April 25, 2020
Roberto Enrique Clemente
Roberto Enrique Clemente was born on August 18, 1934, in Carolina, Puerto Rico. Clemente was a baseball player and a son to a sugarcane worker. Roberto began his baseball career immediately after completing his high school education. He then signed a deal with Brooklyn Dodgers and is also said to have played with Montreal Royals, a minor league team, for a season. The following year, he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and eventually made his major league debut in the year 1955 (Markusen 5). As early as in 1956, Clemente hit his impressive .311. However, the player struggled with the language barrier and injuries early in his career. In 1960, he hit his stride and batted .341 with 16 homes runs and 94 RBIs, thus earning his first All-Star berth (Markusen, 2001). In that match, he helped the Pirates in winning the World Series. In 1961, he led the Nation League with .351 and hit 23 home runs as he won his first 12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards for shielding excellence. This essay elaborates on Clemente’s life, awards and accomplishments, and death.
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Origin and Early Years
His ancestors were Puerto Rican laborers who worked on coffee islands and sugar plantations. Melchor, Clemente’s father, worked as a foreman on a sugarcane plantation. His wife Dona Luisa worked as a family housekeeper at the home of the owner of the sugarcane mill. Clemente’s mother was religious and most of the time fed the poor who visited her in their house. Clemente was known as an organizer even in his childhood and once led a group of boys in raising money that was to be used for fencing his school as a form of protection (Markusen 6). In another incident, he rescued a driver from a burning car. At the age of nine, Clemente woke up very early every morning to deliver milk and saved his earnings to buy a bicycle. He developed his passion for baseball at the age of 18. He attended a Tryout camp where he stood out amongst 70 players.
Career and Accomplishments
Notably, Clemente spent his 18-year baseball career with Pittsburgh Pirates. He always fascinated his fans by his graceful outfield defense, powerful throwing arm, and superb hitting. He won a Gold Glove Award, which symbolizes defensive supremacy, every year he played until his death in 1972. He was also a humanitarian and known as an outspoken advocate for Hispanic rights. He faced his death while leading a mission of mercy. As decades progressed, Clemente remained the top base player. He won three batting titles. The player also led the league with every hit. His finest season was in 1966: batting .317 with 119 RBIs and career-best homers in winning the NL. That year he was presented with the Most Valuable Player Award. In 1971, he put on a show where he batted .414 with two home runs and helped Pittsburg in defeating the favored Baltimore Orioles. In 1972, he became the first Hispanic player to reach 3,000 career hits (Thornley 22). Such achievements made him extremely famous.
In 1960, Clemente emerged as the winner of the World Series together with the Pittsburgh team. In the same year, Clemente was named the MVP. However, during that season, he was not the best hitter in the National League. Five years later, he also won the National League and thus secured the Most Valuable Player Award. In 1972, he made 240 home runs and broke a historic baseball record. During the 1960s and 70s, Clemente became a baseball legend with an explosive throwing arm (Thornley 23). Furthermore, he had a consistently high batting average. In two championships, he played as the most valuable player. Clemente played 12 all-star games and as a result, earned 12 Gold Glove awards. In his final game, he hit a home run in an effort to help the Pirates win.
Clemente’s Death after a Fatal Plane Crash
At the age of 38, in 1972, Clemente was still going strong. Notably, he had only played in 102 games due to the numerous injuries he experienced; however, he unchangingly batted .312. Clemente got his 3,000th career hit on September 30, on the last day of the season, thus becoming the eleventh individual to hit the famous mark (Healy 7). Sadly, that appeared to be his last hit. He was saddened by the news of the major earthquake that had happened in Nicaragua, and he feared that the relief support he offered through shipments was not being delivered to the people affected. He insisted on personally bringing the supplies that had been collected by the Puerto Rico residents.
