Baseball, America’s national pastime, resumes this month, albeit a bit later in the year than usual. Never-the-less, with spring finally beginning to bloom, I’ve been reflecting on one of baseball’s all-time greats and my childhood hero, Roberto Clemente.
Several years ago, a friend of mine sent out a note the week the All-Star game was being played in Cleveland that included his thoughts on baseball and legacy building.
I’ve included an excerpt of the essay in which he discusses Clemente who was also one of his childhood heroes.
Thoughts of Baseball and Legacy Building
…While it can be fun to watch the best and brightest in the sport of baseball, I think about who these players are beyond the diamond.
A great example is one of the all-time great Hall of Famers, Roberto Clemente. Clemente was not only an athlete but he had a heart of gold and created a legacy of giving within Major League Baseball. Annually, baseball honors his legacy by recognizing one current player with the Roberto Clemente Award for sportsmanship and civic involvement.
Born in Puerto Rico in 1934, the youngest of seven siblings, Clemente showed great interest and talent for baseball from an early age. Despite his family’s limited resources, he played in the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League until the age of 16 before moving to Major League Baseball in 1954.
Clemente debuted with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955. As a Latin American Caribbean player of African descent, he endured discrimination from both the media and teammates. As a child, Roberto was taught never to discriminate against people because of their ethnicity, so he responded on the field by playing with unrivaled passion every time he put on his jersey.
Clemente was truly a great player, but it’s his legacy of civic involvement that stands out most today. His dedication to off-season charity work and humanitarian causes earned him three Presidential medals, including the first Presidential Citizens Medal.
Sadly, it was while working on humanitarian relief efforts that his life tragically ended. The capital of Nicaragua, Managua, experienced a massive earthquake December 23, 1972. Clemente, who had visited the city three weeks prior, arranged emergency relief flights. The first three aid packages never reached the quake’s victims, after corrupt government officials diverted the aid.
Clemente decided to accompany the fourth aid flight. Unfortunately, the plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Puerto Rico after the engine failed. Roberto’s body was never recovered.
The very next year, Roberto Clemente was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 92.7% of the vote. His election is one of only two to occur without the mandatory five-year waiting period after a player’s career has ended. The other was Lou Gehrig.
While Clemente’s life ended prematurely, his legacy lives on. Every year, each Major League club nominates a player for the Roberto Clemente Award. Every nominee and award recipient serves as a reminder and example of Clemente’s incredible generosity and selflessness.
Every summer, when we fire up the grill or put our feet up to watch America’s pastime, it’s easy to forget that players are more than athletes. They are human beings – and many of them become even more fascinating when you take time to learn who they are off the field.
That’s why tonight, as we watch the annual Mid-Summer Classic, I’ll be thinking of Roberto Clemente. He not only inspired many with his good deeds but launched a tradition of athletes giving back to their communities…