Also considered: Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Willie Mays
Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Frank Robinson are all worthy Hall of Fame players. Fantastic at what they did. But when I started this series I made sure to note that numbers wouldn’t be the only thing taken into consideration when selecting players. This is one of those cases where the numbers don’t win out. Roberto Clemente is the most impacting player and human that the casual fan has never heard of. I hope to change that a little bit today.
First let’s take a look at his numbers throughout the decade just to show he was a great player in his own right before we dive into him as a whole:
- Nine seasons over .300 Average
- Four Batting Titles
- Led the decade as a whole for Batting Average
- Seven seasons with 10+ Triples (led the league in ’69)
- 175 outfield Assists
- In 19 seasons, Carlos Beltran (active leader) has 139
- Nine time Gold Glove winner
- Nine time All Star
- ’60 World Series
- ’66 NL MVP
(.328/.375/.501, 1,877 H, 177 HR, 862 RBI, 916 R)
*These numbers only reflect the seasons between 1960-69*
Clemente was so much more than the numbers. When he came into the league, the native Puerto Rican was part of a glaring minority of Latino players. In 1954, only 3.7% of the Major League players were of Latin descent. As of 2012, Latin players made up 26.9% of the league. Roberto Clemente was the absolute main reason for this influx. Every Caribbean child grew up wanting to be him. And in no way is that an exaggeration.
Kids grew up taking sharp routes to a baseballs rolling in the corner so they could recreate his whirling throw back to the infield. They’d run so hard that their helmets didn’t stand a chance on the base paths. They loved the game they were playing. They loved the people they were playing it with. And all of those things still remain true about the Caribbean born players to this day. It’s more than a game to them. But yet somehow at the same time, they still have more fun than any other culture too. Baseball is everything for them. Clemente epitomized all of this joy the Latin culture has found in the game forever. Clemente was just the platform that gave the world a glance at it.
Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.
Unfortunately, we were all shorted on a great man’s life when a plane accident killed him in 1972. The plane was en route to delivering supplies to Nicaragua after a major earthquake had struck the country. In 1973 the MLB began giving out the Roberto Clemente Award. The award is “given annually to the Major League Baseball (MLB) player who ‘best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team’, as voted on by baseball fans and members of the media.” Everything that Clemente was.
Roberto Clemente comes in as the seventh selection to my Player of the Decade team. Continue to check back in as I will continue revealing my choice of players each day. Tomorrow will be the 1970’s.