Beyond Baseball: The Life of Roberto Clemente

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Beyond Baseball: The Life of Roberto Clemente


A Web Audio Program
STOP LIST
1. Introduction

2. Boyhood and Baseball

3. Breaking into the Pros

4. The Dodging Dodgers

5. Pirated Away

6. Growing Pains

7. Seasons of Success


8. Home: Family and Country

9. Nicaragua

10. Sports City and Other Dreams

11. Honors and Legacy
1. Introduction
CRACKING BASEBALL BAT, CROWD CHEERING, UNDERNEATH MUSIC,

MUSIC SWELLS IN AND OUT
LUIS CLEMENTE:

“Before they started the first game of that World Series, they were the underdog, he ... gathered the press and says, now you're going to be obligated, you're going to see who Roberto Clemente is. The world is going to know who Roberto Clemente is.”


MANNY SANGUILLEN [ENGLISH TRANSLATION]:

“He wanted to let everybody know that we Latinos were great ball players. At that time, they thought we weren’t anything.”


DAVID MARANISS:

“He … turned to his teammates and said, ‘just get on my back, I’m going to carry you.’ And he did. He had … an incredible World Series, where he batted .414, (and) was brilliant in the outfield every game.”


SLOW MUSIC
VERA CLEMENTE:
“He accomplished what he wanted to do … because he knew, he was always thinking ... he was always talking about that he was going to die young.”

NARRATOR:

Ask any Major League baseball player today from Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic or Venezuela or anywhere else in Latin America who their heroes were growing up and you’ll inevitably hear this name: Roberto Clemente.

SALSA MUSIC
Put simply, Roberto Clemente had game. From the late 50’s to the early 70’s Clemente dazzled baseball. But he was more than just a great player. He was a great man, a humanitarian who never forgot where he came from. No moment in his life defined this better than in 1971, when he and his Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series. Newly crowned Most Valuable Player, Clemente faced an expectant throng of photographers and reporters.
NARRATOR:

Clemente’s son, Luis:


LUIS CLEMENTE:

“He said, ‘Before I say anything in English, I would like to say something in Spanish for my parents in Puerto Rico.’ And then that’s when the famous words came out: ‘On the greatest day of my life … to the kids I send my blessings, and I … would like to receive another blessing from my parents in Puerto Rico.’”


NARRATOR:

Clemente Biographer David Maraniss:


MUSIC SWELLS IN AND OUT
DAVID MARANISS:

“And that moment, when he spoke in Spanish, at the key, sort of … point of his entire career, had a profound effect throughout the … Spanish-speaking world. It showed how proud he was of who he was and where he was from … Even today I can talk to people who said that their dad was listening to that on the radio back in Mayaguez or San Juan and started crying.”


NARRATOR:

This is the story of Roberto Clemente … a humble man who used his immense talent to leave the world a better place than he found it.


2. Boyhood and Baseball



Sounds of Rural Puerto Rico, 1934 … wagons, animals, etc.

NARRATOR:

Roberto Clemente’s beginning could not have been more humble. He was the youngest of seven children, born in 1934 … the height of the Great Depression … in the rural town of Carolina, just outside San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico.

As Clemente’s wife, Vera, recalls, his parents had to work hard to keep the large family going during tough times.
VERA:

“They were not rich, but they (had) … some more opportunities that … other people didn’t have to raise their children.”


NARRATOR:

His father, Melchor, was a foreman in the sugar cane fields and his mother, Luisa, juggled several jobs at once.

Clemente biographer, David Maraniss:
DAVID MARANISS:

“She, among other things, was a butcher [laughs], and she could haul 80-pound slabs of beef on her arm. That’s where Clemente got his great right arm, in fact.”


NARRATOR:

As a boy, Clemente already showed signs of natural athletic ability. He fell in love with baseball, a sport that had been imported from Cuba and had become popular in Puerto Rico.


Ball bouncing off of wall
DAVID MARANISS:

“Clemente first played by himself … Everybody in his neighborhood in San Antón and Carolina remembered Roberto from a very early age throwing something against the wall. And then he very quickly moved into playing … with his friends. He started actually playing softball, not hardball.”


NARRATOR:

It wasn’t long before Clemente caught the eye of baseball scout, Roy Tumarin.

