Clemente elected to Hall of Fame only months after crash

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Nick Anapolis

In becoming the first Latin American ever elected into the Hall of Fame, Roberto Clemente’s achievements on the field were often overshadowed for all he did off the diamond.

Clemente became the second player to have the mandatory five-year waiting period waived to get into the Hall of Fame when he was elected on March 20, 1973. Just months after his tragic death, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America proclaimed Clemente a Hall of Famer after holding a special election.

Born on Aug. 18, 1934, Clemente - the youngest of seven siblings – found his love for baseball playing in the neighborhoods of Carolina, Puerto Rico, until he joined Puerto Rico’s Amateur League as a teenager. The Brooklyn Dodgers signed Clemente as an amateur free agent prior to the 1952 season, but the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Clemente in the Rule 5 draft following the 1954 season after the Dodgers tried to hide Clemente on a minor league roster.

Clemente would debut in the big leagues in 1955 and play his entire 18-year career with the Pirates.

Picking the No. 21 for each of the letters in his full name, Roberto Clemente Walker collected a .317 career average – raking in 3,000 hits, four National League batting titles, 15 All-Star appearances and two World Series titles during his career with the Bucs. His glove may have been better than his bat however. Known to have one of the best arms to ever play the game, Clemente is tied with Willie Mays for most Gold Glove Awards by an outfielder with 12.

“Clemente could field the ball in New York and throw out a guy in Pennsylvania.” said broadcaster Vin Scully.

Overcoming a near career-ending injury from a car accident his rookie year and suffering from malaria during the start of the 1965 season, Clemente was the 1966 NL Most Valuable Player -- amassing career highs in home runs and RBI with 29 and 119 respectively. On the final day of the 1972 season at Three Rivers Stadium versus the Mets, Clemente would produce his last regular season hit of his career – number 3,000.

Often referred as “The Great One”, Clemente spent much of his time during the offseason doing charity work and helping others. The 1972 offseason was no different.

With much of Nicaragua devastated by an earthquake, Clemente planned a trip to help deliver aid to the victims. But Clemente’s overloaded plane crashed off the coast of San Juan just after take-off on Dec. 31, 1972. With his body never found, Roberto Clemente was pronounced dead at the age of 38.

Since his death – schools, hospitals, parks, and baseball fields have all been named after Clemente in his honor. The right-field wall at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is 21 feet high to recognize Clemente’s retired number in Pittsburgh.

Formally known as the Commissioner’s Award, the “Roberto Clemente Award” is given annually to a player who best follows Clemente’s example with humanitarian work. Created in 1971, the award was renamed two years later following his death.

“Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on earth.” Clemente said.


Nick Anapolis was the spring 2013 public relations intern at the Baseball Hall of Fame

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series