Roberto Clemente's Story

Ballplayer. MVP. Veteran. Humanitarian. Husband. Father. Legend.
Roberto Enrique Clemente Walker is one of the greatest athletes and humanitarians of the 20th century. Born August 18, 1934 in Barrio San Antón, Puerto Rico to laundress Luisa Walker and sugarcane laborer Melchor Clemente, Roberto represents the strength, perseverance, and honor of the Puerto Rican people.

Roberto began his baseball career with the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League at only 17-years-old. After Dodgers scout Al Campanis witnessed Clemente’s outstanding performance, the Dodgers extended Roberto his first offer in 1954. Though Roberto later received an offer twice as valuable from the Braves, he followed his parents’ advice and honored his commitment to the Dodgers. Roberto’s fateful decision established a foundation of strong character that he continued to build upon for the rest of his life.

"I had offers from Dodgers, Giants, and Braves. Braves offer same amount as Dodgers but I have many friends on Brooklyn team. I feel more at home there and I sign."

– Roberto Clemente

But signing to the Dodgers was only the first step of many in an arduous journey to success. Soon after Roberto’s signing, the Dodgers assigned him to play for the Montreal Royals in the International League during the ‘54 season. Clemente lacked the experience of other players because he bypassed the typical Minor League tiers. Furthermore, the Dodgers administration felt concerned that “too many minorities” on the field may upset white players and fans. Indeed, Roberto later told the press that he believes the Dodgers “hid” him in Montreal, which is now accepted as the conventional understanding. During his time with the Royals, Roberto struggled to perform consistently because he was not given much playing time.

Following this challenging start, Roberto earned his time to shine when the Pittsburgh Pirates signed him in 1955. Clemente played 18 seasons for the Pirates, during which he joined the 3000-hit club, maintained a .317 lifetime batting average, and won four batting titles, twelve Gold Gloves, two World Series, and a National League MVP award. One announcer remarked that “Clemente in the outfield was an epic poem”; teammate Dick Groat observed that he “was built like a Greek god.” In addition to his remarkable athletic accomplishments, Roberto served as a reserve infantryman from 1958-1964 in the United States Marine Corps.

"I dedicated the hit (his 3,000th) to the Pittsburgh fans and to the people in Puerto Rico and to one man (Roberto Marin) in particular. The one man who carried me around for weeks looking for a scout to sign me."

– Roberto Clemente

During his career with the Pirates, Roberto met and fell in love with Vera Zabala, a beautiful woman from the same area in Puerto Rico as Roberto. Roberto and Vera’s marriage on November 14, 1964 was a national event; thousands of people lined the streets to behold the procession. Roberto and Vera had three children together: Roberto Jr., Luis, and Enrique.

Ultimately, Roberto lived a life of giving – giving to baseball, giving to his family, and giving to the community. After an earthquake tore through Nicaragua on December 23, 1972, Roberto sent supplies to the country to support those in need. When these supplies were lost in the chaos, he decided to escort the next shipment to Nicaragua. On December 30, 1972, Roberto’s cargo plane took off and almost immediately crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico. Roberto was never seen again. His legacy lives on through the Roberto Clemente Foundation – inspiring others to give as he did.

"I still see him sometimes when I am alone. People remember him as a ballplayer, but he was so much more. He was a father, a husband, a wonderful man."

– Vera Clemente