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Roberto Clemente: Eternally 3,000

Roberto Clemente: Eternally 3,000

Nobody knew it on the time, however the nice Roberto Clemente’s quest to turn into simply the eleventh participant in historical past to achieve 3,000 profession hits was additionally a race towards the clock.

Tragically, Clemente had only a few brief months left to reside when he entered the 1972 season 118 hits shy of turning into the primary Latino participant to achieve the hallowed quantity — which at the moment meant an automated ticket to the Corridor of Fame.

The Pirates legend died on Dec. 31, 1972, when the airplane he was touring on with humanitarian help provides for earthquake-stricken Nicaragua crashed after taking off from his native Puerto Rico.

Though Clemente had already spent 18 seasons with Pittsburgh and was 38 years outdated on the time of his loss of life, he seemed to be in excellent bodily form. The truth is, only a yr earlier he had gained the World Sequence MVP award because the Pirates edged the Orioles in a seven-game collection on their technique to the franchise’s fourth title.

Nevertheless, he had a powerful sense that he should attain the milestone through the 1972 season. In response to longtime baseball govt Luis Rodríguez Mayoral in an article for La Vida Baseball, Clemente informed him that spring, “My 3,000th, I’ve to get it this season.”

* * *

Sadly, it was troublesome for the veteran to remain on the sector that yr, which made reaching the three,000 mark much less of a certain factor than most would have anticipated when the season started. In spite of everything, he had amassed a minimum of 118 hits in each season of his profession besides 1957, and even topped 200 hits 4 occasions.

However regardless of his statuesque look, Clemente had an extended historical past of spinal issues. And he had even handled a bout of malaria earlier than the ’65 season.

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“He regarded like a specimen,” mentioned Pirates pitcher Steve Blass, Clemente’s teammate for eight seasons. “He regarded like he was 25, on high of trying like he might be a film star. However there have been bodily points with him.”

* * *

These bodily illnesses, greater than pitchers across the Nationwide League, can be the largest cause Clemente’s chase for 3,000 would finally go right down to the wire throughout a season during which he slashed a strong .312/.356/.479. He appeared in simply 102 video games — the fewest of his profession — though a gamers’ strike that delayed the beginning of the season to mid-April contributed to that whole, as properly.

Clemente was hitless in his first two contests earlier than selecting up multi-hit video games in three of his subsequent 5. He completed April with 12 hits in 47 at-bats (.255). A scorching Might throughout which he batted .365 with 35 base knocks positioned Clemente simply 71 hits shy of three,000 with 4 months left to play.

Roberto Clemente 2568 Feature 2

In June via August, although, these well being points restricted the All-Star to simply 39 video games, and Clemente stood 30 knocks shy as September rolled round.

Manny Sanguillen, a three-time All-Star catcher from Panama who went from idolizing Clemente to being his closest buddy on the Pirates, recalled how a lot lacking video games bothered the legendary proper fielder.

“One evening we had been in Atlanta in ’71, and it was actually scorching, over 90 levels,” Sanguillen recalled. “[Clemente] mentioned to me, ‘I can’t get out of the lineup as a result of I need 3,000 hits. I’ve to be the primary Latino to get to three,000 hits.’

“I ordered fruits and water from room service, and stayed with him till 3 o’clock within the morning. Folks don’t know what he went via. He additionally had issues with a tendon in his again. His physique was giving out.”

* * *

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The nice Clemente would want to by some means stay wholesome sufficient to place collectively a powerful ultimate push. Unsurprisingly for a participant who was at his greatest when the strain was excessive — he did, in spite of everything, hit safely in all 14 World Series games he played in — Clemente was as much as the duty.

From Sept. 2-7, he picked up seven knocks and hit safely in 5 straight video games. He had three hits in every sport towards the Cubs at Wrigley Subject on Sept. 12-13, together with his ultimate profession dwelling run off fellow future Corridor of Famer Ferguson Jenkins on Sept. 13.

