DECEMBER 31, 1972 | SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – Roberto Clemente was an outstanding baseball player. He was a better human being. He was on a plane bringing relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua on this date in 1972. The plane crashed shortly after take-off from his native Puerto Rico. His body never found.
Clemente was a winner of Major League Baseball’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
He was the type of baseball player who came across once in a lifetime. Clemente was what the scouts call a 5-tool player, meaning he could run, throw, catch, hit and hit for power.
It may be more accurate to say Clemente was a 10-tool player because he did all those things with an entertaining flair. It was exciting to see him hit a triple, throw a baserunner out at 3rd from right field, even take a ferocious swing and miss.
On the field, Clemente finished with a .317 lifetime batting average, 1,406 runs scored, exactly 3,000 hits, 12 all-star appearance and 12 Gold Gloves. But he didn’t intend for the ’72 season to be his last. Nor would he expect helping organize an earthquake relief effort be his last act of generosity. But he had to get on that plane to make sure the supplies got to the people who really needed them.
His legacy lives on in the Roberto Clemente Award given each year to the MLB player who “best exemplifies baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to the team,” someone who, like Clemente, is a great player and a great man.