Roberto Clemente was born on August 18, 1934, in Barrio San Anton, Carolina, in Puerto Rico. His parents were Don Melchor Clemente and Dona Luisa Walker. They had seven children, Roberto being the youngest one. Their family was not very privileged, and his father used to work in the sugar fields, sometimes being aided by Roberto as well, in loading and unloading trucks.
Clemente attended Vizcarrondo High School, which was located in Carolina. From an early age, he developed an interest in baseball. In his first year of high school, he was recruited by Roberto Marin to play softball with the Sello Rojo team after Marin was impressed by his baseball skills. At the age of sixteen, he joined the Puerto Rico’s amateur league, playing for the Ferdinand Juncos team.
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In October 1952, he was given a contract by Pedrin Zorilla, which marked the beginning of his professional career in baseball. He played for the Cangrejeros de Santurce, a winter league team, in the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League.
From 1954, he started playing with the American baseball team Brooklyn Dodgers, with whom he had signed a contract. The next year, he started playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates as well, making his debut in major league.
Slowly, as the years passed, he became one of the best baseball players of the country. Having won the NL batting title four times, he was also known for having one of the most dangerous arms ever witnessed in baseball.
He used to be referred to as ‘Bob Clemente’ during his career in Major League Baseball, though he usually preferred to be called with his first name.
He debuted with the Pirates in April 1955, in a game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. As a Latin American, as well as being of African descent, he was under a lot of stress, especially because of the media attention. However, he not only continued playing, but also managed to show his amazing skills in the sport.
He led the league during the early 1960, with a batting average of .353. He also registered runs batted in 25 out of a total of 27 games. His batting average always stayed above the .300 mark.
Though he missed five games due to a chin injury during the regular season, the Pirates managed to win the NL pennant after defeating the NL Yankees in a seven-game World Series. Clemente earned his first stop on the NL All-star roster as a reserve player because of his fantastic performance including a .314 average and 16 home runs.
After playing in the 1961 season, he went back to Puerto Rico with his friend and fellow baseball player Orlando Cepeda, a native of Ponce. They were received by a huge crowd of 18,000 people when they arrived. He also involved himself with managing the Sendaores de San Juan, which was of the Puerto Rican League.
During the major league off-season, Roberto Clemente played for Senadores de San Juan as well. Shortly after, he injured his thigh while doing some household work. Despite this, he did not stop playing. However, he had to undergo surgery after being carried off the playing field once his injury became severe during a game.
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Later, during the 1970 season, Clemente compiled a batting average of .352. During the off-season, he worked as a manager of the Senadores. This period however was a difficult one for the player on the personal front as his beloved father was undergoing some health problems.
The Pirates won the NL East in the 1971 season, defeating the San Francisco Giants in four different games. They faced the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. Clemente played brilliantly and helped win the World Series for the Pirates. He had a .414 batting average in the series, as well as hit a solo home run in the deciding 2-1 seventh game victory. For his incredible performance he received the World Series Most Valuable Player Award.
Awards & Achievements
Roberto Clemente won several awards in his lifetime, which included the NL MVP Award in 1966.
He won the NL Player of the Month Award thrice (May 1960, May 1967, and July 1969).
In 1971, he was awarded with the World Series MVP Award.
He received the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award posthumously in 2006.
Clemente also received three civilian awards posthumously: the Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Citizens Medal from President Richard Nixon in 1973, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush in 2003.
Personal Life & Legacy
Roberto Clemente got married in the year 1964. He and his wife had three children.
Throughout his life, he was involved in different kinds of charity work, though they were not always related to baseball.
He died in a plane crash on December 31, 1972 while he was on his way to Nicaragua to deliver aid to earthquake victims.
The MLB started presenting the Roberto Clemente Award from 1971. It is given every year to a player who shows incredible skills in baseball and is also personally involved in community work.
Based on his life, several books and documentaries have been produced. Some of them are ‘Baseball’s Last Hero: 21 Clemente Stories’, an American film, and ‘Chasing 3000’, another American film.