By: Scott RossPublished: December 31, 2022

Roberto Enrique Clemente Walker

Roberto Clemente was the youngest of seven children growing up in Puerto Rico, where he and his siblings would often help their father in the sugar cane fields. In High school he was a track star, but turned his attention to baseball, and he was playing in the Winter Leagues by the time he was 18.

Clemente signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers on February 19, 1954, but the Dodgers lost him on November 22 to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Rule 5 Draft (if you don't know, don't ask, you don't really care) after he'd been spotted by scout Clyde Sukeforth, curiously the same man who had signed Jackie Robinson for the Dodgers a decade earlier.

Clemente, then 20, was the Pirates' starting right-fielder the following spring, though he struggled on both offense and defense and the club finished in the cellar with a record of 60-94. But by 1960, both the club and the player hit their stride, as Clemente finished eighth in the NL MVP balloting and the Pirates won the World Series, defeating the New York Yankees on the back of Bill Mazeroski's walk-off homer in the Game 7.

Clemente played for 18 years and was one of the game's brightest, most talented and handsomest stars, possessed of a cannon arm. He won the MVP Award in 1966 and received votes in eleven other seasons. He was a twelve-time All Star, a twelve-time Gold Glove winner, a two-time World Champion, and a four-time batting champion. His career had a curious shape to it as he compiled 30.1 wins above replacement in the first nine years, and 64.7 in the second nine years.

On September 30, 1972, Clemente faced the New York Mets' Jon Matlack to lead off the fourth inning of a scoreless game, ripping a double to left for his 3,000th career hit. It would be the last hit of his career.

Clemente travelled to Nicaragua the following month to coach the Puerto Rican team in the Baseball World Cup, and so when an earthquake struck the Central American nation on December 23, killing 5,000 people, Clemente was moved to lend a hand, sending three planeloads of aid. But after reports that the military was seizing relief packages, he decided to travel there and see personally to the distribution of his aid.

Tragically, the plane carrying Clemente and his care packages had a history of mechanical troubles and was overloaded. Almost immediately upon takeoff from Puerto Rico on December 31, 1972, the plane suffered engine failure and plunged into the water, killing Clemente and the crew.


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