Roberto Clemente: A Lost Legend
This was written by an SJ Member, Trey, who we connected with the inspiration behind the movie..Chasing 3000..I know there are a lot of Pirate fans here so enjoy it.
Written by Trey Hill
If you're a big fan of baseball, you know his name. But when people talk about the all-time greats, he seems to get passed over. Gehrig. Ruth. Mays. Aaron. Mantle. Williams. Clemente? If you just raised your eyebrows don't worry, you aren't alone. But when you talk to the people who got to watch him play, watch their eyes light up when you ask about Clemente. The first thing mentioned is obviously the plane crash, but I was very surprised that more often then not, the second thing mentioned was his arm from the outfield. Then, I started doing some research and while I knew of Clemente, I had no idea that he truly is a lost legend.
In an era that sees Clemente overlooked because he was in the same time frame as Mantle, Mays, and Aaron, Clemente was right up with them. After joining the Pirates in 1955 he was an instant success in the field, becoming arguably the best corner outfielder of his era. To help prove that claim that seems to be held by most of the people who got to watch Clemente play, I went to baseball-reference.com to look up some numbers. From 1957 to 1972 he finished ranked first in defensive wins-above-replacement (WAR) four times while finishing second five times.
His career really took a turn for the better after the 1960 season when Clemente finished 8th in the most valuable player voting. Offended at the results, Clemente and Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach George Sisler started working on making Clemente more patient at the plate. They also wanted to have Clemente start getting better contact on the pitches he did swing at so to help with that, Clemente started using a massive bat to slow down the swing but to make much better contact.
The results were obvious from the beginning when Clemente's average jumped from .314 to a league-leading .351, giving him his first of four batting titles in his career. Thanks to his off-season work, the payoff took Clemente from a very good player to an all-time great. But even after so many great years, Clemente felt that he was still being under-appreciated and going into the 1971 World Series made it a point to show the national media that even at 37 years old, he was still one of the best players in baseball. He proved just that as he looked like a men among boys, playing excellent defense and beating up on the Oriole pitchers.
Clemente got to play one of more year before the plane crash tragically took his life. After finding out supplies he was sending to help earthquake victims were being diverted by corrupted Somoza officials, Clemente decided to fly with the supplies in hopes of them getting to the people in need. It wasn't meant to be though, as Clemente and everyone else on the flight were killed on the last day of 1972.
Like I said earlier, Roberto Clemente seems to be a guy that baseball fans know but might not appreciate as much as they should. And before I signed up for this story, I would certainly fall into that category. But the reason for everything above was written from facts that can be found on the internet. I was given the opportunity to interview Bill Mikita, the writer for the movie Chasing 3000. The movie is based on the true story of him and his brother Steve traveling to see Clemente get his 3,000th major league hit.
At first I was just going to exchange e-mails with Bill but we decided that it would be easier to just catch each other on the phone. Sometimes when things don't work out the way you planned it turns out to be a blessing in disguise and this was certainly one of those times. Just from hearing the way Bill gushed over his feelings for Clemente it instantly gave him credibility.
One of the first things I wanted to bring up was for him to compare what it was like as Clemente neared his 3000th hit and I asked him to compare it to how Jeter was chasing that same milestone. I obviously knew that it wasn't going to be quite as big a deal considering the whirlwind of media coverage we have today combined with the fact that Jeter plays for the New York Yankees, but I was shocked to find out that whenever Clemente did get his 3000th hit, it wasn't even a sellout crowd. But don't let the fact that stadium wasn't packed fool you, Clemente was idolized by nearly every baseball fan under the age of 25 growing up in the Pittsburgh area.
My two favorite quotes from Bill Mikita both spoke to not just Roberto's talents on the baseball field but also to his humility off of it. “He was worthy”, Mikita said followed by “his greatness as a player came from his greatness as a person.” As an example of Clemente's high character, after he won his first World Series in 1960 he dressed quickly and proceeded to go walk the streets of Pittsburgh, celebrating with the fans.
Our conversation eventually turned to his movie that was released last year, Chasing 3000. As I said before, it's the story of him and his brother traveling to see Clemente get his 3000th hit but from every review I've come across, it's about much more then just Clemente. The story focuses a lot on Bill's brother's medical condition and how it gets progressively worse as he goes without medical treatment as the travel from California to Pittsburgh. “It's more a coming of age movie with a baseball theme”, said Mikita and the people who have seen it tend to agree.
If you want to check out the movie it isn't hard to find. You can stream it on Netflix as well as order it from both Amazon and Walmart. And before I let you guys leave, here's a quote from Roberto's teammate Manny Sanguillen. “Roberto Clemente played the game of baseball with great passion. That passion could only be matched by his unrelenting commitment to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate and those in need. People saw Roberto as a great ballplayer and humanitarian. He was also a great father, husband, teammate and friend."