July 25, 1970: Is it any wonder Pittsburgh embraced Roberto Clemente? On the field, he was a hustler, running out every grounder, mercilessly stalking any ball hit in or near right field, and that arm … holy smokes. It seemed he could make a ball ignore the laws of physics. His prowess at the plate is summed up by one statistic: 3,000 hits.
On and off the field, Clemente was dignified and often stoic, not to mention a man who knew something about commitment. “I will never wear any other uniform than a Pittsburgh uniform.” he once said.
This picture was made on a night set aside for Pittsburgh to honor Clemente. More than 43,000 fans packed Three Rivers Stadium. When Clemente stepped to the microphone, fans rose to their feet, and “for a full minute the crowd roared before it would settle back to listen,” The Pittsburgh Press reported.
Clemente got a kiss from wife Vera. Two of his sons, Roberto and Luis, stood in front. Baby Enrique was at the event but not in the photograph, although he does appear in others taken that night. At right are Clemente’s parents, Luisa and Melchor. The event raised $4,000, which Clemente donated to Children’s Hospital.
Later, he told an interviewer, “In a way, I was born twice. I was born in 1934 and again in 1955 when I came to Pittsburgh. I am thankful to say that I lived two lives.”
It’s been 40 years since Clemente boarded a DC-7 packed with earthquake relief supplies bound for a devastated Nicaragua. The overloaded plane struggled into the air over San Juan International Airport, then banked to the north and headed out over the ocean, never to be seen again.
On New Year’s Eve, the anniversary of the plane’s crash, we’ll pause for a moment and raise a glass to the man who was many things, but most of all, he was our brother.
PG sportswriter Bob Dvorchak takes at look at the life and legacy of Roberto Clemente in this episode of “Sports ‘n ‘at.”