Puerto Rican legend Roberto Clemente, one of the first Latino baseball players to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, would be turning 81 today if it were not for his tragic death in 1972.
In an interview for the ESPN documentary series SportsCentury, his wife Vera Clemente stated that Roberto was always talking about death. He believed he would die young.
Roberto Clemente was very involved in charity work, and his plane crashed into the ocean shortly after take-off when he was headed to Nicaragua to ensure relief supplies arrived directly to those that needed them most. He’d heard rumors that the Nicaraguan Civil Guard was selling them to the people instead of giving them out, so he decided to be present through the whole process.
His early death was one of the biggest tragedies in baseball history. A three-day period of mourning was declared in Puerto Rico. His friend and teammate Manny Sanguillén missed his funeral because he went swimming in the waters where the plane crashed in order to locate Clemente’s body, which was never found.
Clemente, who was a passionate believer in social and economic justice, felt a great affinity for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. El Magnífico even had the opportunity to meet his personal hero face-to-face, when both of them spent a day together at Clemente’s farm in Puerto Rico.
Clemente was the first player in history to reach 3,000 hits. He was an All-Star player for 12 seasons, MVP for one, and batting champion for four. His death established the precedent that a player deceased for at least 6 months is eligible for the Hall of Fame, while retired players are eligible after 5 years.
His number, 21, was retired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in order to honor him for as long as the team exists. Recently, a Roberto Clemente biopic was announced.
Now, more than 40 years after one of the all-time greats of baseball passed away, we remember him with nostalgia.