The Life of Roberto Clemente

Pride of Pittsburgh Pirates

Roberto Clemente

Born on August 18, 1934 in the barrio (neighborhood) of San Anton in Carolina, Puerto Rico

Early Years

Born Roberto Clemente Walker, this future pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates, grew up in the barrios of Carolina, Puerto Rico. The youngest son of seven children, Roberto's family was very poor, so he often worked in the sugar cane fields along with his father, who was a foreman, helping to harvest the crops and loading trucks.

Early Signs for a Love of the Game

When not working or going to school, Roberto showed a keen interest in baseball. Since the family was very poor and couldn't afford equipment for him to play, Clemente fashioned a bat out of an old guava tree branch and for a mitt, he used a bunch of old rags tied together.

He was known to play with his friends in and around the neighboring barrios of Carolina, even joining the local team at his high school, where he was later recruited by Roberto Marin to play softball after he was seen playing in the San Anton barrio of Carolina with his friends.

Puerto Rican Amateur League Leads to the Minors (1952-1954)

Roberto played softball for two years with the Sello Rojo team as a shortstop. At the age of 16, Clemente joined Puerto Rico's amateur league, playing for the Ferdinand Juncos team, which represented the municipality of Juncos, where he played for another two years.

At the age of 18 Clemente began what would become the beginning of his professional career when Pedrín Zorilla offered Clemente, a contract which he signed on October 9, 1952, to a winter league team and franchise of the LBPPR, Liga de Beisbol Professional de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League).

He was a bench player during his first year but was promoted to the starting lineup the following season. It was during this time, the Brooklyn Dodgers offered him a contract with the team's Triple-A subsidiary, the Montreal Royals.

From Minor to Majors

After signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers on February 19, 1954, Clemente moved to Montreal to play with the Royals. The weather and language differences were challenges for him early on where he was used as a bench player. However, later that year, Clyde Sukeforth, a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates, noticed Clemente hit .257 in 87 games that summer and talked with the Pirate's manager about getting him on the team.

On November 22, 1954, Roberto Clemente was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates as the first selection of the rookie draft and on April 17, 1955, he made his major league debut ironically in a double-header against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The Pride of Pittsburgh (1955-1972)

Clemente played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955 until his death in 1972. During that time, he often played in Puerto Rico during the off season. In 1958, he joined the United States Marine Corps Reserves and served six months of active duty. He remained a Marine Corp Reservist until 1964 as a Private First Class.

During his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Clemente achieved the following honors:

  • National League All-Star (1960-1967, 1969- 1972)
  • National League MVP Award - (1966)
  • World Series MVP Award - (1971)
  • National League Gold Glove Award (1961- 1972)
  • National League Leader in Batting Average - (1961, 1964, 1965, 1967)
  • National League Leader in Hits - (1964, 1967)
  • National League Leader in Triples - (1969)
  • National League Leader in Putouts as a Right Fielder - (1958, 1961, 1966)
  • National League Leader in Fielding Average as Right Fielder & Outfielder - (1972)

During the off season he would return to Puerto Rico to work with the LBPPR and in 1964, on November 14th, he married Vera Zabala at the San Fernando Church in Carolina. They had three children. Roberto, Jr. (1965); Luis Roberto (1966); and Enrique Roberto (1970).

The Players End

Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash off the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico on December 31, 1972. Known for his humanitarian work throughout the years, Clemente was personally overseeing a delivery of aid supplies to the people in Nicaragua who had suffered a severe earthquake and a tropical storm earlier that year.

Roberto Clemente's memorial was held in Pittsburgh with thousands in attendance and his teammates in tears.

After he death, he was awarded:

  • The Congressional Gold Medal by President Richard Nixon on May 14, 1973
  • Presidential Citizen's Medal by President Richard Nixon on May 14, 1973
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush on July 23, 2003

The Pittsburgh Pirates retired his number 21 in 1973.

Roberto Clemente: Baseball Documentary

Roberto Clemente - Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates by Jonah Winter

This is the book I used to do my research.