Clemente's Social Significance Remembered

Jun 2, 2016

May 31 is Roberto Clemente Day, a day set aside to remember one of the most prominent heroes in baseball history. A pioneer for Latino players, he was the first to reach the Hall of Fame, and he lived his life with a great sense of pride for his roots. David Maraniss, sports journalist and author of Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero, spoke of Clemente’s pride for his culture and his devotion to social justice.

“He had to overcome the double prejudice of race and language,” said Maraniss.

In an article for The Undefeated called "No Gentle Saint," Maraniss outlines the reality of Clemente’s disposition and ideologies. Throughout his entire career, Clemente made no attempt to hide his feelings, he explained. He was a man for the common people because he himself had humble roots.

“He was a migrant worker who played baseball for 18 wonderful seasons,” said Maraniss.

Despite the fact that he faced discrimination from the press, Clemente gave his MVP speech in Spanish before he addressed the journalists in English. He cared far more about addressing his parents and the people of Puerto Rico, Maraniss said, than satisfying stateside journalists.

As Maraniss is quick to point out, Clemente was a hero and a devoted humanitarian, but he was not kind or gentle about the things that he saw wrong with the world. He staunchly opposed the racism of the Jim Crow South, treated the reporters with disdain who quoted him speaking in broken English and never stepped down from celebrating his roots.  

Maraniss noted that it took almost all 18 seasons of Clemente’s Pirates appearances for the overwhelmingly white, working-class fans of Pittsburgh to accept him as a star athlete and local hero.

“His story is one of great triumph. He came to a city that had very few Latinos and a small African American population, and he transcended that,” said Maraniss.

In addition to being a great baseball player, Maraniss pointed out how numbers and stats alone were not enough to capture his legacy and passion.

“He brought moments of great beauty and power to the game.”

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.