The 2022 MLB season marks the 21st year that the league has celebrated the legacy of Roberto Clemente, perhaps the greatest humanitarian and arguably one of the best outfielders the game has ever seen.
This year, the league recognized Thursday, September 15, as Roberto Clemente Day. It was highlighted by the Pirates — Clemente’s former team — playing the Mets in New York at Citi Field, with managers, coaches and players from both clubs all wearing Clemente’s No. 21.
It’s tough to sum up Clemente’s career in just a few paragraphs, but MLB.com’s Manny Randhawa took an excellent stab at it.
“Clemente was a 15-time All-Star, a 12-time Gold Glove Award winner in right field, the 1966 National League MVP, a four-time batting champion and helped lead the Pirates to World Series titles in 1960 and ’71 — getting at least one hit in all 14 games he played. He was named MVP of the 1971 Fall Classic, in which Pittsburgh defeated the Orioles in seven games — Clemente hit .414 with two doubles, one triple and two home runs. He had exactly 3,000 hits in his magnificent MLB career.”
If you’re an MLB history buff and a fan of the Dodgers, you’ll know the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Clemente in 1954 as a free agent with a $5,000 first year salary and a $10,000 signing bonus after scouting him in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
Back then, the league had a rule similar to today’s Rule 5. The elder rule stated that players who were signed with a bonus greater than $6,000 had to spend two calendar years on the club’s major league roster from the date of his signing. Because he was immediately assigned to Triple-A Montreal, Clemente became available for the taking and was promptly snagged by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
And the rest is history.
With a loaded roster consisting of players like Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Carl Furillo, Jackie Robinson and Jim Gilliam, there weren’t many options for including Clemente. Buzzie Bavasi, the general manager of the Dodgers at the time, said signing Clemente in the first place was a matter of keeping him away from the Giants.
I had the chance to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for the first time over Labor Day weekend, and needless to say, it did not disappoint. The facility features a comprehensive display of Clemente, including some of his many his accomplishments both on and off the field.
Each year the league presents the Roberto Clemente Award to one player. One player from each team is nominated for the award before a winner is chosen by a legacy panel. The annual award recognizes the player who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.
Justin Turner is representing the Dodgers as the team’s 2022 nominee.