Clemente’s son, Luis:
LUIS:

“He was playing softball … and Roy Tumarin told him, ‘Listen, you have the talent to be playing baseball, not softball.’ So that’s how he got discovered.”


NARRATOR:

At 17, Clemente signed his first professional contract with the Santurce Cangrejeros, one of Puerto Rico’s most popular baseball teams.


LUIS:

“And then, you know, the rest is history”


3. Breaking into the Pros

NARRATOR:

Clemente signed his first professional baseball contract with the Santurce Cangrejeros of the Puerto Rican league in 1952. He made $40 a week … a big deal for the boy from Carolina.

Clemente biographer, David Maraniss:

DAVID MARANISS:

“The Cangrejeros were one of the central cultural iconic teams of Puerto Rico ... All of their games were broadcast on the radio.”


Ballgame on the radio in Spanish
NARRATOR:

This was a special time for the Puerto Rican league. It had always been a showcase of island talent, but was now enjoying an infusion of talent from the United States. … from players who weren’t allowed in the Majors at the time.


DAVID MARANISS:

“You have to remember something interesting about Puerto Rico, and something unfortunate about the United States during that period. Many of the greatest players coming from the mainland could not play in the Major Leagues because of the color of their skin.”


NARRATOR:

So before they were allowed to play in the big leagues, the best black ballplayers of the era – Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and Willie Mays – took their talents to Puerto Rico each year.


Clemente and Mays formed a powerful one-two punch at the plate that’s remembered even today.
DAVID MARANISS:

“The 1954 Santurce Cangrejeros were regarded as not just one of the great teams in ... Caribbean baseball history, but just in baseball period. They ... had ... a group ... of real hitters on the team … And they won the Caribbean World Series ... with Clemente and Mays leading the way … they were unstoppable.”


NARRATOR:

Clemente’s friend and teammate Manny Sanguillen recalls Mays’ influence on the up-and-coming star.


MANNY SANGUILLEN [ENGLISH TRANSLATION]:

“He told me that it was great thing for him, because Willie Mays in those days was a superstar when Clemente was beginning and that encouraged him a lot … That helped him … to be ready to play in the Major Leagues.”

NARRATOR:

And he was ready when – after just two years with Santurce – the Major Leagues came calling.


4. The Dodging Dodgers
NARRATOR:

Clemente was offered contracts by several major league teams, but he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers because he wanted to play in New York, which had a sizable and growing Puerto Rican population.


Luis Clemente imagines what this meant for his father.
SFX:

SWELLING MUSIC
LUIS:

“It would be like ... the ultimate, to be finally able to play... in the big game … because... that was his passion. So ... a dream of ... a kid coming from Puerto Rico … and finally getting that shot, that opportunity. I think, you know, from day one, he ... he understood that ... he would have to really work hard to be able to maintain himself up there and prove to everyone who he was.”


NARRATOR:

The Dodgers sent the 20-year-old from a tiny farming town in Puerto Rico to their minor league club in Montreal, Canada. It was Clemente’s first time in North America.


But he hadn’t hit the big time … not yet. The Dodgers knew he was a great talent, but weren’t quite ready to bring him up to the big leagues. In the meantime, they wanted to keep him a secret from other teams who might try to steal him away. The budding star spent most of his first year on the bench.
SLUMPING MUSIC
Clemente biographer, David Maraniss:
DAVID MARANISS:

“Clemente didn’t play much that year … One time he was taken out in the first inning with the bases loaded. He didn’t understand what was going on, the manager denied that he was doing it, (and) Clemente felt he was being … manipulated.”

VERA CLEMENTE:

“He got mad sometimes because they … sat him down on the bench… he didn’t understand the reason. He didn’t know that they were trying to hide him … One day he was ready to pack everything to come home … And then … the scout was explaining why they were hiding him. And to stay, don’t leave.”

NARRATOR:

He stayed, but later that year, just as the Dodgers had feared, another team spotted Clemente’s raw talent and signed him away. The struggling Pittsburgh Pirates were ready to give Clemente a shot at the big time.


5. Pirated Away
NARRATOR:

When Clemente was drafted away from the Dodgers by the Pirates, he didn’t know where Pittsburgh was on a map.


It was a difficult transition.
SOUNDS OF PITTSBURGH … STEEL MILLS, WORKERS, MUSIC, ETC.
DAVID MARANISS:

“Imagine being a black Puerto Rican, coming to perhaps the quintessential … blue collar, white American steel town of Pittsburgh, where there was … no Latino population.”


