#Shortstops: Deal of the Century

Written by: Ian Oliver

Roberto Clemente was known for being many things: A baseball superstar, a philanthropist, a humanitarian, an esteemed member of the Pittsburgh community. However, not everyone knows that Clemente was also a member of the “Cangrejeros de Santurce,” or Santurce Crabbers.

Roberto Clemente Walker was born on Aug. 18, 1934, in the San Antón barrio of Carolina, Puerto Rico, just northeast of San Juan. As one of seven children in a poor family, Roberto worked many days with his father and siblings loading and unloading trucks in the sugarcane fields. This labor-intensive work is thought to be how Clemente began to build his signature athleticism and strong right arm.

During his first year at Julio Vizcarrondo High School in Carolina, Clemente was recruited to play softball when Roberto Marín, the coach of the Sello Rojo company team, invited him to try out. He would go on to play two years for the rice company, switching from shortstop to outfield during that time. When he was 16, Clemente made the decision to put softball behind him and began playing for the Juncos, one of the premier teams in Puerto Rico’s AA amateur league.

After two years of success with the Juncos, Clemente, who was 18 at the time, began his professional baseball career, inking a contract with the Cangrejeros de Santurce of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League. A copy of that contract is now preserved at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

During his second season with the Crabbers, Clemente led off and hit .288, enough to gain the interest of the Dodgers, who signed Clemente to a minor league deal with the Montreal Royals.

After hardly playing in the first half of the 1954 season, Royals manager Max Macon began to finally give Clemente a chance and Clemente took advantage, making many phenomenal plays both at the plate and in the field. Many felt that the Dodgers’ reluctance to play Clemente stemmed from the fact that they wanted to keep him “hidden” from other teams.

But following the season, the Pittsburgh Pirates would select Clemente first overall in the 1954 Rule 5 Draft. The young Puerto Rican would have an instant impact and would never play less than 100 games a season, becoming a Pittsburgh legend in the process.

Throughout his 18-year career, Clemente hit for an average of .310 or higher for 13 of those years. It’s only fitting that “The Great One” also had some flashy trophies to go along with the leather that he flashed often, as Clemente recorded 266 outfield assists throughout his career, paving his way toward 12 Gold Glove Awards. On top of this, Clemente also earned the 1966 National League Most Valuable Player Award, four batting titles, 15 All-Star Game appearances, the 1971 World Series MVP Award while finishing his career with exactly 3,000 hits.

Not forgotten though, is his humanitarian work. Clemente tragically passed away on Dec. 31, 1972, during a trip to aid earthquake victims in Nicaragua when his plane, which was overloaded with supplies, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Because of his life of remarkable service to his community, Clemente was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among other accolades.

Roberto Clemente joined baseball immortality in 1973 when he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Ian Oliver was the 2022 public programs intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development
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