Baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente became the first Latin American player to collect 3,000 career hits before his death in a plane crash. He was also the first Latin American inducted into the Hall of Fame and had endured serious racial tension upon joining the majors in 1955. He was the first Hispanic player to win an MVP and a World Series MVP, but it wasn’t about race for Clemente, as he was quoted as having said: “I don’t believe in color, I believe in people.”
Baseball player Roberto Clemente was born on August 18, 1934, in Carolina, Puerto Rico. The son of a sugarcane worker, Roberto Clemente began his professional baseball career just after finishing high school. At the age of 17 he was playing for the Santurce Crabbers of the Puerto Rican Baseball League. The Dodgers signed him the following year, and by 1954 he was playing for their Triple-A team in Montreal. The next year he went to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates and made his major league debut in 1955.
Clemente hit an impressive .311 in 1956, but he struggled with injuries and the language barrier early in his career. He hit his stride in 1960, batting .314 with 16 home runs and 94 RBIs to earn his first All-Star berth and help the Pirates win the World Series. The following year, he led the National League with a .351 average, slugged 23 homers and won his first of 12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards for fielding excellence.
As the decade progressed, Clemente established himself as one of the top all-around players in baseball. He won three more batting titles, and twice led the league in hits. Furthermore, he boasted one of the most fearsome arms ever witnessed in the sport, consistently unleashing powerful throws from his post in right field. He enjoyed perhaps his finest season in 1966, batting .317 with a career-best 29 homers and 119 RBIs to win the NL Most Valuable Player Award. In 1971, the 37-year-old Clemente led the Pirates back to the World Series, where Clemente hit .414 to power Pittsburgh to another world title en route to the Series’ Most Valuable Player Award.
Off the field, Clemente was described as a quiet gentleman. He was proud of his Puerto Rican heritage and stood up for minority rights. Clemente married Vera Zabala in 1963, and they had three sons. Renowned for his humanitarian work, he died in a plane crash on December 31, 1972, en route to bringing much needed supplies to survivors of an earthquake in Nicaragua. The next year he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He became the first Latino inducted into the Hall.