Sep 17

Roberto Clemente: A Lost Legend

chasing3000If you’re a big fan of baseball, you know his name. But when people talk about the all-time greats, he seems to get passed over. Gehrig. Ruth. Mays. Aaron. Mantle. Williams. Clemente? If you just raised your eyebrows don’t worry, you aren’t alone. But when you talk to the people who got to watch him play, watch their eyes light up when you ask about Clemente. The first thing mentioned is obviously the plane crash, but I was very surprised that more often then not, the second thing mentioned was his arm from the outfield. Then, I started doing some research and while I knew of Clemente, I had no idea that he truly is a lost legend.

In an era that sees Clemente overlooked because he was in the same time frame as Mantle, Mays, and Aaron, Clemente was right up with them. After joining the Pirates in 1955 he was an instant success in the field, becoming arguably the best corner outfielder of his era. To help prove that claim that seems to be held by most of the people who got to watch Clemente play, I went to baseball-reference.com to look up some numbers. From 1957 to 1972 he finished ranked first in defensive wins-above-replacement (WAR) four times while finishing second five times.

His career really took a turn for the better after the 1960 season when Clemente finished 8th in the most valuable player voting. Offended at the results, Clemente and Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach George Sisler started working on making Clemente more patient at the plate. They also wanted to have Clemente start getting better contact on the pitches he did swing at so to help with that, Clemente started using a massive bat to slow down the swing but to make much better contact.

The results were obvious from the beginning when Clemente’s average jumped from .314 to a league-leading .351, giving him his first of four batting titles in his career. Thanks to his off-season work, the payoff took Clemente from a very good player to an all-time great. But even after so many great years, Clemente felt that he was still being under-appreciated and going into the 1971 World Series made it a point to show the national media that even at 37 years old, he was still one of the best players in baseball. He proved just that as he looked like a men among boys, playing excellent defense and beating up on the Oriole pitchers.


By finalfinally – Jabberhead, SJ Contributing Author, Blogger (The Learning Curve)