Yesterday morning I intended to analyze the performance of the Blue Jays, who have been booming for a dozen games. But it was the Tampa Bay Rays players who changed my mind. why? Because of Roberto Clemente.
The city of Montreal has played an important role in the history of major league baseball. In 1946, the Montreal Royals fielded the first African-American player in professional baseball, Jackie Robinson.
Eight years later, in 1954, there was a young Latino player, a native of Puerto Rico, wearing the colors of the Royals, Roberto Clemente. His manager Max Macon was instructed by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi to use him as little as possible because the Dodgers did not want to lose him in the winter draft.
A critical error
Branch Rickey, who signed Jackie Robinson to the Royals, became general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He knew Robert Clement well when he managed the Dodgers. In the 1954 amateur baseball draft, the first pick belonged to the Pirates. It wasn’t difficult for Rickey, he chose Roberto Clemente.
I was young when I saw Clement in action with the Royals. However, in 1969, during one of the Pirates’ first visits to Jarry Park, I told him I was among the young children who went to see him at the De Lorimier Stadium. He became great friends with Expos organist Fernando Lapierre, who always played his favorite tunes when he came to bat.
Roberto Clemente spent his entire major league baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, 18 seasons. He was part of two World Series winning teams, was named the National League Most Valuable Player in 1966, had four at-bats, 12 consecutive defensive Gold Gloves and 13 All-Star appearances. Roberto was the first player from the Caribbean and Latin America to win a World Series as a player in 1960, won the league’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1966 and the World Series in 1971. In his final career game in 1972 at the age of 37 had his final career hit, his 3,000th.
sad day in my life
December 31, 1972, I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting with my father in the family living room in Anjou when the news broke that Roberto had disappeared in a plane crash at sea at the age of 38 while on his way to Nicaragua to help earthquake victims. Neither the plane nor his body were ever found. One of my childhood idols, Clemente, like Jean Béliveau, encouraged me to get involved in community work.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame a few months after his death. Today, Major League Baseball presents the Roberto Clemente Award to the player who “best exemplifies the sport of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and individual contribution to his team.”
For the second year in a row, Bo Bichette is the Blue Jays’ nominee for this prestigious award. The shortstop is working hard to help the homeless shelter in St. Petersburg, Florida. It also sponsors baseball camps by picking up the tab for equipment costs.
The late and renowned journalist Montreal Journal Guy Émond often used the term “unwittingly”. On Thursday afternoon against the Jays, Rays manager Kevin Cash pulled off a major league feat, as he aptly described it, “without knowing it.”
It was the first time nine Latino hitters had been named to the starting lineup, and on this occasion they all wore Roberto’s number 21, as it was Roberto Clemente Day in major league baseball.
However, the Rays manager unknowingly allowed the city of Montreal to make baseball history once again, because we mustn’t forget that forever when this historic day is mentioned, there will be a reference to Clement playing at De Lorimier Stadium.