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The Legacy of Roberto Clemente

A plaque outside of Roberto Clemente’s spring training room at Pirate City reads, “I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all he had to give.” Clemente was certainly an incredible ballplayer, but his kind heart and generosity ensured that he has been remembered for giving it all.

Roberto Clemente

When the Pittsburgh Pirates made Bradenton their spring training home in 1969, Roberto Clemente was already a baseball legend. Since beginning his Major League Baseball career in 1966, his batting average was over .300, he was the National League (NL) Most Valuable Player in 1966, a four-time NL batting leader, and the Golden Glove winner since 1961.

His dedication to baseball was matched by his passion for helping people. As a Puerto Rican with African heritage whose first language was Spanish, Clemente was confronted with harsh racial and cultural prejudices. Not only did he face these injustices with dignity, he also focused on helping those less fortunate and spent the off-season volunteering for charity organizations.

On December 23, 1972 a massive earthquake hit Nicaragua. Clemente learned that the aid that was being sent was not making it to the victims. He decided to board a plane on December 31, 1972 to ensure that the supplies made it to the people in need. The plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean immediately after take-off and Roberto Clemente died at 38.

Roberto Clemente (right) during spring training in Bradenton. Image from the Clemente Museum.

After his untimely death, the Pittsburgh Pirates retired Clemente’s uniform number 21, the number that he wore for all but six weeks of his MLB career. MLB also renamed the Commissioner’s Award to the Roberto Clemente Award which is given to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” And the National Baseball Hall of Fame changed their requirements to induct Clemente in 1973.

On May 21, 2021, a marker was placed on the Bradenton Riverwalk to commemorate Roberto Clemente in hopes that all who walk by this monument will be inspired by a life well lived.

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