Roberto Clemente: How Do Modern Superstars Compare?

Josh NiemtzowCorrespondent IFebruary 13, 2008

"Listen, Robby, don’t let the pitchers here show you up.  Get mean when you go to bat.  If they try to knock you down, act like it doesn't bother you.  Get up and hit the ball.  Show 'em."

With these few words Giants premier outfielder Willie Mays guided longtime friend Roberto Clemente's baseball career.

Each day of the baseball season we sit on the couch, waiting for the big game to go down.  We watch as our supposed heroes and role models—Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds—are accused of using performance enhancing drugs. 

We begin to wonder, where have all the classy players gone?

So what really makes a role model?  The number of home runs he hits?  The ability to call his own shots?  Definitely not. 

Rather, it’s the rags to riches story that most inspires, how a small town boy lived his dream and became successful doing something that no one believed he could do.

The fact is there just aren't many classy players in the game anymore; well, none like Hall of Fame right fielder Roberto Clemente.  His is perhaps the most amazing story of all.

Clemente was born and raised in Puerto Rico, living on his father’s $4 a week.  He played on rugged fields with coffee sacks for bases and tin cans for balls, just waiting for the Brooklyn Dodgers scout to come by his softball practice.

Completely unlike the whining, moaning Alex Rodriguez, when Clemente got his chance to play he never took it for granted.  He was just happy to be playing, even with a losing team.  He never once asked to be traded to the World-Yankees or the Champion Orioles.

It seems the whiners and the complainers can be found in every sport these days.  Just today superstar point guard Jason Kidd was traded to the Dallas Mavericks because he just needed to get onto a playoff team.  And even Kobe Bryant asked to be traded. 

Bill Parcells once said, "You are what your record says you are."  Players like Alex Rodriguez can never be as good as players like Babe Ruth.  Likewise, Barry Bonds has played in very few playoff runs.

Roberto Clemente waited a long time for the moment of truth.  And each time he missed the MVP, how did he react?  Well, he decided he’d just have to play better the next year.

He was the whole package, a five-skill player who could hit for average, possessing power, run, field, and throw.  If Clemente had not died in 1972, he would have stolen many more bases, still able to run as he aged. 

Bonds, on the other hand, used steroids and immediately suffered the physical effects.  His body doesn’t function like it used to, drastically affecting his fielding and running.  Once a 40-40 player, Bonds must jog his way to first base.

I’m quite sure Clemente would have been shocked to know that a player could gain his status, perhaps even exceed his performance, by using a pill.

Besides hitting .317 and earning numerous batting titles, 12 Gold Gloves, 12 All-Star nods, and one MVP, what sets Clemente apart from the rest is his view on life. 

This player was also an active reformer of the world.  He traveled to Puerto Rico and many other Spanish countries, donating his money and time.  Clemente believed that you should not hire somebody else to do your work because it only means something if you do it yourself.

He tried to make a difference all throughout his life, and made time to help those close to him.

Roberto Clemente, number 21, will always be the ultimate role model and he deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest players in MLB history, not just as one of the most generous, family-oriented people who ever lived.

I’ll leave you with a few words from Clemente himself:

“Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don't, then you are wasting your time on Earth.”