Flashback Athlete of the Month for July 2023

Bio

Born in Carolina, Puerto Rico in 1934 to a sugarcane worker, Roberto Clemente showed early interest–and talent–in baseball. As a high school freshman, he was recruited to play softball with the Selo Rojo team, and at just 18, Clemente found himself playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers’ little league, the Montreal Royals.

The next year, Clemente joined the Pittsburgh Pirates as a right fielder and made his major league debut in 1955. His skill was impressive; he hit a .311 the following year but was often held back by injuries and the language barrier. Unfettered, Clemente hit his stride in 1960, batting .315 with 16 home runs and 94 RBIs to receive his first All-Star berth and push the Pirates to claim victory in the World Series. In 1961, he led the National League with a .351 average and slugged 23 home runs. This would earn him the first of his 12 Golden Glove awards for fielding.

Roberto Clemente soon became a name known around the world. He would go on to claim the title as one of the top all-around players in baseball, winning three more batting titles and leading the league in hits–twice. Even more, Clemente’s throwing arm developed something of a reputation for being one of the most “fearsome” ever witnessed in the sport; it was an ironic contrast to his gentlemanlike personality. But if anything, it made fans love Clemente more. His best season is considered to be in 1966, in which he batted .317 with a career-high 29 homers and 119 RBIs to win the NL Most Valuable Player Award.

Off the field, Clemente was a proud Puerto Rican who involved himself in humanitarian work and loudly stood up for the rights of the marginalized. He married Vera Zabala in 1963 and had three sons with her. At just age 38 on December 31, 1972, Clemente tragically died in a plane crash on a trip to deliver emergency supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. To celebrate his selfless legacy, the MLB elected Clemente to the National Baseball Hall of Fame the next year, posthumously becoming the first Latino ever inducted into the hall.

Highlight

Past Picks of the Month

Bernie Williams

Omar Minaya

Darryl Strawberry

Dwight “Doc” Gooden

Reggie Jackson

Grant Hill

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