FACT: All that remains of the first hispanic inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame is his sock

Shakira Taveras
Weekend Caucus
Published in
5 min readApr 7, 2017


Baseball season kicked off this week and recently athletes like Colin Kaepernick made news with efforts to send food and water to famine-stricken Somalia; we thought we’d share some facts about one of our favorite athlete-humanitarians: Roberto Clemente.

If you have a chance to make life better for others and fail to do so, you are wasting your time on this earth. — Clemente’s Life Mantra

An icon in American baseball, a hero to Latin American sports, a national treasure for the island of Puerto Rico…

Roberto Clemente Walker was born on August 18, 1934, in Barrio San Antón, Carolina, Puerto Rico.

Roberto Plays

Clemente makes his major league with the Pittsburgh Pirates almost 62 years ago, on April 17, 1955.

He wore the number 13 until Earl Smith’s departure from the Pirates, when Clemente requested the number 21.

21 is the number of letters in his full name, Roberto Clemente Walker.

(Welcome to FACT, the newsletter of Weekend Caucus. Each week we give you just the facts about an incredible person or event that touches on the intersection of sports, politics and culture.)

Clemente was going to be a Dodger. He received a $10,000 signing bonus in 1952 from the Brooklyn Dodgers to play on their Triple-A team in Montreal.

Branch Rickey, who helped break color-lines in baseball by scouting the Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson 10 years earlier, drafts Roberto Clemente to the Pirates instead.

Baseball was still not fully integrated when Clemente took the field and wouldn’t be until 1959, when the Boston Red Sox added Elijah Jerry “Pumpsie” Green to their roster.

Clemente endured prejudice not only based on the color of his skin but also the language he spoke.

Sportscasters and fellow players regularly ridiculed his accent,

With the exception of the first and last few seasons in the game, he was called Bob or Bobby.

Clemente hated the Americanized version of his name and insisted on being called Roberto.

Even his official baseball card from Topps listed him as “Bob.”

1969 Topps Roberto Clemente #50 Baseball Card

Roberto Serves

Clemente enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve after the 1958 season, spending six months on active duty at Parris Island, South Carolina and Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.

He served until 1964.

Clemente was inducted into the U.S. Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.

Roberto Wins

Clemente was the first Puerto Rican player to win the MVP title in the Major Leagues in 1966.

He spent 18 seasons playing right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He was a 15-time All Star and won 12 Golden Glove awards.

He was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1973. The Baseball Writers Association of America agreed to wave the five year waiting period required after a player retires before being on a Hall of Fame ballot.

He received 393 votes out of 424.

31 voting members somehow felt “Bob” hadn’t earned the honor, despite his incredible performance on the field, including in his final 1972 season.

Only 29 other players in the history of baseball have reached 3000 hits.

The milestone is considered a guarantee of entry into the Hall of Fame.

Roberto Helps

Roberto Clemente was a committed humanitarian who used his own money to help the poor through Latin America.

In addition to his baseball accolades, Clemente also received the United States’ highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom

President George W. Bush selected Clemente to receive the prize posthumously in 2003.

A 6.2 magnitude earthquake hit Nicaragua on December 23, 1972, killing more than 10,000 and leaving 100,000 homeless.

Clemente immediately organized relief supplies, but he heard the money and foodstuffs were stolen by the military and profiteers.

Eight days after the quake, on New Year’s eve, Roberto organized a second plane, filled to the brim with more supplies and only one passenger…

Roberto Clemente

Against his wife’s objections due to bad weather and the over-filled cargo hold, Roberto boarded the plane saying it was the only way to ensure the supplies reached those in need.

The plane crashed just after takeoff, killing all on board.

Three days of national mourning for Mr. Clemente were proclaimed in his native Puerto Rico, where he was the most popular sports figure in the island’s history.

New York Times

The U.S. Coast Guard searched the Atlantic for weeks.

His teammate, Manny Sanguillen, voluntarily joined the rescue efforts diving into the ocean waters in search of his friend.

Clemente’s body was never found.

The only remnant of Roberto Clemente offered by the ocean was a single sock.

In an interview with ESPN’s SportsCentury, his widow Vera Clemente commented that Roberto on several occassions alluded to possibly dying young.

Roberto Lives On

Each year, Major League Baseball presente the Roberto Clemente Award to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.”

Originally known as the Commissioner’s Award, the Roberto Clement Award is for players who best follow Clemente’s humanitarian work.

40 schools and more than 200 parks are named in his honor, from Puerto Rico to Africa to Germany.

We tip our hats to Roberto.

Play Ball!

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