Roberto Clemente: Remembering #21 and What He Taught Us

Editor’s Note: Roberto Clemente was a baseball player for the Pittsburgh Pirate, a native of Puerto Rico, winner of 12 Golden Glove awards and a member of 12 All-Star teams.  He was also a very fine man, and stood for the values so dear to the Care2 community.  We honor Major League Baseball’s new season with these thoughts from the author of his graphic biography, Wilfred Santiago.

On the night of July 24, 1970, thousands of fans gathered to honor Roberto Clemente at the Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh for an outstanding sixteen-year career in baseball. In an emotional speech, he spoke for the cameras and radio listeners in English and Spanish with a simple message of friendship, unity and overcoming struggles. He also talked about the love of baseball, which can cross cultural and linguistic boundaries to bring people together.

On this night, attendees were also encouraged to donate to the Children’s Hospital fund, and that was Clemente in a nutshell.  He turned a situation about him into an opportunity to help those who were most vulnerable. Roberto Clemente Night is still celebrated every year.

Two years later, an earthquake devastated Nicaragua. Like many Latin countries at the time, Nicaragua was ruled by a dictator, who showed his heartless grip by blocking and holding humanitarian aid coming in from overseas in the aftermath of the disaster.

Clemente was distressed and outraged when he heard what was going on. Nicaragua was a place Clemente was familiar with and had previously visited, and so he quickly organized a committee, who sent tons of food and supplies to help the victims. But thanks to the Nicaraguan government, the aid wasn’t getting to the people. Clemente decided to use his standing and celebrity, delivering the next shipment himself to make sure it got where it was needed.

On New Year’s Eve, a plane overloaded with the humanitarian aid left San Juan, Puerto Rico, heading to Nicaragua. Clemente and the crew died when the plane crashed into the sea a few minutes after taking off. Clemente’s body was never found.

Clemente knew the ties that bind us. Being raised in both the Puerto Rican and American cultures, as well as having traveled to many countries, gave him a perspective of the world that was ahead of his time.

If Clemente had worked at a gas station instead of being a baseball superstar, his kindness would have been the same. But we never would have heard his story. Clemente was aware that being a baseball player gave him the resources to do even greater good than he could have imagined. Most importantly, we have the opportunity to know and share his life story, and for that, we all are very fortunate to come across the history of a man like Roberto Clemente.

He was a person of great complexity, and the exploration of his character and persona while creating 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente allowed me to understand that even his biography is as much about us as it is about him.

And in this world, the care and regards we receive is proportionate to the care and regards we give.  We are all neighbors, and the improvement of our neighbor’s life improves our own.


Related Stories:

Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Puerto Rican Man Detained By ICE

American Greatness — Struggle or Birthright?

Baseball Players Sacrifice Baby Chickens for Luck


Photo from Fantagraphics Books, Inc
Written By Wilfred Santiago


jane richmond
jane richmond6 years ago

a REAL hero and role model

Tamara Huggins
Tamara Huggins6 years ago

I'm proud to say I am a Pittsburgher and a fan of Clemente.

Jacobo V.
jacobo Van6 years ago

Bruce V. is to be commended for his support for this HERO from the colony of Puerto Rico. I also have stories to tell of his family members I've tried to assist.
His own plight may have been averted if a line item on a budget I was responsible for preparing had been funded in time

Julia W.
Julia W6 years ago

I am not a baseball fan, but I am a fan of true graphic novels and look forward to reading your book. Thank you for telling about this great man.

Magdalen B.
Magdalen B6 years ago

A real sporting hero.

Cice Rivera
Cice Rivera6 years ago

Amazing! My 1st School name, I honor R. Clemente!

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L6 years ago

Good man. Love to watch him play ball.

Debi C.
Debi C6 years ago

@ Sharon H: yep, my grandma, my mom, the whole family gathered around the tv watching the Pirates playing back in the day!

@ Vince D: yes, when the cities in and around the greater Pittsburgh area still had very distinct "black" sections of town, the two biggest heros in soutwestern PA were both black men!

Robert O.
Robert O6 years ago

He really was a dynamic and driven, but also warm and caring individual that is still missed by many, especially those in the Puerto Rican and Hispanic communities. Too bad there aren't more athletes (and people in general) that strive to be better people by putting themselves in the service of the less fortunate. Think how much better the world could and would be. Roberto Clemente was one of the true definitions of a role model.

Vince D.
Vince D6 years ago

I grew up near Pittsburgh in the '60's and 70's. Clemente led by example and by doing so won a lot of hearts. At a time when civil rights were still mostly a dream, Pgh's biggest hero was a very black man who didn't speak English. Willie Stargel was a close second! Those guys had class!

Today's athletes could learn some lessons form these old-school role models. Doubt they will.