Roberto Clemente, Pittsburgh Pirate and humanitarian, is one of 14 highlighted Pittsburgh athletes as part of the Downtown Renown: Pittsburgh Sports Greats series showcasing stories as inspirational as they are amazing. Designed in collaboration with artist Gavin Benjamin, find all sports profiles windows currently on view in windows around the neighborhood.
It is 65 years now since Roberto Clemente first suited up for the Pirates. Left unprotected by the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Montreal farm club, Pittsburgh claimed him for $4,000 in the minor league draft of 1954. His rookie card records that when he first joined the team in 1955, he stood 5’11” tall and weighed just 175 pounds, lean by today’s standards when baseball stars are both literally and figuratively larger than life. Physically, he didn’t get much bigger in his 18 seasons with the Pirates, competing at 182 pounds in 1972, but he grew in stature with each passing year. For many, he is as big in memory as the bronze statue that honors him outside PNC Park, a memory still strong enough that he is known by just one name, “Roberto.”
Clemente earned his nickname, “The Great One” at the plate and on the field. He roamed the cavernous outfield of Forbes Field at will, grabbing fly balls and Golden Gloves, eventually winning 12 between 1961 and 1972.
“When I put on my uniform, I feel I am the proudest man on earth.“
He contributed to the surprise World Series victory of 1960, then went on to capture his first of four batting titles in 1961, with a .351 average. He hit for power in 1966 with 29 home runs and 119 RBIs and was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player. On June 28, 1970 broadcaster Nellie King interviewed Clemente between games of the final doubleheader played at Forbes Field. When asked how many more years he wanted to play, in an eerily prescient response Roberto answered, “I would like to play until I get to 3,000 hits…”
Before reaching 3,000 hits on September 30, 1972, Clemente and the Pirates added another World Series victory in 1971, with Roberto named Series MVP. A little more than a year later Clemente was gone, killed tragically in a plane crash off the coast of Puerto Rico while delivering supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Pittsburgh was plunged into mourning. In 1973, an exception allowed Clemente to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, bypassing the standard five-year waiting period. The induction recognized his prowess on-field, but also his activities off – his work for civil and human rights – his accomplishments as both a baseball player and a humanitarian. The first Latin player inducted into the Hall of Fame, Clemente opened doors for those who came after him, while at the same time opening the hearts and minds of Pittsburghers and creating a true legacy as the Great One.
Learn more about the history of baseball in Pittsburgh from the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Heinz History Center.
This spotlight is a part of the Downtown Renown: Pittsburgh Sports Greats series. Learn more about the project, and look for all 14 sports profile windows in Downtown!
Arnold Palmer • Bill Mazeroski • Charles “Chuck” Cooper • Dan McCoy • Franco Harris • Honus Wagner • Joe Greene • John Woodruff • Josh Gibson • Mario Lemieux • Roberto Clemente • Suzie McConnell-Serio • Swin Cash • Sidney Crosby
📍 View this Pittsburgh Sports Great window installation at Eighth and Penn, Downtown Pittsburgh.