Skip to content

Remembering Roberto Clemente, 40 years later

Dec 31, 2012, 11:40 AM EDT

Clemente

Not a New Year’s Eve goes by where I don’t, for at least a few minutes, remember Roberto Clemente. For it was New Year’s Eve 1972 — 40 years ago today — when Clemente died a hero, trying to airlift relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

Clemente was truly heroic and brave, not because he was forced into some dire situation. He was heroic precisely because he didn’t have to face anything at all if he didn’t want to. He was a man of means and status and he could have ushered in 1973 in comfortable circumstances in his native Puerto Rico, writing checks to a relief fund to help those earthquake victims.  He could have organized a benefit.  But he didn’t. He sent on relief supplies himself, and when he realized that some of supplies he was sending to Managua were being pilfered by crooked officials, Clemente got on board the next flight himself to ensure that they got to those who needed them the most.  It was the last decision he’d ever make.

The plane took off a little after 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve with five on board. The plane — overloaded and in poor mechanical condition to begin with — encountered problems almost immediately.  The pilot tried to return to the airport but it was too late. It crashed into the Atlantic Ocean about a mile from the coast, killing all aboard. Clemente’s body was never recovered.

As you prepare to welcome the new year, take a few moments to learn more about Roberto Clemente. Not just the circumstances of his death and the broad arc of his career, each of which are well known. Learn about the weird stuff. The not-so-great stuff. The funny stuff. Clemente may have the earned status of a hero, but he was really interesting — sometimes even kinda annoying — beyond that. We have this understandable tendency to turn heroes into saints, but knowing all of the little and random things about Clemente makes him far more human than we typically think of him, and that in turn makes his heroism seem all the greater. Greater precisely because it wasn’t his duty to do what he did. It was his choice.

(Note: some of these thoughts and words first appeared in a post three years ago. I kinda liked how I said it then, so I’m plagiarizing myself a bit).

Latest Posts
  1. Kirk Gibson, Kevin Towers given votes of confidence

    Apr 16, 2014, 11:32 PM EDT

    diamondbacks logo

    The Diamondbacks lost another game to the Mets on Wednesday afternoon and are now 4-14 on the season with by far the worst run differential (-48) in the major leagues. But the manager and GM are not on the hot seat … yet.

  2. Giants release Dontrelle Willis from AAA Fresno

    Apr 16, 2014, 10:25 PM EDT

    dontrelle willis getty Getty Images

    Dontrelle Willis signed a minor league contract with the Giants in January and was officially added to the roster at Triple-A Fresno on April 12. But the veteran left-hander didn’t even last a week there.

  3. VIDEO: George Springer’s first major league hit

    Apr 16, 2014, 9:39 PM EDT

    george springer getty Getty Images

    Astros outfield prospect George Springer grounded out sharply to shortstop in his first major league at-bat on Wednesday night. In his second trip to the plate, he made it to first base …

  4. Kole Calhoun out 4-6 weeks with ligament sprain in ankle

    Apr 16, 2014, 8:54 PM EDT

    kole calhoun getty Getty Images

    Josh Hamilton is likely to be sidelined through most of May with a complete tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb and now beat writer Jeff Fletcher at the Orange County Register reports that Kole Calhoun will miss the next 4-6 weeks with what Angels manager Mike Scioscia called a “bad ligament sprain” in his right ankle.

  5. Taijuan Walker diagnosed with shoulder impingement

    Apr 16, 2014, 8:01 PM EDT

    taijuan walker mariners getty Getty Images

    Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker had to be scratched from what was supposed to be his final minor league rehab start Tuesday at Triple-A Tacoma and he headed to Seattle on Wednesday for tests. The MRI results are in.

  6. Craig Kimbrel throws, says his shoulder feels “great”

    Apr 16, 2014, 7:13 PM EDT

    craig kimbrel getty Getty Images

    Braves closer Craig Kimbrel was unavailable to pitch on Monday because of soreness in his right shoulder. But it’s apparently only a minor issue and he expects to be fine going forward.

  7. Bryce Harper scratched Wednesday with quad tightness

    Apr 16, 2014, 6:35 PM EDT

    harper getty Getty Images

    From James Wagner of the Washington Post comes word that Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has been scratched from the club’s starting lineup on Wednesday night against the Marlins because of tightness in his left quadriceps muscle.

  8. Dustin Pedroia returns to Red Sox starting lineup

    Apr 16, 2014, 6:11 PM EDT

    pedroia getty Getty Images

    Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia is back in the starting lineup for Wednesday’s game against the White Sox after getting a cortisone shot Monday for the inflammation in his left wrist.

  9. George Springer to hit second in his major league debut

    Apr 16, 2014, 5:04 PM EDT

    George Springer Getty Images

    The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

  10. Joe Kelly leaves start with hamstring injury

    Apr 16, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT

    Joe Kelly Getty Getty Images

    Cardinals right-hander Joe Kelly left today’s start against the Brewers after tweaking his hamstring trying to beat out an infield single in the sixth inning.

  11. Masahiro Tanaka dominates the Cubs

    Apr 16, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT

    Masahiro Tanaka AP

    That’s 28 strikeouts in his first three big league starts.

  12. Johnny Cueto dominates the Pirates

    Apr 16, 2014, 3:34 PM EDT

    Johnny Cueto AP

    Cueto set a career high for strikeouts as he tossed his third career shutout

  13. Jose Tabata leaves game with concussion-like symptoms

    Apr 16, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT

    Florida Marlins v Pittsburgh Pirates Getty Images

    Pirates outfielder Jose Tabata just made a great catch to rob Brayan Pena of an extra-base hit, but unfortunately he slammed into an unpadded portion of the wall in Cincinnati and had to leave the game.

  14. Teams have less money to spend on international signings than ever

    Apr 16, 2014, 2:33 PM EDT

    stack of money

    You can spend all you want on a 30 year-old free agent, but be careful how much you spend on an 16-year-old prospect.

  15. HBT Daily: Darvish vs. Hernandez — a great rivalry enters year three

    Apr 16, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    HBT Daily Logo

    The two most dominant pitchers in the AL face off tonight. Given their ages, their contract status and their presence in the same division, expect this to grow into a wonderful rivalry over the coming years.

  16. The Dodgers have four outfielders. A fifth is raking at Triple-A

    Apr 16, 2014, 1:33 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 1.28.46 PM Getty Images

    The Dodgers have an embarrassment of outfield riches.

  17. Photo of the Day: Brian Wilson being Brian Wilson

    Apr 16, 2014, 12:38 PM EDT

    Camera

    I don’t know the real Brian Wilson, but even if this isn’t it, remember: we are what we pretend to be.

  18. Mariners set to call up Nick Franklin from Triple-A

    Apr 16, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT

    Nick Franklin Getty Getty Images

    Nick Franklin lost his job to Robinson Cano, but now he’s headed back to Seattle.

  19. There is still a racial divide in baseball

    Apr 16, 2014, 11:32 AM EDT

    jose reyes getty Getty Images

    Kicked off by an anecdote you probably won’t believe.

Featured video

Jackie Robinson Day is bittersweet
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. T. Wood (5057)
  2. S. Kazmir (4732)
  3. J. Kubel (4582)
  4. K. Uehara (3981)
  5. I. Nova (3942)
  1. T. Walker (2936)
  2. G. Springer (2921)
  3. M. Moore (2910)
  4. Z. Britton (2796)
  5. J. Chavez (2790)