Clemente’s lone minor league season put him on a path to Pittsburgh
It is perhaps the least publicized part of Roberto Clemente’s career in professional baseball. In 1954, Clemente spent his lone season in the minor leagues, playing for the top affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
During that season, Clemente’s play drew the attention of another major league team – the one with which he would become so closely associated.
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After watching Clemente hit with power in batting practice, Sukeforth wrote a letter to Rickey. “I haven’t seen Joe Black [pitch],” Sukeforth wrote, “but I have seen your draft pick.” In no uncertain terms, Sukeforth informed Rickey that Clemente should be the Pirates’ first selection.
As much as Rickey respected Sukeforth and his advice, he wanted a second opinion. He assigned one of his top scouts, Howie Haak, to follow up on Sukeforth’s report and watch Clemente in game action. Haak witnessed Clemente hit two triples and a double. Like others, Haak quickly became convinced that the Dodgers were trying to hide their talented prospect. In delivering his own report to Rickey, Haak confirmed the initial scouting report issued by Sukeforth. Clearly, Clemente was the player the Pirates needed to take in the Rule 5 draft.
That winter, Rickey decided to take a look at Clemente himself during his winter ball season in Puerto Rico. Just like Haak and Sukeforth, Rickey came away impressed with Clemente. He also took time to talk to him during his scouting trip. Rickey found the young prospect polite and respectful.
On Nov. 22, 1954, the Pirates prepared to make the first pick of the draft. Rickey announced the team’s selection: Roberto Clemente. As with any selection in the draft, it cost the Pirates all of $4,000, to be paid to the Dodgers.
Four thousand dollars: That was the grand sum the Pirates paid out. And it represented some of the best money the Pirates ever spent in the long history of their franchise.
Bruce Markusen is the manager of digital and outreach learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and wrote “Roberto Clemente: The Great One”, a biography which was published in 2013