NARRATOR:

The United States was a new world for Clemente and other Latino ballplayers, who didn’t speak the language or know the customs. Manny Sanguillen, Clemente’s friend and teammate, recalls those early days.


MANNY SANGUILLEN [ENGLISH TRANSLATION]:

“We like [laughs] beans a lot … So I was in my first year, playing in ... New York … and I wanted to eat rice and beans. So I went and bought some beans. I didn't read anything, I just bought them. And when I was cooking … a bad smell, and I called the woman where I was living and she told me that they were beans to kill mice. [Laughs]. I was cooking poison. So it wasn’t easy for me.”


DAVID MARANISS:

“(Clemente was) Playing on a team of sort of hard charging, hard drinking … crew cut white guys, being covered by sports writers who had absolutely no knowledge of Spanish, and had … a cultural inclination … to characterize Latinos as stereotypical lazy and quirky.”


NARRATOR:

Far away from home on unfamiliar turf, and facing discrimination because he was black, Clemente found a way to build a life for himself-- by connecting with fans.



FANS GATHERED AROUND A PLAYER

DAVID MARANISS:

“I can't tell you how many people I've talked to who were growing up in Pittsburgh then or even in other cities … who had some personal experience with Roberto Clemente before or after a game, or he had taken the time to ask them questions and get to know them. And he developed this relationship with strangers … developing a family from that, in a way uncommon among athletes.”

6. GROWING PAINS
NARRATOR:

When Clemente arrived in Pittsburgh in early 1955, few people had heard of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King or the Civil Rights Movement. People of color were treated as second-class citizens throughout much of the country.


Being a baseball player didn’t shield Clemente from the indignities of discrimination.
While his white teammates could stay together in the same hotels and eat in the same restaurants, Clemente was forced to go elsewhere because many establishments wouldn’t serve black customers. Sportswriters, even in Pittsburgh, mocked his Puerto Rican accent. And the national media routinely overlooked his talent because of the color of his skin.
But Clemente refused to accept this mistreatment, of himself or anyone else.
DAVID MARANISS:

“He stood up and said ... I won't tolerate that … Clemente had an innate pride that was extraordinary. He was … always outspoken, because of his intelligence, his sense of pride and his sense of history, always proud of who he was and where he was from … He stood up to it … and helped become a part of ... changing … the United States.”


“By the ... mid-'60s he was a leader on his Pittsburgh Pirates team and in his community in Puerto Rico, and even in Pittsburgh … He started giving speeches in which he would say, if you have a chance to help others and fail to do so, you're wasting your time on this Earth. He ... was constantly speaking out on behalf of what he called the little people.”
NARRATOR:

David Maraniss recalls one story from Clemente’s long struggle against racism:

MARANISS:

“He and his wife Vera … went to a furniture store in New York … the salesmen immediately took them to a floor that had the cheapest furniture and … they were treated … very rudely.”

“And eventually someone else in the store realized that this was Roberto Clemente, and all of a sudden the owner of the store came up, and they were being very solicitous, and Clemente took out his wallet and showed that he had $3,000 in his wallet … but he said, ‘I'm not going to spend a cent of it here … because of the way you treated me.’”
NARRATOR:

Clemente also worked tirelessly to improve life for Latin American ballplayers in the United States, according to his friend and teammate, Manny Sanguillen:


MANNY SANGUILLEN [ENGLISH TRANSLATION]:

“[That's why] I thank God I played with him, because I saw the sacrifices he made to help Latinos. He said he … was going to do everything possible for Puerto Rico and Latin America to be the best ball players in the world. He sacrificed for that and he always said that in a few years there were going to be many Puerto Rican and Latino ball players in the Hall of Fame … He was our leader, like Jackie Robinson.”



7. Seasons of Success
MARANISS:

“Here's what you need to know about Roberto Clemente as a baseball player.”


SOUNDS OF BASEBALL
“His statistics were great …He had exactly 3,000 hits, the magic number to get into the Hall of Fame. He was considered the greatest right fielder of his era, 12 Gold Gloves. He got a hit in all 14 World Series games he played in, led the Pittsburgh Pirates to two World Championships, in different eras, beating the Yankees in 1960 and the Baltimore Orioles in 1971. He won four batting titles … he had a lifetime batting average of .317.”

