White House Dream Team: Roberto Walker Clemente

Drawing of Roberto Walker Clemente. White House Drawing by Rania Hassan. *Click to make your own baseball cards* Roberto Clemente

Some consider Roberto Clemente the best right fielder in the history of baseball. In his 18-year baseball career, Roberto received many awards. He won four batting crowns and 12 Gold Gloves. He was voted the Most Valuable Player in the National League in 1966, and the World Series Most Valuable Player in 1971. He also was the first Hispanic elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition, Roberto was generous to those in need.

Roberto, whose full name was Roberto Walker Clemente, was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico to Melchor Clemente and Luisa (Walker) Clemente. Melchor worked on a sugar cane plantation and helped his wife manage a grocery store and meat market.

While still attending high school, Roberto began playing baseball for the Santurce Crabbers, a professional Puerto Rican baseball team. Two years later, a Brooklyn Dodgers scout recruited him to play for the Dodger's farm team, the Montreal Royals, the same team Jackie Robinson once joined. Despite the team's efforts to keep Roberto's talents unknown, the Pittsburgh Pirates recruited him on November 22, 1954.

Roberto played right field for the Pirates for the rest of his career. Two years after joining the team, Roberto became the top player among outfielders, recording 22 assists. Roberto was often seen using the famous basket catch, a technique his predecessor, Willie Mays, often used. The Pirates won the National League Pennant in 1960 and then beat the Yankees in the World Series. Roberto hit safely in every game, batting .310. This was the same season that Roberto played on his first All-Star team.

Roberto continued to play strong, and the Pirates beat the Baltimore Orioles in the 1971 World Series. He batted .414 with 12 hits and two home runs.

Roberto never forgot his roots. He created a sports city for the children of Puerto Rico in 1972 to help disadvantaged children develop athletic skills and prevent drug abuse.

An earthquake devastated Managua, Nicaragua on December 23, 1972. Touched by this tragic event, Roberto organized relief efforts for the victims of this catastrophe. A few days later, Roberto and four others boarded a plane to take relief provisions to the earthquake victims. The plane crashed in the Atlantic Ocean, near Puerto Rico. There were no survivors.

The citizens of Puerto Rico were so touched by his heartbreaking death that they declared a three-day mourning period. Baseball fans were also devasted. The five-year waiting period for admission to the Baseball Hall of Fame was waived, and Roberto became the first Hispanic voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on August 6, 1973. In memory of Roberto, the "Roberto Clemente Award" was established as the highest award in baseball for both sportsmanship and community activism.

The Pirates remembered their lost teammate by wearing his number, 21, as a patch on their uniforms. They also played an exhibition game in Puerto Rico to continue Roberto's dream of helping youth. Roberto Clemente was a remarkable baseball player as well as a true humanitarian.

Brain Challenge:

  1. Where was Roberto born?
  2. What professional team did Roberto join?
  3. What was the purpose of Roberto's trip to Nicaragua?
  4. What award was created in Roberto's honor?
  5. What city renamed a bridge in his memory?
Share your answers with a parent, teacher or other adult.

Want to learn more?
Visit your school or public library to learn more about these fascinating Americans.

August 18, 1934

December 31, 1972

To play baseball and help others

Lorenzo Vizcarrondo High School

He was the first Hispanic elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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