When it comes to pure baseball acumen, there are few in the history that compare to Pittsburgh’s Hall of Fame right fielder Roberto Clemente. During a career that spanned 18 seasons, Clemente was a four-time batting champion (1961, ’64, ’65, ’67), won 12 straight gold gloves (1961-72), was the league MVP in 1966, and a World Series MVP in 1971. During his final regular season game in 1972, Clemente recorded his 3,000th hit, cementing his legacy as one of baseball’s all-time greatest hitters.
Not just a champion on the diamond, Clemente was a pinnacle within the community and around the globe. From 1958-64 he served as a Private First Class in the United States Marine Corps, later being inducted to the Marines’ Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. His service to his fellow man was ultimately what cost Clemente his life. Overseeing a relief flight bringing supplies to victims of an earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua, Clemente’s plane crashed shortly after takeoff on New Year’s Eve in 1972. Posthumously, Clemente’s work was recognized with three of the highest civilian honors: The Presidential Citizens Medal and Congressional Gold Medal in 1973, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003.
Many regard Clemente’s impact on baseball as similar to that of Jackie Robinson, only for Hispanic players. While he wasn’t the first Hispanic player in the Major Leagues, his gravitas, humanitarianism, and talent opened the doors for Latin American athletes for decades to come.