967, Clemente registered a career-high .357 batting average, hit 23 home runs, and batted in 110 runs. Following that season, in an informal poll conducted by Sport Magazine at baseball’s Winter Meetings, a plurality of major league GMs declared Clemente “the best player in baseball today,”….while edging out AL Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski by a margin of 8 to 6….with one vote each going to Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Bill Freehan and Ron Santo.
MLB – 1955 To 1972 – MLB Biography – Roberto Clemente: “Athlete Extraordinaire”
The 1970 season was the last one that the Pirates played at Forbes Field before moving to Three Rivers Stadium….and for Clemente, abandoning this stadium was an emotional situation. The Pirates’ final game at Forbes Field occurred on June 28, 1970. That day, Clemente noted that it was hard to play in a different field, saying, “I spent half my life there.” The night of July 24, 1970, was declared “Roberto Clemente Night”….when on this day, several Puerto Rican fans traveled to Three Rivers Stadium and cheered Clemente while wearing traditional Puerto Rican attire…..and then a ceremony to honor Clemente took place….during which he received a scroll with 300,000 signatures compiled in Puerto Rico….as several thousands of dollars were donated to charity work following Clemente’s request.
MLB – 1955 To 1972 – ESPN Sports Century With Chris Fowler – “Roberto Clemente: In The Shadows”
During the 1970 season, Clemente compiled a .352 batting average….as the Pirates won the NL East pennant….but were subsequently eliminated by the Cincinnati Reds. During the off-season, Roberto Clemente experienced some tense situations while he was working as manager of the Senadores….as well s his father, Melchor Clemente, experienced medical problems and underwent surgery.
MLB – 1971 – Special – “The Story Of The 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates”
In the 1971 season, the Pirates won the NL East….then defeated the San Francisco Giants in four games to win the NL pennant….and faced the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series…..as Baltimore had won 101 games (3rd season in row with 100+ wins)…..and had swept the American League Championship Series, both for the 3rd consecutive year….and were the defending World Series champions. The Orioles won the first two games in the series….but Pittsburgh won the championship in seven games. This marked the 2nd occasion that Clemente helped win a World Series for the Pirates….when over the course of the series, Clemente had a .414 batting average (12 hits in 29 at-bats)…and performed well defensively….while hitting a solo home run in the deciding 2–1 seventh game victory. Following the conclusion of the season, he received the World Series Most Valuable Player Award.
MLB – 1971 – World Series Highlights – Pirates Vs Orioles – Featuring Series MVP Roberto Clemente
Although he was frustrated and struggling with injuries, Clemente played in 102 games and hit .312 during the 1972 season. He also made the annual NL All-Star roster for the 12th time (he played in 14/15 All-Star games)….and won his 12th consecutive Gold Glove. On September 30, he hit a double in the 4th inning off Jon Matlack of the New York Mets at Three Rivers Stadium for his 3,000th hit. It was his last regular season at-bat of his career. By playing in right field in one more regular season game, on October 3, Clemente passed Honus Wagner’s record for games played as a Pittsburgh Pirate with 2,433 games played. In the NL playoffs that season….as he batted .235 as he went 4 for 17. His last game was October 11, 1972 at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium in the 5th and final game of the 1972 NLCS. He and Bill Mazeroski were the last Pirate players remaining from the 1960 World Series championship team.
MLB – 1971 – World Series Game 6 Highlights – Roberto Clemente Hits Triple And Homers
In the 1958–59 off-season, Clemente enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, and served during off-seasons through 1964….and was inducted into the Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame in 2003….and into the Puerto Rican Veterans Hall of Fame 15 years later. Clemente spent much of his time during the off-season involved in charity work. When Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, was affected by a massive earthquake on December 23, 1972, Clemente (who visited Managua three weeks before the quake) immediately set to work arranging emergency relief flights…..as he soon learned that the aid packages on the 1st three flights had been diverted by corrupt officials of the Somoza government…and thus never reaching victims of the quake…..so, he decided to accompany the 4th relief flight….while hoping that his presence would ensure that the aid would be delivered to the survivors. The airplane he chartered for a New Year’s Eve flight, a Douglas DC-7 cargo plane, had a history of mechanical problems….as well as an insufficient number of flight personnel….while missing both a flight engineer and copilot….and was overloaded by 4,200 pounds (1,900 kg). It crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Isla Verde, Puerto Rico immediately after takeoff on December 31, 1972, due to engine failure…..when a few days after the crash, the body of the pilot and part of the fuselage of the plane were found. An empty flight case apparently belonging to Clemente was the only personal item recovered from the plane. Clemente’s teammate and close friend Manny Sanguillén was the only member of the Pirates not to attend Roberto’s memorial service….as the Pirates catcher chose instead to dive into the waters where Clemente’s plane had crashed in an effort to find his teammate. The bodies of Clemente and three others who were also on the four-engine plane were never recovered.
