On Sunday at the Basilica Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Bishop Manuel Cruz gave prayers and reflections of a hero in the latino community by the name Roberto Clemente. He described Clemente as “a man who day in and day out was not afraid to touch the wounded heart of Christ and the poverty and sorrow of others.” Roberto Clemente Walker (August 18, 1934 – December 31, 1972) was a Puerto Rican professional baseball player. He was a Major League Baseball right fielder who played 18 seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955 through 1972. He was a National League, Most Valuable Player once, All-Star twelve times (15 games), batting champion four times, and Gold Glove winner twelve times. In 1972, Clemente got his 3,000th major league hit. The event was to commemorate the Hall-of-Fame baseball player and Latino legend killed in a plane crash on this day, 41 years ago.
Clemente was at a double disadvantage, as he was a Latino who knew very little English, and of African decent. The year before, the Pirates had become the fifth team in the National League and ninth in the majors to break the baseball color line when they hired Curt Roberts who debuted with the team. This was seven years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line with the Dodgers. Upon arriving in Pittsburgh, Roberts befriended Clemente and help him adjust to life in the majors, as well as to get used to life in Pittsburgh.
Clemente was inducted posthumously to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, becoming the first Latin American to be enshrined. He was also one of only two Hall of Fame members for whom the mandatory five-year waiting period had been waived, the other being Lou Gehrig in 1939. Clemente is the first Latino player to win a World Series as a starter (1960), to receive a National League MVP Award (1966) (Zoilo Versalles won the AL MVP IN ’65,) and to receive a World Series MVP Award (1971).
“Roberto was very involved in giving and raising money for the civil rights movement,” Quintana said. “Somebody gave their life, can you give an hour of your life to come to church and reflect?”
The Roberto Clemente unveiling
Further note: Pittsburgh resident artist Susan Wagner, the artist who created the Roberto Clemente statues located near the baseball diamonds in Branch Brook Park on intersection of Bloomfield Avenue and Lake Street. The larger-than-life-sized bronze likeness of Clemente, a native of Puerto Rico near the youth baseball complex where one of five fields also bears his name. The 8-foot statue is smaller but otherwise identical to one also by sculptor Susan Wagner outside PNC Park in Pittsburgh, the city where Clemente played all 18 of his Major League seasons.
Clemente was involved in charity work in Puerto Rico and Latin American countries during the off seasons, often delivering baseball equipment and food to those in need. As the story goes, three previous aid shipments had been diverted by corrupt Nicaraguan officials, so Clemente delivered supplies personally to ensure the victims would receive them. He died in an aviation accident on December 31, 1972, while in route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He was 38 years old.
Luis Quintana and Roberto Clemente Jr, at the statute unveiling last year