Black HIStory: Roberto Clemente Walker

Roberto Clemente Walker (b. August 18, 1934 – d. December 31, 1972)


This edition of Black HIStory features baseball player and humanitarian Roberto Clemente. Roberto was a Major League Baseball right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the only current Hall of Famer for whom the mandatory 5 year waiting period has been waived since the wait was instituted in 1954.

Born the youngest of seven sibling in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Roberto showed an interest in baseball at early age. He often played against other children in nearby neighborhoods. “During his first year in high school, he was recruited by Roberto Marin to play softball with the Sello Rojo team; Marin had taken interest in Clemente when he saw him playing baseball in Barrio San Anton.”

In 1955, after sometime playing in Puerto Rico’s amateur and professional leagues, Roberto was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. “At the beginning of his time with the Pirates, he experienced frustration because of racial tension between himself, the local media, and even some of his teammates.”

But Roberto reacted by stating:

I don’t believe in color.”

“He noted that, during his upbringing, he was taught to never discriminate against someone based on ethnicity.”

Despite racial and cultural tension, Clemente spent all 18 year of his career in Pittsburgh. There he won 2 World Series titles, 12 Gold Glove Awards and after his untimely death was the first latin selected for Hall of Fame.

Clemente did charity work during the off season. Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, was affected by a massive earthquake on December 23, 1972, Clemente (who had been visiting Managua three weeks before the quake) immediately set to work arranging emergency relief flights.

But aide packages from the first three flights had been diverted by corrupt Somoza officials and never reached victims of the quake. Clemente then decided to take things into his own hands by accompanying the fourth relief flight, in hopes that his presence would enforce some justice.

Unfortunately the plane he chartered for a New Year’s Eve flight, a Douglas DC-7, had a history of mechanical problems and sub-par flight personnel. Plus the plane was overloaded by 5,000 lbs. It crashed into the ocean off the coast of Isla Verde, Puerto Rico immediately after takeoff on December 31, 1972.

“A few days after the crash, the body of the pilot and part of the fuselage of the plane were found. An empty flight case apparently belonging to Clemente was the only personal item recovered from the plane. Clemente’s teammate and close friend Manny Sanguillen was the only member of the Pirates not to attend Roberto’s memorial service. The catcher chose instead to dive into the waters where Clemente’s plane had crashed in an effort to find his teammate. Clemente’s body was never recovered.”

The heroics of an admirable soul like Clemente’s should never go unsung. He gave his life to help those in need because what it was to come from “nothing”. As cliché as it may sound, Clemente never forgot about the little people and for that we should never forget him.

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