MLB – 1955 To 1972 – MiniDocumental – Roberto Clemente: “Verdad No Contada MLB”
Montreal Expos pitcher Tom Walker, then playing winter league ball in Puerto Rico (in a league later named after Clemente), helped him load the plane……but because Clemente wanted Walker, who was single, to go enjoy New Year’s…so, Clemente told him not to join him on the flight. Walker’s son is professional baseball player Neil Walker….who is forever grateful to Clemente for leaving his father-to-be at home in Puerto Rico from the fateful flight.
MLB – 1955 To 1972 – Special – Biographer David Maraniss Narrates – “What Roberto Clemente Meant to Baseball”
In an interview for the ESPN documentary series SportsCentury in 2002, Clemente’s widow Vera mentioned that Clemente had told her several times that he thought he was going to die young. Indeed, while being asked by broadcaster and future fellow Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn in July 1971 during the All-Star Game activities about when he would get his 3,000th career hit, Clemente’s response was “Well, uh, you never know. I, I, uh, if I’m alive, like I said before, you never know because God tells you how long you’re going to be here. So you never know what can happen tomorrow.” Clemente’s older stepbrother, Luis, died on December 31, 1954, and his stepsister a few years later.
MLB – 1971 – Special – Tito Rodriguez Interviews Pittsburgh Pirates OF Roberto Clemente
At the time of his death, Clemente had established several records with the Pirates, including most triples in a game (three) and hits in two consecutive games (ten). He won 12 Gold Glove Awards and shares the record of most won among outfielders with Willie Mays. On July 25, 1956, in a 9–8 Pittsburgh win against the Chicago Cubs, Clemente hit the only walk-off inside-the-park grand slam in professional baseball history. On March 20, 1973, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America held a special election for the Baseball Hall of Fame. They voted to waive the waiting period for Clemente, due to the circumstances of his death….and posthumously elected him for induction into the Hall of Fame….while giving him 393 out of 420 available votes, for 92.7% of the vote. Clemente’s Hall of Fame plaque originally had his name as “Roberto Walker Clemente” instead of the proper Spanish format “Roberto Clemente Walker”….as the plaque was recast in 2000 to correct the error.
MLB – 1972 – Special Feature – Roberto Clemente’s Final Interview, October 1972
Roberto Clemente’s influence on Puerto Rican baseball players was very similar to that of Jackie Robinson for African American baseball players. He wasn’t the 1st Puerto Rican to play in the MLB, however, he was arguably the most notable at the time…..as Roberto faced discrimination and disrespect while playing in MLB…..but he persevered and continued to let his play shine and prove why he and many Latino players like him deserved to play among the best of the MLB. Recognized as “The Great One”, he often made his frustrations known about being overlooked by the media during his career. In Puerto Rico, Roberto was nothing less than a monumental superstar….who was considered a national hero and was idolized by all of the young players watching him. As rich and famous as Roberto got, he never stopped helping others. He always helped the underprivileged as much as he could. Many stars have emerged from the ball fields of Puerto Rico since baseball arrived on the island in the late 1800’s….such as Hall of Fame players like Orlando Cepeda, Pudge Rodriguez, and Roberto Alomar….and stars like Javy Lopez, Juan Gonzalez, Juan Pizarro, Ruben Gomez, Bernie Williams and José Valentin…..plus, Carlos Correa has emerged as one of Puerto Rico’s best talents in baseball. On what he admired most about Clemente as a player: “The passion, the way he played, the way he went about his business every single day. Every time he put on his uniform he felt like the luckiest man in the world, so that for me is what I admire most.“….as Clemente’s effect was not only felt in the hearts of the Puerto Rican people….for his impact is still being felt in MLB today…..as Roberto showcased some of the best talent that Puerto Rico could offer and paved the way for thousands of players to follow his lead. Simply put, he broke through the cultural barrier in the MLB and made Puerto Rican baseball players respected.
MLB – 2020 – Legacy # 21 Special – Homenaje A Roberto Clemente – “Legado, Legenda + Humanidad”
As I conclude this story about Roberto Clemente….it has become obvious to me as evidenced by the videos seen herewith….that he was a “5 tool baseball player on the field”…..who could hit, run, field, throw and steal with the best who ever have played the game….but of greater importance and value was the fact that he was “a 5 star human being”….who gave of himself to those less fortunate every day of his life….and we here at ImaSportsphile are honored to tell his story.
MLB – 1955 To 1972 – MLB Presents – “Remembering Roberto” – MLB Remembers The Legacy Of Roberto Clemente