Not a New Year’s Eve goes by where I don’t, for at least a few minutes, remember Roberto Clemente. For it was New Year’s Eve 1972 — 40 years ago today — when Clemente died a hero, trying to airlift relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
Clemente was truly heroic and brave, not because he was forced into some dire situation. He was heroic precisely because he didn’t have to face anything at all if he didn’t want to. He was a man of means and status and he could have ushered in 1973 in comfortable circumstances in his native Puerto Rico, writing checks to a relief fund to help those earthquake victims. He could have organized a benefit. But he didn’t. He sent on relief supplies himself, and when he realized that some of supplies he was sending to Managua were being pilfered by crooked officials, Clemente got on board the next flight himself to ensure that they got to those who needed them the most. It was the last decision he’d ever make.
The plane took off a little after 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve with five on board. The plane — overloaded and in poor mechanical condition to begin with — encountered problems almost immediately. The pilot tried to return to the airport but it was too late. It crashed into the Atlantic Ocean about a mile from the coast, killing all aboard. Clemente’s body was never recovered.
As you prepare to welcome the new year, take a few moments to learn more about Roberto Clemente. Not just the circumstances of his death and the broad arc of his career, each of which are well known. Learn about the weird stuff. The not-so-great stuff. The funny stuff. Clemente may have the earned status of a hero, but he was really interesting — sometimes even kinda annoying — beyond that. We have this understandable tendency to turn heroes into saints, but knowing all of the little and random things about Clemente makes him far more human than we typically think of him, and that in turn makes his heroism seem all the greater. Greater precisely because it wasn’t his duty to do what he did. It was his choice.
(Note: some of these thoughts and words first appeared in a post three years ago. I kinda liked how I said it then, so I’m plagiarizing myself a bit).
A new website has launched. It’s called “La Vida Baseball,” and it’s all about celebrating the past, present and future of Latino baseball from a Latino perspective.
The site, produced in partnership with the Hall of Fame, has four general areas of focus:
- Who’s Now: Focusing on current Latino players;
- Who’s Next: Focusing on top prospects here, in the Caribbean and in Central and South America;
- Our Life: Off-the-Field stuff, including player’s lives, lifestyles and hobbies; and
- Our Legends: Focusing on Latino baseball history, Hall of Famers and overlooked players.
As the site has just launched there aren’t yet a ton of stories up there, but there is one about Roberto Clemente, another about Felix Hernandez and some other stuff.
The site is much-needed. Baseball reporters for American outlets are overwhelmingly white, non-Spanish speakers. Reporters, who, generally, gravitate to the players who are the most like they are. Which is understandable on some level. When you’re writing stories about people you need to be able to communicate with them and relate to them on more than a mere perfunctory level. As such, no matter how good the intentions of baseball media, we tend to see the clubhouse and the culture of baseball from a distinctly American perspective. And we tend to paint Latino players with a broad, broad brush.
La Vida Baseball will, hopefully, remedy all of that and will, hopefully, give us a fresh and insightful depiction Latino players and their culture.
Do you miss David Ross? I miss David Ross. The season hasn’t even started yet and I miss David Ross. There’s something comforting about having a likable graybeard catcher in the game with bonus points for being bald. His loss will be felt.
But while we won’t have David Ross in baseball all this year — at least on the field; he’s a special assistant with the Cubs — we’ll still have David Ross someplace:
Johnny Damon did “Celebrity Apprentice” — Trump fired him, sadly — but we’ve never had a ballplayer on “Dancing With The Stars.” There have been several football players and some Olympians, but no baseball guys. Which makes some amount of sense as, outside of the middle infielders and first basemen, footwork isn’t necessarily the most important tool.
Catchers are particularly plodding for athletes, so good luck, David. Unless you have some moves you haven’t flashed in the past, you’ll probably need it.