Roberto Clemente is remembered today as one of the game's best all-around right fielders, with one of the best arms in baseball. Often referred to as "The Great One," Clemente was the first Latin American player elected to the baseball Hall of Fame.
Roberto Walker Clemente was born in Barrio San Anton in Carolina, Puerto Rico on August 18, 1934.
Roberto Clemente was the youngest of the seven children of Melchor and Luisa Clemente. His father was a foreman on a sugarcane plantation, and his mother ran a grocery store for plantation workers. His family was poor, and Clemente worked hard as a youngster, delivering milk and taking other odd jobs to earn extra money for the family. There was still time, however, for his first love—baseball—which he played on the sandlots of his home town in Puerto Rico until he was eighteen years old.
In 1952, Roberto Clemente was spotted by a scout from the professional hardball team in the Puerto Rican town of Santurce and offered a contract. He signed with the club for forty dollars per month, plus a five hundred dollar bonus. It wasn't long before Clemente caught the attention of the major league scouts and, in 1954, he signed up with the Los Angeles Dodgers who sent him to their minor league team in Montreal.
In 1955, Roberto Clemente was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and started as their right fielder. It took a few years for him to learn the ropes in the major leagues, but by 1960 Clemente was a dominant player in professional baseball, helping lead the Pirates to win both the National League pennant and the World Series.
Statistics & Honors
Roberto Clementes had an impressive lifetime batting average of .317, and is one of only a few players to have collected 3,000 hits. He was a powerhouse from the outfield too, throwing out players from over 400 feet. His personal records included four National League batting championships, twelve Gold Glove awards, the National League MVP in 1966, and the World Series MVP in 1971, where he batted .414.
Shortly after Clemente joined the Pirates, he chose No. 21 for his uniform. Twenty-one was the total number of letters in the nameRoberto Clemente Walker.
On November 14, 1964, Roberto Clemente married Vera Cristina Zabala in Carolina, Puerto Rico. They had three sons: Roberto Jr., Luis Roberto, and Roberto Enrique, each born in Puerto Rico to honor their father's heritage. The boys were just six, five and two, respectively, when Roberto Clemente met his untimely death in 1972.
A Tragic Ending
Tragically, Roberto Clemente's life ended on December 31, 1972 in a plane crash while en route to Nicaragua with relief supplies for earthquake victims. Always the humanitarian, Clemente was on the plane to make sure the clothing, food and medical supplies weren't stolen, as had happened with previous flights. The rickety plane went down off the coast of San Juan shortly after takeoff, and Roberto's body was never found.
For his "outstanding athletic, civic, charitable, and humanitarian contributions," Roberto Clemente was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress in 1973.
The Pirates retired his number at the start of the 1973 season, and the right-field wall at the Pirates' PNC Park is 21 feet high in honor of Clemente.