Remembering Roberto Clemente's Immortal Legacy as MLB Honors Him

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistSeptember 17, 2013

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

September 17th marks Roberto Clemente Day around the MLB, as the league honors the legacy of one of the all-time greats.

He made his impact felt on and off the field during his 18-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, before his life came to a tragic end in a plane crash at the age of 38.

Clemente was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers prior to the 1952 season out of Puerto Rico, but he never took the field for the Dodgers big league club before being selected by the Pirates in the 1954 Rule 5 draft.

He immediately took over as the Pirates everyday right fielder as a 20-year-old in 1955, hitting .255/.284/.382 and flashing plenty of future star potential.

The first five seasons of his career saw him make slow progress towards being the superstar he would one day be, as he hit a combined .282/.311/.395 and batted over .300 just once. Things took off in 1960 though, and he would quickly join the ranks of the game's elite.

He hit .314/.357/.458 that season with 16 home runs and 94 RBI to finish eighth in NL MVP voting. He also made his first of what would be 12 All-Star appearances that season, and helped the Pirates to a World Series title.

From then until the end of his career, he was perhaps the best pure hitter in all of baseball, winning four batting titles and topping the 200 hits mark four times. He finished in the top 10 in the batting title race every year from 1960-1971, on his way to exactly 3,000 career hits and a .317 career batting average.

He was more than just a one-dimensional offensive player though, as he ranks as perhaps the best defensive right fielder to ever play the game 

With a cannon arm and fantastic range, he took home 12 Gold Glove awards and posted a 204.0 UZR for his career. His 254 outfield assists from right field rank as the most all-time, which is good for 16 more than anyone else.

He would take home 1966 NL MVP honors, and lead the Pirates to another World Series title in 1971 when he went 12-for-29 with two home runs to claim WS MVP. That capped off his Hall of Fame resume, and solidified his place as one of the best of all-time on the field.

It was his work off the field that would complete his legacy though and make a true legend.

Clemente did a good deal of charity work in the offseason throughout his career and when Managua, Nicaragua was hit with an earthquake on December 23, 1972 he set to work organizing relief efforts.

When he found out that the first three waves of relief supplies never reached their intended destination, he decided to come along with to help make sure they made it all the way to Managua. The plane was overloaded and wound up crashing into the ocean off the coast of Puerto Rico shortly after take off.

The Hall of Fame held a special election prior to the 1973 season for Clemente and he was inducted that summer after receiving 92 percent of the vote. His No. 21 was also retired by the Pirates in 1973 and MLB named the award for off-field work which had previously been known as the Commissioner's Award the Roberto Clemente Award.

In 1973, he posthumously was given the Presidential Citizen Medal by President Richard Nixon, and in 2003, he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush, the highest civilian award.

All of the honors and praise bestowed on Clemente during his career and after his untimely death are more than deserved, as he goes down not only as one of the greatest players of all-time but a truly great human being.