We have all either heard or read articles about Roberto Clemente, a lot of them talk about his amazing accolades in baseball. In most articles you have the cliché bio and statistics, so for the sake of the sports fan (like me) or anyone who does not have a clue of who Roberto Clemente is, let’s get this part of it out of the way first.
The Bio and Stats Summary
Roberto Enrique Clemente Walker. Born Aug. 18, 1934, in Carolina, Puerto Rico.
- He amassed 3,000 hits, 240 home runs
- Won four batting titles, in his seventeen-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
- NL MVP in 1966 and helped guide the Pirates to a World Series crown in 1971.
- Twelve consecutive Gold Glove Awards for defensive excellence in right field.
It’s important to understand that Roberto Clemente was not just any baseball player. He paved the way for Latinos in the major leagues. He was the first Latin American player to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award (1966) and the first to win the World Series Most Valuable Player Award (1971). This all at a time when Latinos had very little representation.
Roberto Clemente was often insulted by the racism he received in the United States, something he did not experience back home growing up in Puerto Rico. Shortly after signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Clemente was often alienated and treated as an outcast in a town where Whites saw him as a black man and the African American community labeled him a foreigner.
The sports press often took jabs at the rising star by quoting him in broken English. For example, When Roberto would say “I got a Hit” (having a heavy accent) the reporters would literally write it the way he pronounced it “I gut a Heat”; other examples were: “I no play so gut yet,”, “Me like hot weather, veree hot. I no run fast cold weather. No get warm in cold. No get warm, no play gut. you see.”
As a proud man, this would infuriate him and would fuel his pursuit of excellence on the field to gain the respect he felt he deserved. Eventually journalists came to see the subtle yet monstrous racism in quoting Latinos in this way, and rightly began cleaning up their quotes so that they at least did not exaggerate the brokenness of the English.
But he was not just a baseball player. Roberto Clemente was MLB’s most beloved humanitarian. He worked tirelessly to promote greater accessibility and equality for Latino Americans, both within baseball and outside of it. Clemente was famous for hosting baseball clinics for underprivileged youth free of charge. He also delivered significant financial aid to people in his native Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and other countries in Latin America.
Clemente made a reported annual salary of $125,000, which is equivalent to less than $1 million today. Yet Clemente still made charity a focal point of his life. Clemente once said “There is nothing wrong with our homes, our country, that a little more care, a little more concern, a little more love, won’t cure.” Clemente’s vision of humanitarianism is one that everyone should take to heart.
In 1972 after Nicaragua was hit with a devastating Earthquake. Roberto spent all of Christmas week in a parking lot desperately looking and organizing supplies for the people of Nicaragua. He would hear reports that the authorities were taking the supplies for themselves, so Clemente decided he had to go personally and make sure it was going directly to the people who needed the most, a further example of his devotion to humanitarianism.
The plane was so heavy and full of supplies that Shortly after take off, the overloaded aircraft plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, just one mile from the Puerto Rican coast en route to Nicaragua on New Year’s Eve in 1972. Roberto Clemente’s body was never recovered. He died at the age of 38, fighting to help those in need.
Shortly after his death, Roberto Clemente became the first Latino inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, after a special election in which the 5-year mandatory waiting period was waived.
Major League Baseball honored him by establishing an award that bears Clemente’s name, recognizing the player who, besides being a good athlete, emulates Clemente’s philanthropy and humanitarianism. In Puerto Rico an award in his name is given at public schools to those who excel as athletes, students, and citizens.
You can vote for the 2021 Roberto Clemente Award Nominees by clicking here.
Roberto Clemente lived by the motto “Anytime you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and don’t, then you are wasting your time on earth”. A motto that every Latino/Latina/Latinx/Hispanic and basically the entire human race should live by today.