Roberto Clemente

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Roberto Clemente : biography

August 18, 1934 – December 31, 1972

The 1960s

Early in the 1960 season, Clemente led the league, batting an average of .353 and scoring Runs Batted In (RBIs) in 25 out of 27 games. Roberto’s batting average stayed above the .300 mark throughout the course of the campaign. In August, he missed five games as a result of an injury to his chin that he suffered when he crashed into the outfield wall. The Pirates compiled a 95–59 record during the regular season, winning the National League pennant, and defeated the New York Yankees in a seven-game World Series. Clemente batted .310 in the series, hitting safely at least once in every game. His .314 batting average, 16 home runs, and defense during the course of the season earned him his first participation in the All-Star game, where he served as a reserve player.

During 1961 spring training, following advice from Pirates’ batting coach George Sisler, Clemente tried to modify his batting technique by using a heavier bat to slow the speed of his swing. During the 1961 season, Clemente was selected as the National League starting right fielder in the All-Star game. He hit a triple on his first at-bat and scored the team’s first run. With the American League ahead 4–3 in the tenth inning, Clemente hit a double to give the National League a decisive 5–4 win.

Following the season, he traveled to Puerto Rico along with Orlando Cepeda, who was a native of Ponce. When both players arrived, they were received by 18,000 people. On November 14, 1964, Clemente married Vera Zabala. The ceremony took place in the church of San Fernando in Carolina and was attended by thousands of fanatics. During this time, he was also involved in managing the Senadores de San Juan, as well as playing with the team during the Major League offseason. During the course of the winter league, Clemente was injured and only participated as a pinch hitter in the league’s All-Star game. He experienced a complication on his injury during the course of this game and underwent surgery shortly after being carried off the playing field.

This condition limited his role with the Pirates in the first half of the 1965 season, during which he batted an average of .257. He was inactive for several games during this stage of the campaign before being fully active; when he returned to the starting lineup, he hit in thirty-three out of thirty-four games and his average improved to .340. Roberto and Vera had their first son on August 17, 1965, when Roberto Clemente, Jr. was born; he was the first of three children, along with Luis Roberto and Enrique Roberto. During the 1960s, he batted over .300 in every year except 1968, when he hit .291. He was selected to every All-Star game, and he was given a Gold Glove every season from 1961 onwards. He led the National League in batting average four times (1961, 1964, 1965, and 1967), led the National League in hits twice (1964 and 1967), and won the Most Valuable Player award in the 1966 season, when he hit .317 while setting career highs in home runs (29) and RBI (119). In 1967, he registered a career high .357 average and hit 23 home runs and 110 runs batted in.

The 1970s

The 1970 season was the last one that the Pittsburgh Pirates played in Forbes Field before moving to Three Rivers Stadium; for Clemente, abandoning this stadium was an emotional situation. The Pirates’ final game at Forbes Field took place on June 28, 1970. That day, Clemente noted that it was hard to play in a different field, saying, "I spent half my life there." The night of July 24, 1970, was declared "Roberto Clemente Night"; on this day, several Puerto Rican fans traveled to Three Rivers Stadium and cheered Clemente while wearing traditional Puerto Rican indumentary. A ceremony to honor Clemente took place, during which he received a scroll with 300,000 signatures compiled in Puerto Rico, and several thousands of dollars were donated to charity work following Clemente’s request.

During the 1970 campaign, Clemente compiled an average of .352; the Pirates won the National League East pennant but were subsequently eliminated by the Cincinnati Reds. In the offseason, Clemente experienced some tense situations while he was working as manager of the Senadores and when his father, Melchor Clemente, experienced medical problems and was subjected to a surgery.