Half a century has passed since Roberto Clemente's departure from this world, just as half a century has passed since his final season in the big leagues. This last one was a vital transit, which began in September 1972. That is why, part of these final days of the Puerto Rican outfielder and slugger, we will dedicate them to remembering some of his episodes in his last campaign, all with the uniform of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Except for the traditional and common affection that drives us around sports and its protagonists, we never finish understanding certain affections that bind us forever to a particular athlete. As is the case of Roberto Clemente. Maybe it's just the admiration he caused for what he did with his body on the field. However, our esteem for him goes much further from time immemorial, as it also happens to us with Sandy Koufax.
It should not attract our attention that American journalists express such admiration for Clemente, at a time when Latin Americans were still an exception in North American baseball. Clemente was in the major leagues from 1955 to 1972, when media and fan interest tended to focus on the Willie Mays and Mickey Mantles of the day. However, the memory and admiration for the Puerto Rican who was born on August 18, 1934, manages to withstand the passage of time.
Journalist David Maraniss, in his book "Clemente, the passion and charisma of the last baseball hero", published in 2003, begins his praise of Clemente with a text that never ceases to amaze us, especially if we were born in this part of the world. . “Memory and myth intertwine in Clemente's story. Despite being dead for more than three decades, he lives on in the sports consciousness as other athletes come and go, and this is despite the fact that he spent his career in relative obscurity, away from the mythmakers. from New York and Los Angeles. Forty public schools, two hospitals, and more than two hundred parks and ballparks bear his name, from Carolina, Puerto Rico, where he was born, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he played.”
Puerto Rican writer Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá once described it, “how from the point of view of baseball talent, according to baseball jargon, Clemente was a perfect “natural”. A talent that reached genius with all the skills together, those of virtuosity, in a perfect body to play ball. His extraordinary looks always helped him reach that heroic dimension. He was born, the same as for baseball, for photographs, busts and statues. Theirs was an Apollonian cabal. Like hitting those perfect three thousand hits. Even when he smiled, he did not lower his guard in his efforts to prove himself as a black Puerto Rican baseball player worthy of the greatest respect. ”
Hits in all games of the 1960 World Series
We met Clemente at the beginning of 1962, when his little card from the Topps house collection appeared among the cards he had just bought at the market on Calle Real del Prado de María.
He is standing and wearing the black and white uniform that then identified the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He is identified as Bob Clemente, and to highlight his presence, Topps remembers how he is one of the best players in the Major Leagues and in 1961 he was the batting champion in both leagues with .351.
He set a World Series record, hitting in all games during the 1960 Classic against the New York Yankees. He is a great baserunner.
His performance in the 1971 World Series against Baltimore, where he was designated the Most Valuable Player, is still remembered.
Clement and Koufax
For a child like me delving into the secrets of baseball, that was a revelation that would remain forever in our minds. Especially since it was a discovery that would coincide in time and date with that of Sandy Koufax, with Roberto Clemente, my eternal hero.
The story of the great Puerto Rican baseball player continues
In our next installment every Sunday, and throughout this month, we will kick off much of Roberto Clemente's unexpected farewell saga in 1972, as he completed his 18th major league campaign.