Clemente adopted up his ultimate profession homer with one other six hits over the following three video games, giving him 2,990 with two weeks remaining. Abruptly, the milestone was as soon as once more very a lot in play.

Whereas anticipation for the magical second was starting to construct within the Pirates’ clubhouse and round Pittsburgh, there wasn’t practically as a lot hype round Clemente’s chase as followers would count on right this moment.

“It was well-noted, however nothing like it might have been like in Chicago, New York or L.A.,” mentioned Blass.

“In that point,” added Sanguillen, “we Latinos didn’t get loads of press.”

After three extra multi-hit outings in his subsequent eight video games, Clemente was simply two hits shy with 5 video games left on the Pirates’ schedule. He collected No. 2,999 — a leadoff single off the Phillies’ Steve Carlton, one other future Corridor of Famer — within the Bucs’ final street sport of the season.

* * *

It was again dwelling in Pittsburgh the place Clemente would make his ultimate cost at immortality. He had 4 video games left.

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“To get 3,000 hits means you’ve acquired to play quite a bit,” Clemente informed reporters. “To me, it means extra. I understand how I’m and what I’ve been via. I don’t need to get 3,000 hits to pound my chest and holler, ‘Hey, I acquired it!’

“What it means is I didn’t fail with the flexibility I had. I’ve seen a lot of gamers come and go away. Some failed as a result of they didn’t have the flexibility. And a few failed as a result of they didn’t have the need.”

My 3,000th, I’ve to get it this season.

Roberto Clemente, Spring Coaching, 1972

In his first plate look of the ultimate homestand, Clemente was briefly credited with an infield single off the Mets’ Tom Seaver, yet one more future Corridor of Famer. However the official scorer then dominated the play an error by second baseman Ken Boswell.

“Properly, possibly will probably be tomorrow,” Clemente informed Mayoral. “However I’ve not been sleeping properly these days.”

Clemente wouldn’t go away any extra room for suspense. He was prepared for the chase to finish. The following evening, following a first-inning strikeout, Clemente laced a double to the hole towards Jon Matlack, that yr’s eventual Rookie of the Yr, to start the fourth.

“The script that you simply couldn’t write any higher was a ringing double to left-center subject,” mentioned Blass. “Not a dribbler. Not a pop fly down the right-field line. And towards a top quality pitcher like Jon Matlack.

“That pose at second base. I’ll always remember it.”

The 13,117 followers readily available at Three Rivers Stadium gave Clemente a standing ovation.

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“I felt so uncomfortable when all these folks applauded me,” Clemente informed Mayoral.

Because of a torrid September during which he batted .333 and hit safely 30 occasions, the 15-time All-Star grew to become the primary Latino to achieve 3,000 hits. His teammates had been ecstatic.

“I used to be one of many happiest folks on the earth,” mentioned Sanguillen. “All of the Latinos had been pleased. Now you see what number of there are in baseball.”

* * *

Clemente would additionally turn into the primary Latino enshrined in the Hall of Fame the following summer season, when the traditional five-year ready interval was waived after his tragic loss of life.

Vera  Clemente 2568 Feature 4b

Roberto Clemente’s widow, Vera, accepted his Corridor of Fame plaque from MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn in 1973. (AP)

A person whose legendary humanitarianism typically overshadows simply how nice of a ballplayer he was beat the clock that nobody knew was ticking, and is ceaselessly caught on 3,000 hits — a magical quantity that’s turn into practically as synonymous with him because the No. 21 he wore.

The clock, in fact, was no match for an immortal like Clemente, whose legacy lives on in so some ways, 50 years later from the Clemente Bridge outdoors PNC Park to the prestigious award that bears his name and is bestowed yearly to the participant who greatest represents what all massive leaguers aspire to be on and off the sector.

Roberto Clemente is ceaselessly younger, ceaselessly proud, ceaselessly remembered by these he’ll encourage for generations to come back.

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Ed Eagle is an editorial producer for MLB.com. He coated the Pirates for MLB.com from 2001-07.

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