For the first week of Hispanic Heritage month, smartdept. is highlighting the life and career of Hall of Famer and former Pittsburgh Pirate, Roberto Clemente.

Stick to what you know, right?

Clemente played 18 seasons in Major League Baseball, all with the Pirates. Among his player achievements are 15 All-Star games, 1966 NL MVP award, 4-time NL batting champion, 12 consecutive gold gloves, 3000 career hits, 2x World Series champion, and a World Series MVP.

Oh, yeah, and he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and 6 months after his untimely death Baseball waived its standard 5-year waiting period and inducted him into the Baseball Hall of Fame (1973). His induction made him the first Caribbean-born and Latin player to receive enshrinement.

But in my opinion, that’s not even what makes him special.

Roberto Clemente was a tireless humanitarian, spending his off-seasons focused on charitable causes. His efforts both on and off the field lead Major League Baseball to rename its Commissioners Award to The Roberto Clemente Award given to the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement, and the individual’s contribution to his team.

So, it was no surprise that when Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, was affected by an earthquake on December 23, 1972, Clemente immediately went to work arranging emergency relief. But he learned that because of corrupt officials in the Somoza government, the aid packages that he set up were not being delivered. On New Year’s Eve 1972, he decided to accompany the relief flight, hoping that his presence would ensure the delivery of the much-needed aid to the survivors. The Douglas DC-7 cargo plane he chartered had a history of mechanical problems, an insufficient number of flight personnel, and was overloaded by 4,200 pounds when it crashed immediately after take-off into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Isla Verde Puerto Rico. There were no survivors.

If you investigated it, you would find endless examples of selfless acts performed by the late Roberto Clemente. One that sticks out for me happened on the day of his passing and was quite possibly the last selfless thing he did.

Tom Walker was a pitcher who pitch parts of six seasons in the big leagues and got to know Clemente while playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. He had just finished his rookie campaign when, on Dec. 31, 1972, he was among a handful of ballplayers helping to load the small plane in San Juan with food, clothing, and medical supplies.

Walker, who was single at the time, was to travel along on the ill-fated journey, but Clemente urged him and several others to stay back and celebrate the new year. Walker stayed, and he survived. And as only fate would have it, Walker was drawn to Clemente’s adopted hometown of Pittsburgh. Where he would raise his family and where his son, Neil on September 1, 2009, would make his Major League debut as a member of (you guessed it) the Pittsburgh Pirates. Neil Walker has been quoted, as saying “I literally owe my life to Roberto Clemente.”

Join us in celebrating Hispanic Heritage this month, and share who has inspired you.


By Eric Pairitz, smartdept. Principal