Famed Puerto Rican baseball placer who played in the Major Leagues in the United States. An outstanding right fielder and batter, he was the first Latin American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in the United States. He was also known for his philanthropic work.
He was born in 1934 in San Antón, Carolina. His parents were Melchor Clemente and Luisa Walker, who encouraged their children to play sports. As a child, he stood out in track and field, a sport in which he won various medals, specifically for throwing the javelin and sprint races. At just 14 years of age, he joined the softball team sponsored by Sello Rojo, a rice processing company. Later, he played for the amateur baseball team in Juncos. In 1952, at 18 years of age, he joined the Puerto Rico professional baseball league when he signed with the Santurce Cangrejeros. His time with that team was crucial for the development of his athletic career, and he was able to polish his skills.
In 1954, Clemente signed a contract with a minor league team for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and later with the Montreal Royals. After a single season in Canada, where he played little, he returned to the island to play again in the Puerto Rican league. He was part of the so-called Panic Squad of the Santurce Cangrejeros, along with famed Major League players such as Willie Mays, Bob Thurman, George Crowe and Willard Brown. They not only led their team to the championship of the Puerto Rican professional baseball league in the 1954-1955 season, but also won the Caribbean Series. In 1955, he began his Major League career as part of the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he played for 18 seasons.
Clemente was an outstanding offensive player, both for his large number of hits and for his speed as a runner. As a right fielder, he was known for his sharp reflexes in catching the ball and for the strength of his throwing arm. During the course of his career, he maintained a batting average of .317. He was selected National League Most Valuable Player in 1996 and World Series Most Valuable Player in 1971. He was also awarded the Gold Glove, a prestigious prize for exceptional defensive players, on twelve occasions.
He played in two World Series: in 1960, when the Pirates played against the New York Yankees, and in 1971, when they faced and defeated the Baltimore Orioles. During the 1971 season, he reached the level of 3,000 career hits, a record previously achieved by only ten players in the Major Leagues.
After the end of the season in the United States, he returned to Puerto Rico where he played 15 seasons in the island baseball league while offering sports clinics to children and youths. Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash on December 23, 1972, while taking supplies to Nicaragua after an earthquake struck that country. After his death, his widow, Vera Zabala, made one of her late husband’s dreams a reality by creating the Roberto Clemente Sports City, a sports center where young athletes from the island, especially those from low-income families, can develop their skills.
The Major Leagues have honored his memory with the Roberto Clemente Award, which recognizes the humanitarian work by players and their achievements in sports. The Roberto Clemente Middle School in Philadelphia not only carries his name, but since 1977 has also had a statue of the baseball player on its grounds. Another sculpture of him that dates to 2005 is located at the Negro League Memorial in West Park Tour, also in Philadelphia. The municipality of Carolina has dedicated monuments to his memory in its streets. Notable among these is the cenotaph, a 30-foot-long sculpture that recreates important moments in the ballplayer’s life. It was unveiled on August 18, 1999, to commemorate his birth.
Portal Ciudad Deportiva Roberto Clemente
¡Listos!: Puerto Rico en el deporte internacional 1930-2004, Catálogo exhibición Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, 2004.
Gran Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico
Portal Más allá del beisbol: La vida de Roberto Clemente, Del servicio de exposiciones itinerantes, de la Institucion Smithsonian.
Portal Baseball Hall of Fame
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 08, 2014.
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