Roberto Clemente Walker was born in Barrio San Anton in Carolina, Puerto Rico, August 18, 1934. He was the youngest of four children. He stood 5 feet and 11 inches tall, and he weighed 175 pounds.
Roberto excelled in track and field, winning medals in the javelin throw and short distance races. However, his real love was baseball. He played amateur baseball with Juncos Double A Club and soon went on to play with the Santurce Crabbers in the Puerto Rican Winter League. From Santurce he signed with Montreal’s Triple A team. Clemente joined the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955, where he played his entire eighteen year Major League Baseball career from 1955 to 1972. Roberto played in two World Series, batting .
310 in 1960 and . 414 in 1971. He was the National League Batting Champion four times, was awarded twelve Gold Gloves, selected National League MVP in 1966 and was chosen as the MVP in the 1971 World Series. He was also a 12 time National League All-Star.
Throughout his career, he played in 2,433 games. Out of the 9,454 times at bat, Roberto got a hit 3,000 of those times. He had 440 doubles, 166 triples, and 240 homeruns. Roberto had 1,305 RBIs and he scored 1,416 runs for his team. Overall, his career batting average was a .
317. On November 14, 1964, he married Vera Cristina Zabala in Carolina, Puerto Rico. They had three sons: Roberto Jr. , Luis Roberto and Roberto Enrique. Proud of his heritage Roberto insisted that Vera give birth to all three sons in Puerto Rico. The boys were six, five and two, when their father met his unfortunate death.
New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1997 marked the 25th Anniversary of a tragic plane crash. The plane was taking medical, food and clothing supplies to Nicaragua, to help out after an earthquake. Vera and friends begged him not to take the trip because of poor weather and an unstable cargo plane, but Roberto was determined. He was upset that the previous supplies had not made it to the victims. Roberto was going to personally see to it that the victims received the much needed supplies. Unfortunately the plane went down off the coast of Puerto Rico.
Roberto’s body was never found. Just months after Roberto joined an elite group of players with 3000 hits, he was gone. Robertos tragic death in 1972 prompted the Hall of Fames Board of Directors to unanimously wave the customary five year period for induction, which opened a door for the Baseball Writers Association of America to hold a special election on Clementes behalf. By an overwhelming vote of 93%, Clemente became the first player of Latin American descent to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Since then only four players have been inducted; Al Lopez in 1977, Juan Marichal in 1983, Luis Aparicio in 1984, and Rod Carew in 1991.
It has been just over 27 years since his unfortunate death and still today Roberto is still remembered as one of the greatest athletes and humanitarians of all time. In 1973, his uniform number 21 was retired by the Pittsburgh Pirates. One of Roberto’s dreams, the Roberto Clemente Sports City, is one part of the legacy he left behind. Visitors to Carolina, Puerto Rico are greeted by a twelve foot statue as they enter into a 1,500 acre sports complex. Roberto Clemente’s legacy is continued by his wife Vera who has been important in continuing Roberto’s Dream.