Unfortunately, the plane that Clemente had boarded crashed into the ocean immediately after taking off from San Juan, on December 31, 1972 (Healy 7). What caused the plane crash is yet to be established. However, there are claims that a cargo overload could have been a contributing factor. The city of Pittsburgh and Puerto Rico Island were overwhelmed with grief. A Catholic nun in Pittsburgh wrote to Clemente’s widow claiming that Clemente had fallen into the water and that the waters had carried his spirit to many places. Three months after his death, the Baseball Writers Association voted to put Roberto Clemente in the Hall of Fame. Furthermore, he was the first Latin American player to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
A Legacy of Hope
Clemente was born to be more than a baseball player. He was a remarkably intelligent and sensitive man. He played the organ and wrote poetry. He studied chiropractic and worked on ceramic art. Clemente had a strong commitment to the youths of Puerto Rico. During offseason, he organized baseball clinics over the island. He often talked to children about the virtues of respect for the elderly, hard work, and citizenship. In 1971, he led the Pirates to the World Series (Healy 6). With the game airing on national television, he achieved the recognition he had long-awaited.
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Clemente was the first Latin American superstar to partake in major league baseball. He was a legend both in life and death. He was also the first Puerto Rican to achieve baseball stardom. Notably, he worked hard for the game. Clemente’s accomplishments and awards built his outstanding reputation. However, he never forgot the sufferings he went through as well as the prejudice directed toward him (Markusen 7). He fought hard for his fellow Latino ballplayers’ recognition. He also helped those in need across Central America and the US. After his death following a plane crash, he was both celebrated and mourned in the US and Puerto Rico.
Before his death, he had long wished to develop a youth camp in Puerto Rico. However, after his death, his wife Vera took the lead and established the Camp. It was built on 304 acres of marshland and was named Cuidad Deportiva Roberto (Thornley 23). The Puerto Rican government donated the land. In several years, the baseball academy developed primary league stars including Iva Rodriguez, Roberto Alomar, Juan Gonzalez, and many others. Apart from the athletic facilities, the institute offers other programs such as music, dance, folklore, crafts, and drama. The camp provides an opportunity for young people to achieve and follow their dreams and fulfill Clemente’s vision.
The Topps baseball card company and many media organizations called Clemente by the name “Bob,” a name that he disliked. It was simply one more indicator of society’s refusal to accept minorities in sports. However, the player insisted that he should be called Roberto. The star was also known for his humanitarian efforts, which included his noble act of sending shipments to support the victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua in 1972 (Thornley 25). Clemente realized that corrupt officials diverted some of the shipments from the Somoza government and thus decided to accompany the support he was offering to the country ravaged by the earthquake. Unfortunately, this was the time he met his death when the plane he had boarded crashed. Clemente died alongside other individuals. Manny Sanguillen, Clemente’s teammate, was only Pirate who did not attend Clemente’s memorial service since he had traveled to Puerto Rico, to the ocean where the plane crashed, with hopes to recover Clemente’s body, which was never accomplished.
Despite his various skills, Clemente had a difficult transition to major league baseball. In many instances, the sportswriter often misquoted and misunderstood him due to his broken English. In some cases, they made his English look more poorly than it was. Further, he never suffered from low self-esteem. He had frequent run-ins with the quick-tempered Pirates manager. Clemente only hit more than .300 once, and he never got more than seven home runs (Thornley 26). Clemente never got the opportunity to be old-school since he died young at the age of 38. However, he is still remembered now, more than four decades after his death. Clement loved to win, and his undying popularity is, without a doubt, a victory.
Even many decades after his death, Clemente is still celebrated by Puerto Rico and US citizens. Clemente was a renowned baseball player. He was an intelligent man. The player was passionate about the youth, and he would be happy to see them achieve their dreams. His death news was received with much grief. In the course of his baseball career, he won many awards, among which were the Gold Glove and the Most Valuable Player Awards. Due to his kindness, he helped countless people around the world. One of such acts of generosity led him to a tragic death. His wife Vera then went on to create a camp that Clemente wanted to start before he died.
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