I never saw Clemente play the game of baseball, in fact, I never opened my eyes on this earth at the same time Roberto did. From the time I became aware of baseball I was presented with the legend and heritage of this man. My grandparents loved him, and I don’t mean the way he played, sure they loved that too but more than that they loved HIM.
Roberto Clemente was more to the game and indeed the world than a superb athlete, he was an ambassador, a philanthropist, and handled every aspect of the responsibility he bestowed upon himself with grace and honor.
He fought and spoke to the rights of all minorities by the way he played and lived. Today the Pirates honor The Great One by wearing his number on every back, and the shared heritage he didn’t just keep for himself or Latin players alone, no, every one of us, together, as he always wanted.
- “After I failed to win the Most Valuable Player Award in 1960, I made up my mind I’d win the batting title in 1961 for the first time.” – Roberto Clemente
The greatest players call their shots. They trust nobody more than themselves to accomplish whatever they want. Sidney Crosby wants to be better at faceoffs, so he does. Mario Lemieux wanted to score from on a faceoff, so he did. Clemente wanted a batting title so he did it four times.
- “If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don’t do that, you are wasting your time on this earth.” – Roberto Clemente
Here is a man who could have done nothing more than play baseball and think of his own family, fortunately for the world he had bigger aspirations.
- “They said you’d really have to be something to be like Babe Ruth. But Babe Ruth was an American player. What we needed was a Puerto Rican player they could say that about, someone to look up to and try to equal.” – Roberto Clemente
Mission accomplished. Today the league is loaded with Latin players who are some of the most dynamic in the game, and most looked up to the example Clemente put forward.
- “The farther away you writers stay, the better I like it. You know why? Because you’re trying to create a bad image of me… you do it because I’m black and Puerto Rican, but I’m proud to be Puerto Rican.” – Roberto Clemente
Today you’ll be hard pressed to find a writer who would say a bad word about Roberto, but make no mistake, they weren’t always so easy on him. Many in his position would have turned the other cheek but Clemente wasn’t afraid to point out the bias.
- “I couldn’t ask for better teammates, and the Pirate fans are the greatest in baseball.” – Roberto Clemente
Every ball player says things like this, it has become cliche interview fodder, Clemente and his teammates would confirm over the years just how true this was to him and all the players who wore black and gold.
- “I would like to get 3,000 hits.” – Roberto Clemente
In all of MLB history, only 32 players have reached the 3,000 hit plateau. Imagine how good you have to be to even discuss it.
- “If I would be happy, I would be a very bad ball player. With me, when I get mad, it puts energy in my body.” – Roberto Clemente
Today we read every expression our players make. Every bit of frustration is scrutinized, and players are often called lazy or accused of not caring, Roberto too had to explain his demeanor.
- “To the people here, we are outsiders. Foreigners.” – Roberto Clemente
This was true, and for many of us those days are gone and good riddance, but we still have players criticized for not speaking without a translator or being a little less than bright for not mastering a second language while the one tossing things like this out has most often not mastered their own.
- “It’s not a bad ball if I can hit it.” – Roberto Clemente
We spend a whole lot of time talking about batters not seeing pitches, Clemente just hit them anyway.
- “Pitch me outside, I will hit .400. Pitch me inside, and you will not find the ball.” – Roberto Clemente
The bravado is incredible. Here is a guy fighting for the respect he deserves and rather than perpetually humble himself, on occasion he just loved to put it out there.
- “The Dodgers told me a big bonus was no good, and they said other players would resent it. Better for me to take a small amount of money and work my way.” – Roberto Clemente
If you think the International Draft is more fair today, you’re probably right, but for every time money is involved there is someone trying to play fast and loose with vulnerable targets.
- “I wasn’t ready for the majors when I joined the Pirates in 1955. I was too young and didn’t know my way around.” – Roberto Clemente
At some point, even the best of the best are young players a little too green for the big time. In his rookie season Roberto would struggle to a .255 BA with only 5 home runs. A healthy reminder that even star players don’t always start that way.
- “I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all I had to give.” – Roberto Clemente
More than you knew was possible Sir. More than you knew.
- “I am convinced that God wanted me to be a baseball player.” – Roberto Clemente
Baseball was the vehicle but God wanted even more from Roberto, thing is he had to be willing to give it.
- “I am more valuable to my team hitting .330 then swinging for home runs.” – Roberto Clemente
This was true then and in many ways we’ve forgotten it could be true today. The lessons Roberto left are still there for anyone who wants to receive them.
- “My mother has the same kind of an arm, even today at 74. She could throw a ball from second base to home plate with something on it. I got my arm from my mother.” – Roberto Clemente
Often times in sports when a player makes it to the pinnacle of his profession, Dad get’s the lion’s share of credit. Roberto’s Mom got her due and I love it.
- “I loved the game so much that even though our playing field was muddy and we had many trees on it, I used to play many hours every day.” – Roberto Clemente
He must have, because he continued playing Winter ball throughout his career off and on.
- “I used to watch Monte Irvin play when I was a kid. I idolized him. I used to wait in front of the ballpark just for him to pass by so I could see him.” – Roberto Clemente
For every ball player there is someone who they aspired to be. Sometimes they far exceed their expectations.
- “I was born to play baseball.” – Roberto Clemente
Classic undersell. So much more.
- “My father used to say, ‘I want you to be a good man; I want you to learn how to work. And I want you to be a serious person.’ I grew up with that in my mind.” – Roberto Clemente
What your parents say to you as a young person can often motivate one more than anything that happens as an adult. Good man, check. Oh, he learned how to work, check. Serious Person, oh yes, check.
- “Brooklyn was a famous team. I wanted to play for the Dodgers.” – Roberto Clemente
We sure are lucky this changed.
Roberto means something different to everyone, but to me he is simply the greatest Pirate to every wear the colors and a legendary human that graciously lent Pittsburgh his talents and spirit of humanitarianism. Enjoy Roberto Clemente Day Bucco Fans!