ELEGANT MUSIC… JAZZ

“And yet, for all of that, to reduce Clemente to numbers is to do him a disservice … Clemente was art, not science. He was beauty in motion. If you saw Clemente play, you would never forget it. I can't tell you how many people I've talked to … who have said the same story.”

“They'll say, I was at Shea Stadium, or I was at Wrigley Field, or I was at Candlestick Park, or I was at Forbes Field, or Three River Stadium, or County Stadium in Milwaukee, or Chavez Ravine, and I saw Roberto Clemente go deep into the corner in right field and pick up a ball and throw it on a perfect rope to third base or home plate.”
“You can go see somebody hit a home run and you forget it. But if you saw Clemente play right field, and particularly that arm, that golden arm he had, it was an aesthetic experience unlike any other … His sort of herky-jerky swing at anything style at the plate, the ropes he would hit, mostly to right centerfield, everything about Clemente was a little different, and it was beautiful, and unforgettable.”
8. Home: Family and Country
NARRATOR:

Clemente won his first World Series in 1960. He came home to Puerto Rico a hero.


HAPPY CROWD CHEERING
DAVID MARANISS:

“He was literally carried off the plane on the shoulders of his fans … chanting, ‘Clemente’ and ... dancing a salsa, as they ... walked down the tarmac … And every year ... through that entire decade … he became a bigger and bigger figure until by the mid-'60s he was the best known person in Puerto Rico, better known than the Governor or anyone else, and regarded as the ... as the island's hero.”


NARRATOR:

Beyond his accomplishments and his celebrity, he was loved for his humility and the way he represented his country with pride.



SIMPLE GUITAR MUSIC
DAVID MARANISS:

“Jibaro is the term for ... the country people of Puerto Rico, and Clemente loved them, and he ... would often just wander off into the countryside and just talk... to the country people ... for hours on end.”

VERA CLEMENTE:

“His barrio, San Anton, his neighborhood … he used to go every day when he comes back from the (baseball) season, from the States, he used to go and visit his old neighbors, old friends from his hometown … he was always the same. He never changed. He was a ... very humble man all his life. He never forget his people... where he used to live when he … have nothing.”

NARRATOR:

Clemente’s son, Luis:


LUIS:

“Just a truly, truly humble and down to earth guy, that it didn't matter whatever he had accomplished … he never forgot where he came from.”


9. Nicaragua
NARRATOR:

Clemente was not just a superstar, but a hands-on mentor to up-and-coming Latino ballplayers. In 1972 he volunteered to manage the Puerto Rican team at the Amateur Baseball World Series in Nicaragua. Clemente fell in love with the country.


EARTHQUAKE
So, when a massive earthquake struck Nicaragua weeks later, Clemente and his wife, Vera Clemente, jumped to action, organizing a relief campaign for the thousands devastated by the disaster.
DAVID MARANISS:

“They raised a lot of medical aid, humanitarian aid, food, money. They … sent a shipload down to Managua, then two airplanes full of aid.”


NARRATOR:

But the supplies didn’t make it to the people.



MARANISS:

“The strong man of Nicaragua then was Anastasio Samoza, and he and his sons were corrupt, and they were corruptly manipulating the aid that was coming down there. This infuriated Clemente. He said, ‘If I go, it will get to the people.’”


NARRATOR:

New Year’s Eve is traditionally one of the biggest holidays in Puerto Rico. But on the last night of 1972, Roberto Clemente boarded a rickety DC7, heavily overloaded with relief supplies bound for Nicaragua. The big plane lumbered down the runway, and, as eyewitnesses later recalled, barely got off the ground. Seconds later it crashed into the ocean.


RADIO, COMMOTION, ETC.

DAVID MARANISS:

“Well, the news broke late that night on the radio. The next morning … the beaches were lined with thousands of people who came to the beach silently, just sort of in a vigil, many of them expecting Clemente to walk out of the sea.”

