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Roberto Clemente
Photo: Louis Requena/ MLB via Getty Images

Roberto Clemente

Biography
(1934–1972)
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Baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente became the first Latin American player to collect 3,000 career hits before his death in a plane crash.

Who Was Roberto Clemente?

Roberto Clemente played with the Brooklyn Dodgers' minor league team before making his major league debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955. He led the National League in batting four times during the 1960s and starred in the 1971 World Series. He died in a plane crash to deliver goods to Nicaragua in 1972.

Baseball Career

Roberto Enrique Clemente Walker was born on August 18, 1934, in Carolina, Puerto Rico. The son of a sugarcane worker, Clemente began his professional baseball career just after finishing high school. He signed a deal with the Brooklyn Dodgers and played with their minor league team, the Montreal Royals, for a season. The next year he went to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates and made his major league debut in 1955.

Clemente hit an impressive .311 in 1956, but he struggled with injuries and the language barrier early in his career. He hit his stride in 1960, batting .314 with 16 home runs and 94 RBIs to earn his first All-Star berth and help the Pirates win the World Series. The following year, he led the National League with a .351 average, slugged 23 homers and won his first of 12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards for fielding excellence.

Roberto Clemente sliding into home

Roberto Clemente

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As the decade progressed, Clemente established himself as one of the top all-around players in baseball. He won three more batting titles and twice led the league in hits. Furthermore, he boasted one of the most fearsome arms ever witnessed in the sport, consistently unleashing powerful throws from his post in right field. He enjoyed perhaps his finest season in 1966, batting .317 with a career-best 29 homers and 119 RBIs to win the NL Most Valuable Player Award.

Clemente put on a show in the 1971 World Series, batting .414 with two home runs to help Pittsburgh defeat the favored Baltimore Orioles. Late in the 1972 season, he became the first Hispanic player to reach 3,000 career hits.

Reputation and Death

Off the field, Clemente was described as a quiet gentleman. He was proud of his Puerto Rican heritage and stood up for minority rights. Clemente married Vera Zabala in 1963, and they had three sons. Renowned for his humanitarian work, he died in a plane crash on December 31, 1972, en route to bringing much-needed supplies to survivors of an earthquake in Nicaragua. The next year he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He became the first Latino inducted into the Hall.

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