Year Inducted: 1973 (BBWAA, ballot #1, special)
When a player gets induction into the Hall of Fame, it should be a time of great joy for his team, the sport and all of baseball. When that player is from a foreign country, it should be even greater as he has become an ambassador for two nations. And when that player so perfectly embodies the character clause in the induction guidelines, it should be a great celebration. And yet, it can sometimes be a source of great mourning for everyone if that player isn’t here to see it. It’s even harder when he dies due, not to an illness or act of violence, to giving his life in service to help other people. That was Roberto Clemente.
Clemente was one of the greatest athletes of all-time. In 18 years as a player, all spent in Pittsburgh, he smashed the ball to the tune of a .317/.359/.475 line with a wRC+ of 129. Clemente recorded 3000 hits in his career, including 440 doubles, 166 triples and 240 homers. An ever present and dominant force in the Pirates lineup, Clemente drove in 1305 runs in his career while scoring over 1400 times. Offensively, the only knock on Clemente was that he didn’t steal many bases, with only 83 thefts in his career. On offense alone, Clemente was a Hall of Fame player.
As great as he was as a hitter, he may have been greater as a defender. Clemente was worth over 200 fielding runs, which backs up the reputation that he had as a great fielder. While not really possessing the speed to cover center field, Clemente’s arm and reflexes made him a great right fielder. Clemente had over 280 outfield assists in his career which still rank 6th most all-time among outfielders since 1900 (and all the players above him are center fielders from the 1920’s or earlier). Unlike a lot of players with strong throwing arms, Clemente was accurate with his throws and his assists were more than twice the number of errors he had.
From either an offensive or defensive perspective, Clemente was an easy Hall of Famer and the fact that he starred on both ends makes him one of the best players ever. But his charity work is what sets him apart from almost everyone else. Clemente was constantly doing charity work in his native Puerto Rico and other nations in the Caribbean. In 1972, after managing a team in the Amateur Baseball World Series in Nicaragua, there was a devastating earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua a few days before Christmas. Clemente raised money and gathered supplies for people in the area and was all set to fly them over on New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, his plane crashed in the Atlantic Ocean and all five passengers, including the great Clemente, lost their lives. It was a moment that shocked and depressed almost an entire hemisphere as the bright light of Clemente was extinguished.
Clemente was placed on the ballot in 1973, as voting had already occurred when he had passed, one of only a small handful of time where baseball has immediately placed a player on the ballot due to tragic circumstances. While it was a foregone conclusion that he would gain induction at some point, it’s good to see the BBWAA and the Hall of Fame do the right thing and waive the time requirement in situation like that. Clemente was a perfect example of how to play the game on the field, and how to live a life off of it.
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