It was December 31, 1972. I was 9, and heard the news of Roberto Clemente's death over the radio first, and then over the TV shortly thereafter.
Roberto was my favorite player, on my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. They had won the World Series the year before, in 1971, and I knew Roberto was a great man who loved his homeland, Puerto Rico. He was a very giving man, and organized a earthquake relief effort for Managua, Nicaragua. Because of the incidences of corruption in that country that affected previous donations of support for the earthquake victims, Roberto insisted on taking the ill-fated flight himself. He was revered in what was know than as "Latin America", and knew that no one would interfere with the shipment of relief goods if he was there, personally, to deliver them.
Roberto's plane went down less than a mile after take-off from Puerto Rico, during a storm. People in his homeland were distraught when they heard the news, and flocked to the shoreline to see if they could do anything to save Roberto. Debris from the plane crash began washing up on the beach, but Roberto's body was never recovered. His wife and children were devastated, as were his teammates and the city of Pittsburgh. They have since honored Roberto's memory with a humanitarian award, and the naming of the bridge that leads to the new PNC Park stadium in Pittsburgh after him.
This happened over 40 years ago, but in my mind, it is as vivid as though it was yesterday. Roberto was a great but misunderstood baseball player, but even more than his greatness on the field, he was a generous, driven man who stood up personally when he felt an action should be taken.
I look at the professional athletes of today, and wonder: Who among them would stand up and emulate Roberto, if the situation arose?
-- Marc D. Shapiroo
very nice story marc. It is always nice to hear about the baseball players' stats and records and how they became baseball players, but also very refreshing to hear personal parts of their lives to help remind us that they are just people like you and me who happened to have been able to use their God-given talents to serve others on and off the baseball field.
I agree that what we hear the most about are the quirks that grab headlines -- drugs and steroids, divorces and celebrity dating habits, legal entanglements, and other salacious stories often serve as the news lead, when it used to be all about performance on the field.
Some of the players of today have true character and help support the communities who support them. Others, predictably, are focused on themselves and do little to use their public platform for the good of others. I believe Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente are just two examples of fine ballplayers who stood for something more than just being incredibly talented in their sporting lives. Ironically they both died as young men. I believe both had years taken off their lives by the stress of their experience of rising through the ranks, facing hatred and prejudice not only from opposing baseball teams and the fans, but also from within their own organizations and even from their own teammates.
In 1972, there wasn't the instantaneous news cycle that gave us accurate information updated every 5 minutes. I remember hearing, "There has been a plane crash and we think Roberto Clemente has been injured" which over several hours morphed into a more accurate telling of this story. If you are interested in learning more about Roberto and his career and legacy, I would recommend the book, "Clemente" by David Maraniss.
FYI - Opening soon in Washington DC
Wow! Thanks ERC! Great!
This looks great and I hadn't heard of it.
Also, I saw a special on ESPN a few weeks ago called "The Clemente Effect" -- it tells the story of Roberto's impact on Puerto Rican baseball. Worth a watch -- I know it is still available on Direct TV On Demand -- for free.