MANNY SANGUILLEN [ENGLISH TRANSLATION]:

“It seemed like the whole island of Puerto Rico went to the sea … It was an incredible thing … I went on a yacht with one of the divers, to see if we could find him ... It was a very bad experience for me … To see a person sacrifice so much, with a good heart … it was a difficult thing …”


DAVID MARANISS:

“For days afterwards, people would go to the beach expecting somehow that Clemente would be found alive. And it took more than a week for … the whole nation to … come to grips with the fact that he was gone.“



LUIS:

“Imagine, you're coming back to your home and you see two M.P.s, one on each side of the door with the Puerto Rican flag, the US flag … The house full of people you’ve never seen before ... the street full of people, that's an image I will never … it will never leave me.”


NARRATOR:

In the days and months that followed, the Clementes, received a tremendous outpouring of support.


VERA CLEMENTE:

“People from all over … the island came to my house … the Governor … People from other countries, from the States, from Venezuela, from the Dominican Republic … The people show so much love ... People that we never met before … I really appreciated the … way they loved him and the strength that they gave us on those days.”


10. Sports City and Other Dreams
NARRATOR:

Clemente knew he wouldn’t be a baseball player forever. He dreamed of using his fame and fortune in retirement to build a place for the children of Puerto Rico to play sports. It would be a place where they could strive toward the same dreams he’d had as a child.


After his death, his widow, Vera, carried on his spirit.

VERA CLEMENTE:

“When they stopped the searching … for the bodies from the sea … I just told myself … I have … to help my children … and to build this project for the children of Puerto Rico …”

NARRATOR:

That project became Roberto Clemente Sports City – a huge sports facility for the children of Puerto Rico that includes a swimming pool, a track and field, basketball and tennis courts, and acres of baseball fields.


CHILDREN PLAYING
Some of baseball’s biggest stars got their start here, including Major Leaguers Sandy Alomar, Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez.
VERA CLEMENTE:

“My satisfaction is that we had … different generations pass through … that project … playing baseball, swimming, different alternatives … And many students … had scholarships to study (in) the States … through sports scholarships.”


NARRATOR:

Today, Vera Clemente and Roberto Clemente’s sons, Roberto Jr. and Luis, help direct Sports City. They are expanding the facilities and programs to give future generations of Puerto Ricans a place to follow in the footsteps of their country’s greatest hero.



11. Honors and Legacy
MUSIC SWELLS IN AND OUT
NARRATOR:

Clemente’s real greatness was not just as a baseball player, but as a man, a humanitarian, someone who stood up for others. Perhaps that’s why he, unlike so many other sports celebrities of years past, lives on as a true legend.


Clemente biographer, David Maraniss:
MARANISS:

“Pittsburgh is a football town, but Clemente holds a place unlike any other athlete or individual. Beloved more in death than he was even in life in Pittsburgh. In Puerto Rico and all of Latin America, he's been dead for 35 years or more, and yet, he still lives. There are 200 schools in the United States and Puerto Rico and around the world named after Roberto Clemente. Countries in Africa have stamps for Roberto Clemente. He has become a figure of hope and pride and love of humanity.”


NARRATOR:

Perhaps the best-known honors bestowed on Clemente were by Major League Baseball. After his death, the league waived their usual five-year waiting period, and made Clemente the first Latino player inducted into the Hall of Fame. The League also renamed the Commissioner’s Award the Roberto Clemente Award. It’s the only honor given by the commissioner of Major League Baseball, and is presented each year to the player who best exemplifies the value of helping others.

LUIS:

“When you admire players … and then you hear them saying … directly from their mouths how big … an impact Dad had on them, and … why this award means so much to them … I think that … helps … solidify … what my father means to … many, many people.”


“I understand that my father was a very special human being, very special man. He was... very talented at what he did. But I feel that baseball was just a vehicle for him to get his message across.”
MUSIC SWELLS UP AGAIN
NARRATOR:

Clement’s message was simple, and he repeated often in the years before his death: “Anytime you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don't do it, you are wasting your time on this Earth."


MARANISS:

“I would say it's impossible to find a Latino player who doesn't know the story of Clemente … what Clemente meant for all of them … He means that much to that culture.


MANNY [ENGLISH TRANSLATION]:

“He was the one that planted the good seed for us … It was the greatest blessing that God gave me since the day I was born, playing with Mr. Clemente.”


VERA:

“There are still people that … come to visit Puerto Rico. And ... when they meet me, or ... one of us, they cannot talk. They have tears in their eyes, and they can't talk for a few minutes.”


LUIS:

“I think that is the legacy of Roberto Clemente: be a good person, help while you can, and make your days count.”





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