In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
Roberto Clemente of the Pittsburgh Pirates collects his 3,000th career hit off Jon Matlack of the New York Mets with a fourth-inning double at Three Rivers Stadium. It was Clemente’s final regular season at-bat; the Pirates blanked the Mets 5-0. The reign champion Pirates would lose the NLCS in a five-game heartbreaker to the Cincinnati Reds. Three months later, Roberto Clemente would be killed in a plane crash, delivering earthquake relief supplies to Nicaragua.
Roberto Clemente was born on August 18, 1934, in Puerto Rico. In 1954, he signed his first professional contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. A year later, he made his debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who drafted him out of the Dodgers system, in a precursor to the current Rule V draft. Within a few years. Clemente became one of the top stars in Pittsburgh as the long-dormant Pirates became contenders. In Clemente’s first All-Star season, the Pirates stunned the New York Yankees in the World Series on Bill Mazeroski’s home run in Game 7. During the series, Roberto Clemente hit .310.
Throughout the 1960s, Roberto Clemente was one of the top outfielders in the National League, with perhaps the greatest outfield arm in the history of baseball, winning the Gold Glove every season between 1961-1972. Clemente was also one of the game's top hitters, winning the national league's batting title four times (1961,1964,1965, and 1967.) In 1966, Clemente had his best power numbers with 29 home runs and 119 RBI, winning his only MVP award. Five years later, Roberto Clemente had his signature moment leading the Pirates to a World Championship in seven games over the Baltimore Orioles. Clemente hit .414 in the Fall Classic, with two home runs and four RBI, as he made several outstanding defensive plays to earn MVP honors.
In the season following his legendary World Series performance, Roberto Clemente was hampered by injuries limiting him to 102 games. While remaining a .300 hitter, Clemente needed the entire season to collect the 118 hits needed for the 3,000 hit milestone; at the time, he was just the 11th player in MLB history with 3,000 hits. With the season coming to a close, Clemente reached 3,000 with a double off Jon Matlack of the New York Mets, who was that year’s National League Rookie of the Year. Clemente would come around to score on a single by Manny Sanguillen and was taken out of the game to rest up for the upcoming postseason as the Pirates had already clinched the National League East. Roberto Clemente would not take another at-bat in the regular season. In the NLCS against the Cincinnati Reds, the Pirates' quest for a season straight World Championship ended in heartbreaking fashion as the Reds scored two runs in the ninth inning of Game 5 and advanced to the World Series on a walk-off Wild Pitch.
When Roberto Clemente was not on the field, he was dedicated to charitable services, often delivering food and baseball equipment to the poor in Latin America. When a massive earthquake hit Nicaragua, Roberto Clemente arraigned to bring supplies by renting his own jet. Unbeknownst to Clemente, the plane he rented was involved in an accident earlier in the month. With five people on board, Clemente loaded the jet beyond capacity. Shortly after takeoff on December 31st, the plane looking to return to Puerto Rico crashed into the Atlantic Ocean that surrounds the island. Right away, rescue efforts went into place, but it was to no avail as only the pilot’s body was found, and few parts of the plain were found.
After his tragic death, Roberto Clemente’s five-year wait for the Hall of Fame was waved, with him earning induction in 1973. A few years later, baseball named an award to the player who best shows sportsmanship and charitable kindness on and off the field. Clemente ended his career with a .317 average, 240 home runs, and 1,305 RBI.