Remembering Roberto Clemente

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Clemente AP.jpgWhen I was little I was given a biography of Roberto Clemente. It wasn’t a tome or anything. It was one of those little Scholastic Readers, probably bought at an elementary school book fair. Though I would later come to appreciate Clemente’s game, his arm, his
bat and his unique and colorful personality a bit more objectively than the saintly and perfect way he was portrayed in the book, he did become a favorite of mine upon reading it. How couldn’t he have? He was a goddamn hero.

And unlike so many people who are called heroic and brave for facing down challenges, Clemente was truly heroic and brave precisely because he didn’t have to face anything at all if he didn’t want to. He could have ushered in 1973 in what I’m sure were very comfortable circumstances in his native Puerto Rico. He could have written checks to some relief fund to help those earthquake victims.  He could have organized a benefit or something.  But he didn’t. When he realized that the relief 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.  Not a New Year’s Eve goes by when I don’t think about him and the sacrifice he made. A sacrifice he didn’t have to make for people he didn’t even know.

Thirty-seven years is a bit too long to keep on mourning of course, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to think about Clemente. About both his heroism and his baseball career, the specifics of which have long been overshadowed by the circumstances of his death. But if you’re going to remember someone, you’re best served trying to remember everything.

A good place to start? This excellent mini-biography by Stew Thornley of the Society for American Baseball Research.  It’s worth it just to learn about the time Clemente claimed he was kidnapped in San Diego, set free and then proceeded to get three hits against the Padres the next day.  The story stinks to high heaven, and a lot of the other Clemente anecdotes make you realize that he could be a real pain the keister, but it’s the kind of stuff that adds a bit of life to a life story.

Anyway, you’ve got time today. Go check it out. And give a few thoughts to old Arriba before you go out tonight.

Video: Christian Yelich leads MLB in home runs again

Christian Yelich
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Tied at a league-leading 10 home runs apiece with Cody Bellinger and Khris Davis, it wasn’t long before Brewers slugger Christian Yelich set himself apart from the competition yet again. During the bottom of the first inning on Friday, the 2018 NL MVP singled out the first pitch he saw from the Dodgers’ Ross Stripling — an 86.5-m.p.h. slider just wide of the strike zone — and returned it to the second deck seats in right field for his 11th home run of 2019.

While Bellinger and Davis will undoubtedly continue to make it difficult for Yelich to claim sole honors at the top of the leaderboard, the 27-year-old outfielder has had a banner year so far. Through the first three weeks of the season, he’s batting a strong .354/.447/.823 with 15 extra-base hits, 29 RBI, and three stolen bases across 94 plate appearances. The 29 RBI (27 entering Friday’s game) he collected between March and April eclipsed Prince Fielder’s previous franchise record of 26 RBI — and there’s no telling how much higher that total will rise by the end of the month, too.

Even with the benefit of Yelich’s immense talents, however, the Brewers are just clinging to a first-place tie with the Pirates atop the NL Central. They dropped their last two games to the Cardinals and Dodgers, respectively, and will need to overturn the remainder of their series against LA to build up their division lead again. They’re currently tied 2-2 with the Dodgers in the seventh.