Archive for the ‘Roberto Clemente’ Category

Roberto Clemente

Friday, September 4th, 2009

The Nats will host Roberto Clemente Night on Friday night when they face off against the Florida Marlins. As I recall, I saw Roberto Clemente play six or seven times, almost all of them in Milwaukee County Stadium. This must have been in 1964 and 1965 — at the peak of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I saw him two more times after that, in 1969 or 1970, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Clemente was only 25 when he played on that great 1960 world championship team that took the series in seven games from the Yankees — the one where Bill Mazeroski hit the walk-off in the ninth inning of the sevnth game. Clemente was young, just 25, and hit .314 for the season.

Clemente won the MVP award in 1966 at the age of 31, his greatness established: he hit .317 with 29 home runs and he had 202 hits. He was a hitting machine — at the end of the 1972 season (just before he was killed), his hit total stood at exactly 3000. He had at least three more good years left in him in baseball, a lot more in life. The Clemente years were good years for the Pirates: they won a world championship in 1960 and 1971 and Clemente was surrounded by good players, some of them were very good: Matty Alou and Dick Groat and Don Hoak and Willie Stargell and Al Oliver and Bill Mazeroski and legendary pitchers Vern Law, Harvey Haddix and Bob Friend.

I remember Clemente playing right field, but I don’t have any specific memory of him hitting and I remember the way that he ran because it was so distinctive. He was scary quick, midwest quick. And you knew, when you saw him play, that he had a very special ability. I had heard he had a legendary arm and I saw it — once — though I don’t remember the exact details. Close enough thought: I remember the game. It was in Milwaukee County Stadium and it was a day game featuring the home team lame-duck-no-account 1965 headed-out-of-town (I’m still bitter about those) Milwaukee Braves against the mighty Pirates. The Braves were at bat with two outs, but there wasn’t anyone special at bat (like Aaron or Mathews); but some light hitting lug — and I didn’t much like many of them anyway. It was someone like Woody Woodward or Dennis Menke or someone like that. I would like to think it was Menke, one of my least favorite players. Dennis “boot ’em” Menke.  

Anyway, whoever it was came up and hit a scorcher down into the right field corner (a hell of a hit) and tore around first and the ball was hit on a line just inside the first base bag. The ball headed to the corner and it took one high bounce against the green wall. And Clemente went and got it and caught it on the bounce as it came off the wall and Menke (or whoever) headed to second and just kept going. A clear triple. And Clemente turned and rifled the ball over the head of the second baseman and into third where Pirate third sacker, young Bob Bailey was waiting.

I remember it well: the ball caught up with Menke about halfway between second and third and Menke looked at the ball as it passed him. I saw his head turn. Everyone saw his head turn. And Bailey just kind of spread his legs and leaned down and the ball took one bounce and Bailey applied the tag and flipped the ball to the ump. We were all on our feet with Braves fans (what there were of them) ready to cheer this fantastic triple and the air just came out of the stadium and everyone, just everyone, kind of looked at their shoes and shook their heads and went back to their popcorn. What was amazing about it really was that when Bailey applied the tag, Clemente was already halfway to the dugout — he was on the lip of the infield grass. And I remember thinking: well, I saw that.

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