Roberto Clemente: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

roberto clemente

Getty Roberto Clemente award statue

Roberto Clemente, the great Puerto Rican Hall of Fame baseball star, who is known for his community work as well as his athletic prowess, is honored with a Google Doodle that celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States.

The Google Doodle, created by guest artist Roxie Vizcarra, calls Roberto Clemente a “Latinx trailblazer, and passionate humanitarian.” The Google Doodle ran on October 12, 2018, which was the anniversary of a Pittsburgh Pirates victory led by Clemente.

“He played a kind of baseball that none of us had ever seen before… As if it were a form of punishment for everyone else on the field,” the baseball writer Roger Angell once said of Clemente. However, the baseball great left behind a legacy both on and off the field.

“Baseball survives,” columnist Jimmy Cannon once wrote, “because guys like Clemente still play it.” Clemente’s family told Google: “Our Dad was an incredible athlete, but more importantly, he continuously used his platform to better humanity.”

Here’s what you need to know:


1. Roberto Clemente Was Born to a Sugar Cane Worker & Laundress & His Athletic Talents Were Noticed at a Young Age

roberto clemente google doodle

Roberto Clemente Google Doodle

Clemente’s path to baseball legend started in Carolina, Puerto Rico, where he was born to a sugar cane worker on August 18, 1934, according to Google. His full name was Roberto Enrique Clemente Walker, and he spent his childhood in Barrio San Antón. Baseball had been popular in Puerto Rico since the 1800s.

His parents were Melchor Clemente and Luisa Walker de Clemente. His father oversaw sugar cane cutters and his mother was a laundress, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

By 16, he was already playing baseball with the Puerto Rican amateur league, Google says. Two years later, his professional career began in 1952, at age 18, when he signed with the Santurce Cangrejeros (Crabbers), a team in Puerto Rico’s Baseball League. His next step, Google recounted, was with the minor league affiliate in Montreal for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“His first at bat resulted in a game-winning home run on July 25, 1954,” the Google note with the Google Doodle says.

Clemente quickly became an “idol” in his native Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, he did face some discrimination in the United States when his baseball career took off. According to Brittanica, the media would try to call him by the anglicized “Bob,” but he would insist on being called Roberto, never giving up his pride in his heritage. He was once quoted as saying, “I don’t believe in color,” according to NBC News.


2. Roberto Clemente Broke Many Records During His Career & Could Throw ‘as Well as Any Man Who Ever Lived’

roberto clemente

Fans look over Roberto Clemente memorabilia during opening day of Fan Fest for the Major League Baseball 2006 All-Star game at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center July 7, 2006 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Clemente had many athletic talents, but his strong throwing arm was at the top of that list. He was also a great hitter. According to the Society for American Baseball Research, he played with “reckless but controlled abandon” that electrified fans.

Roberto Clemente spent his career with The Pittsburgh Pirates. The records and awards he won during his career include the following, according to Google: “12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards, 4 National League batting titles, 3,000 career hits, the 1966 National League MVP Award, 2 World Series rings, and the 1971 World Series MVP Award.”

On October 12, 1971, the same day as the Google Doodle ran in 2018, Clemente “led the Pittsburgh Pirates to victory against the Baltimore Orioles in Game 3 of the series, ultimately contributing to their Series title,” wrote Google.

According the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, Dodgers scout Clyde Sukeforth revealed: “Well, I said to myself, there’s a boy who can do two things as well as any man who ever lived. Nobody could throw any better than that, and nobody could run any better than that.”

He was the 11th player in baseball history to score 3,000 hits, according to the Hall of Fame.


3. Clemente Was a Humanitarian Who Wanted His Voice ‘To Be Heard’

Roberto Clemente’s legacy extends off the baseball field too. Google calls him “one of the most humanitarian athletes to play the game.”

Among things he was known for were “delivering food and supplies to those in need, holding baseball clinics for kids, or making generous donations,” and he showed a special interest in youth.

Clemente was married to wife Vera Cristina Zabala. His son, Roberto Clemente Jr., told NBC News of his dad: “He actually knew that he had gotten to a place that his voice was going to be heard; he was an activist. He was someone that cared for his fellow men, and being able to be heard was very important to him.”

Vera and Roberto Clemente had three sons together.


4. Roberto Clemente Died in a Plane Crash While on a Humanitarian Mission

Tragically, Clemente was only 38-years-old when he died in a plane crash. The date was Dec. 31, 1972, and he was trying to help people affected by an earthquake in Nicaragua.

According to Google, the plane crashed because it was overloaded with supplies.

Clemente was also a veteran; he served in the United States Marine Corps Reserve.


5. Roberto Clemente Is a Member of the Baseball Hall of Fame & His Family Recalls How He ‘Galvanized the Hearts of all Hispanics’

Clemente is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was the “first Latin American and Caribbean player to be so honored,” according to Google. His name is stamped on an award given to baseball players who help their communities too.

He is also a recipient of “Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Roberto Clemente Walker Congressional Gold Medal, and the Presidential Citizens Medal,” Google reports. The professional baseball league of Puerto Rico bears his name.

Clemente’s family – including Roberto Clemente Jr. and Luis Clemente – shared their thoughts on the release of the Google Doodle. Here is their statement:

47 years ago today, the Pittsburgh Pirates won game 3 of the 1971 World Series in which our Dad went 1 for 4 with an RBI in the Pirates 5-4 win against the Baltimore Orioles. He was named the MVP for that series, becoming the first Latino to ever do so.

At the conclusion of the Series, he asked to say something in Spanish to his parents and children in Puerto Rico. With this act, asking for his parents blessings in Spanish on live global broadcast, he galvanized the hearts of all Hispanics across the nation. Today, we are proud that our Dad’s legacy is stronger than ever with numerous namesakes like baseball leagues, parks, schools, awards, and statues around the world celebrating everything he represented and stood for, including standing up against injustice and the importance of humanitarianism. Our Dad was an incredible athlete, but more importantly, he continuously used his platform to better humanity.

To maintain and preserve our Dad’s legacy worldwide, our family started The Roberto Clemente Foundation years ago, a nonprofit organization incorporated in Puerto Rico. Specifically, our mission to develop tomorrow’s leaders through education, sports and service leadership to continue his vision as we build nations of good.

It is amazing to see a kid from Carolina, Puerto Rico be remembered with this Google Doodle in this age of technology and new platforms to communicate with people around the world. The best part however, is the human story of our Dad behind it, which we hope motivates us all to do something to help our brothers and sisters.

We feel very honored to be Roberto’s sons and extremely fortunate to be Vera’s sons as well. It is an honor to carry the name Clemente!

Correction: The date of Clemente’s death and age he started with the Crabbers were corrected in this story.