Remembering Roberto Clemente
College Contributor Network
Roberto Clemente was arguably one of the greatest all-around players to ever play the game of baseball, boasting a career stat line that includes a .317 batting average, 241 home runs, 15 All-Star appearances, and 12 Gold Gloves. He was a two-time World Series champion and one-time World Series Most Valuable Player. Maybe the most haunting statistic however, is that Clemente had 3,000 hits -- exactly 3,000. His 3,000th hit came on Sept. 30, 1972. He would pass away almost exactly three months later.
Roberto Walker Clemente was born Aug. 18, 1934 to Don Melchor Clemente and Luisa Walker as the youngest of seven siblings in Carolina, Puerto Rico. He expressed an interest and aptitude for baseball at a young age and he was signed to a minor league contract in Puerto Rico as an 18-year-old. His talent in the minors got him noticed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, who offered him a contract to go to their Triple-A affiliate, the Montreal Royals. The Pirates scouted Clemente in his time with the Royals, and took him in the first round of the rookie draft in 1954.
In the following seasons, he would lead the Pirates to two World Series and rack up several individual accolades during his legendary career. No. 21 in the black and yellow became synonymous with great baseball.
Clemente was not only one of a kind on the field, his efforts off the field were unrivaled as well. A commitment to charity was a surviving theme throughout Clemente's entire career. He also joined the United States Marine Corps Reserves in 1958 and his training at Parris Island, S.C. and Camp LeJune, N.C., among several other locations, helped keep him in shape during the offseason.
In a shining example of his humanitarianism, when Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, was hit by a massive earthquake, Clemente immediately arranged relief flights to bring supplies to victims. When he found out the packages on the first three flights had been stolen by corrupt local officials, he decided to accompany the fourth flight set to leave on New Year's Eve, hoping his presence would ensure the packages' safe delivery.
Clemente's flight on Dec. 31 was overloaded by 4,200 pounds and crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all on board. Clemente's body was never recovered. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Presidential Citizens Medal.
His death, as reported in his New York Times obituary, "plunged the country of Puerto Rico into mourning" and, undoubtedly, the United States with it. Puerto Rico declared three national days of mourning while, stateside, Clemente's funeral was held with all members of his team in attendance, except for one. Manny Seguillen, Clemente's close personal friend, was diving in the waters of the crash, trying without success to find his friend's body.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame held a special election the following year, waiving the standard five-year waiting period for induction, and inducted Clemente with a 92.7% vote. This election set a precedent that players who have been deceased for at least six months can be inducted the following year, instead of waiting a further five. But, this is hardly the only precedent he set.
Clemente was a shining example of philanthropy. It would take a herculean effort to overshadow his excellence on the field, but his charity work did just that. Major League Baseball has since given the Roberto Clemente Award to a player who exemplifies greatness on the field, while also showing a commitment to helping others in the community.
So this truly is Clemente's legacy: excellence. Excellence in every aspect of the word, in every facet of life, in this world that is so often corrupted by stories of impropriety and indecency. In a world where cynicism has become the norm, we look to the memory of a man who was, as Bud Selig called him in 2006, "A hero in every sense of the term."
Clemente was 38 when he passed away, not young for a baseball player maybe, but far too young by any other measure. He had a lifetime ahead of him, a lifetime of possibility to change the lives of others through his selfless work. Clemente took seriously the responsibility of helping anyone he could, so much so that his name is seldom mentioned without choruses of what an incredible person he was.
Where then, does that leave us now? One of the game's greatest ambassadors and humanitarians has been gone for almost 35 years and we are in a sports climate that is growing ever darker each day that passes. It is our responsibility to take up where Clemente left off. Not in any grand gesture, but in an everyday commitment that we make to excellence in all aspects of life and service to others.
Annie Moore is a junior at the University of Louisville majoring in Communications with a Sport Administration minor. She believes Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Follow her on Twitter: @AnyMoreSports