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The mystery of Roberto Clemente’s bat

Dec 14, 2012, 3:59 PM EDT


Everyone could use a distraction today. This is a great one.

It’s a long story by Kevin Guilfoile for ESPN The Magazine. Guilfoile’s father was the media relations director for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the early 70s and then, later, vice president of the Hall of Fame. When Roberto Clemente notched his 3000th hit, the bat went to the Hall of Fame where Guilfoile’s father passed by it every day.

Or did he?

I’ll say no more about this except that it’s a wonderful read and it’s about way more than just Roberto Clemente’s bat.

  1. Francisco (FC) - Dec 14, 2012 at 5:03 PM

    This story is awesome! Though if Kevin really really really wants to find out if that’s the real bat or not, he could weigh it. I think he figured out that Roberto used a 38 ounce Louisville Slugger, not the 36 one he struck out with. But I guess he already found out what was important (And even if it was a 38, it didn’t mean Roberto didn’t just go and grab any 38 ounce bat he had available).

  2. Reflex - Dec 14, 2012 at 5:42 PM

    How he describes alzheimer’s is informative, my father is in the early stages now and time is starting to become all jumbled and the stories he tells are increasingly impossible. The things that he says about me are often wrong or mixed up, and it is difficult to explain to others that he is off when I can’t say it in front of him, and he presents himself as perfectly together and can maintain that for long enough to make an impression.

    Its been challenging.

    • seahawks19081 - Dec 14, 2012 at 8:36 PM

      @Reflex. Hang in there with your Dad. A word of advice from someone who lived through seeing a loved one die from Alzheimer’s, if he does something funny, laugh at it. When he does not remember you, don’t take it personal. Enjoy the time you have with him and cherish every moment you have together. And remember to laugh.

      • auggie1955 - Dec 16, 2012 at 1:23 AM

        My Mom is in later stages of Alzheimers. When I visited her today I was wearing a bright red winter coat. When I asked her if she knew who I was she replied, “Santa Claus”.

  3. cur68 - Dec 14, 2012 at 6:53 PM

    I feel there are certain conclusions one can make about that bat and that story.

    1) That world the is short of Roberto Clemente and still has Bonds is a testament to the occasional randomness and awfulness of life.

    2) Roberto Clemente was quite possibly the nicest man that ever put on a baseball uniform. Barry Bonds, while not the worst person in the world, certainly has stature as among the least nice to ever wear an MLB uniform.

    3) Alzheimer’s may have diminished Bill Guilfoile’s ability to remain in the present and string his memories in an orderly manner, but it has not robbed him of remembering his friend. I think that’s really rather lovely.

    4) The bat in the HOF . . . I don’t care if it is THE bat, I guess. It was Clemente’s. He gave it to his friend. That’s good enough.

    • Roger Moore - Dec 14, 2012 at 10:26 PM

      Bonds may be a selfish jerk and a drug cheat, but he’s far from being among the least nice people ever to play the game. Read about Ty Cobb and Claude Lueker sometime, and realize that Cobb’s teammates defended what he did. There’s a difference between refusing to sign autographs unless pressured and going into the stands to beat up a guy with no hands.

      • cur68 - Dec 14, 2012 at 10:42 PM

        I said “least nice” not reprehensible criminal assholes. I think we agree in any case. It is with great satisfaction that I can say with confidence that Cobb & Lueker wouldn’t last 10 minutes in public life these days. Their own teammates would have beaten them senseless. Bonds, while a jerk, still could get along in MLB these days. He’d still be an ass though.

        I loved that story about Clemente. The film of him with that guy’s kids . . .
        The more I learn about Clemente the more impressed I am. He wasn’t like some people who go through life getting all they can and hanging on to it as hard as they can. Just a kind and decent person who probably cared way too much for his own good. There’s certainly some evidence to support that last. Its inexplicable to me that someone like that died so young while the odious carry on, living well. Anyhow, I’m happy to know more about Clemente. Cobb, Lueker & Bonds can go to hell.

      • paperlions - Dec 15, 2012 at 11:38 AM

        Bonds is also so obviously a racist asshole that I’m sure he’d ban white people from playing baseball if he had the chance. He’s among the worst people to play baseball….but it isn’t like that would be a short list.

  4. IdahoMariner - Dec 14, 2012 at 6:54 PM

    that took FOREVER to read, and it was worth every second. that was exactly what i needed after too much sorrow this morning. still sad, still about loss, but also about so many good things. thanks for pointing us to this great, great story.

