The legacy of Roberto Clemente lives on throughout MLB

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Roberto Clemente’s death. On December 31, 1972, Clemente tragically passed from a plane crash off the island of Puerto Rico. Clemente was traveling to Nicaragua to deliver recovery supplies and aid to those affected by the Managua, Nicaragua, earthquake that had a magnitude of 6.5.

Roberto Clemente played his entire entire career with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and was a two-time World Series champion, 1971 World Series MVP, 1966 National League MVP, 15-time All Star, 12-time Gold Glover, and a four-time NL batting champion. He is one of 33 players to have 3,000 hits in his Major League Baseball career. He is the first Latino player to win a Most Valuable Player award, a World Series, a World Series MVP award, and be enshrined into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. You can say Roberto Clemente was a superstar on the field, but when he was off the field, he was a hero.

Roberto Clemente was always known for his philanthropy work and kindness to all, on and off the MLB diamond

He would spend time in the offseason giving back to others. When he had heard about the Nicaragua earthquake, he wanted to find a way to assist and help the country. According to History.com, Clemente “worked 14-hour days, including Christmas Eve and Christmas, circling the island to stage local relief drives and conduct baseball clinics.” With all the help he received from the country of Puerto Rico, he was able to collect food, clothing, toiletries, miscellaneous items, and raised more than $150,000. Sadly, he passed away on the trip to Nicaragua. Clemente wanted to hand deliver the supplies to all the people that were affected by the devastating earthquake.

When players talk about Roberto Clemente, they don’t necessarily focus on the accomplishments he achieved on the field, but the importance on ways to give back to the community.

According to this article from Mandy Bell, Francisco Lindor, a native Puerto Rican, had mention what Roberto Clemente meant to him and he stated: “The way he played the game was kind of how my dad wanted to play the game…Being aggressive, having fun, and then after you do all that, you go out there and help others and you become a great person off the field.”

Another Puerto Rican native and former Minnesota Twin, Carlos Correa had talked about playing on Roberto Clemente day (September 15) and what it meant to him: “Everything he did on and off the field, truly an example for everyone to follow and a fellow Puerto Rican. It’s a very special day for me.”

Since 2002, MLB has honored September 15 as “Roberto Clemente Day,” honoring the Hall of Famer’s legacy as a baseball player and as a philanthropist.

In 2021, MLB expanded the use of the number “21” to MLB players that were Puerto Rican descent. The NFL has the Walter Payton Award where past winners wear a patch on their jersey. This past year in 2022, MLB presented former Roberto Clemente Award winners with a “21” patch on the back of their hats to recognize the community work they have done throughout their careers.

To recognize Roberto Clemente’s legacy and service he provided to the community, MLB renamed the “Commissioner’s Award” to the “Roberto Clemente Award” in 1973. One player is nominated from each MLB team, later, honoring one MLB player from the whole league that performs at the highest level on the field as well as providing and giving back to the communities they continue to work with. Last year’s winner was former Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner.

It’s unfortunate we couldn’t see Clemente get enshrined into the Hall of fame while he was living or hear his Hall of Fame speech, watch the Pittsburgh Pirates induct him into the Pirates Hall of Fame, or continue to see the amazing community work he does off the field. However, the legacy of Roberto Clemente will live on undoubtedly forever and hopefully in the near future Major League Baseball will allow all players from each MLB team to wear number “21.”