    • icewalker946 - Dec 14, 2012 at 8:21 PM

      I totally agree. I think I’ll go cry now….it’s been a long day.

    • louhudson23 - Dec 15, 2012 at 5:49 AM

      It is indeed a great story,and while I have no desire to be contentious,your “forever” comment is one that strikes a chord with me. This was certainly not a tweet,and definitely falls into the category of long form. But it was still a short story and one that actually crosses over from straight numbers/facts that so many today seem to require while dismissing anything that exposes anything more than the top layer of a topic. Most things in this world are more than information and data. Thought and reason,emotion and reaction are the essence of humanity. Our blurb/tweet world is a world of simplistic,reactionary dialogue. We must require more of our leaders,our writers and ourselves. Clemente did.We must require,thought,reason and emotion.Require engagement of ourselves and the world around us.Our existence relies upon and is defined by the actions of our fellow man. Clemente saw himself as an empowered individual whose only worth lay in his ability to impact others and actively participate in the world around him. He was the antithesis of our headphones on,nose in a screen,closed door and closed mind consumer society. Please let us all look around and see ourselves as a part of,and not apart from. Seek understanding.Dismiss the easy and quick answer. See ourselves as part of the whole. Make time to take time.

  5. curtiss77 - Dec 14, 2012 at 7:11 PM

    Roberto Clemente – they broke the mold when he came along, my dad used to say, this cannot be said for Barry Bonds – for whatever reason he was unbearable long before he entered the major leagues – when he was at Serra High in San Mateo, and also when he was at college at Arizona State his reputation was not a pleasant one to say the least

  6. surly1n1nd1anapol1s - Dec 14, 2012 at 9:08 PM

    Where you been? This story has been out for six months at least? And you credit ESPN? Buy the book on Field Notes website and give them credit for publishing. That you credit a four letter network is poor.

    • paperlions - Dec 15, 2012 at 11:41 AM

      Get over yourself, the author is using the 4-letter network to publicize his own work and this link is to the OTL version of the story from the book complete with interviews with the author.

  7. jessethegreat - Dec 14, 2012 at 10:25 PM

    Loved every minute of this read, Craig. Thanks for sharing!

  8. historiophiliac - Dec 15, 2012 at 12:30 AM

    “His own identity has become a puzzle he can’t solve.” Yes, understanding who we are is to have memory, and this is why I practice history.

    • paperlions - Dec 15, 2012 at 11:42 AM

      I agree that memory is required for people to understand who they are…but I know plenty of people that have fine memory and that are still clueless about who they are.

      • historiophiliac - Dec 15, 2012 at 6:30 PM

        I feel that way about Americans all the time, paper. A willingness to be critical is also necessary.

      • paperlions - Dec 15, 2012 at 6:39 PM

        Indeed….and a willingness to cast that critical aspect inward upon occasion.

      • historiophiliac - Dec 15, 2012 at 6:51 PM

        Agreed…but, of course, Nietzsche would say forgetting is sometimes necessary as well. He and I have agreed to disagree on that.

      • paperlions - Dec 15, 2012 at 7:01 PM

        Forgetting can also be another word for gaining perspective over time.

      • historiophiliac - Dec 16, 2012 at 11:35 AM

        Today is such that I am in favor of ignorance, paper.

  9. richyballgame - Dec 15, 2012 at 9:21 AM

    Thank you Craig,this was a great read and it was worth every single second I spent learning about one of Baseball’s true greats,Roberto Clemente.

  10. jets12 - Dec 15, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    Great story about great men in a time when baseball was still a great game.

  11. vitoluca1 - Dec 15, 2012 at 11:59 AM

    As someone from Puerto Rico I always felt that Roberto was ours .Yet the more I learn about this great man his legacy was that humanity knows no boundaries.When I visited Pittsburg the love this city has for him is heartfelt.I cannot imagine any modern day sports hero who compares to Mr Clemente .When I visit PR and I wear his number someone always makes sure to let me know how much he is loved.

  12. offseasonblues - Dec 15, 2012 at 6:26 PM

    Craig – thanks so much for posting this. I can remember searching the newspapers for months hoping for news that Clemente had been found. Ballplayers can make big impressions based on a few words in the media, or a chance encounter with a fan. Clemente set a very high standard with his combination of talent and good works, but it should be noted that the mold wasn’t entirely broken. David Ortiz, and many others have been deserving recipients of the Roberto Clemente award.

    What a wonderful legacy Clemente and those honored in his name have in contrast to the other guy mentioned in the story.

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