Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Roberto Clemente: The Enduring Spirit

I had written the article below in early October 2007–my father passed away 2-3 months later, i.e. within 24 hours of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the tragic death of Roberto Clemente. This week, in commemoration of both of their deaths, I am reprinting the essay below on Roberto Clemente, one of my father’s heroes.–KAS

Roberto Clemente: The Enduring Spirit

By Kevin Anthony Stoda

Roberto Clemente was known as humanitarian who died serving others. He has also been seen as a great athlete, teacher and philanthropist. He was from Puerto Rico but his memory is linked with the of modern U.S. history dealing with integration and hispanic history. His memory should be linked to nicaragua where fundraisers are needed today to help the victims of Hurrican Felix.

ROBERTO CLEMENTE: The Enduring Spirit

By Kevin Stoda

The very last evening this past September, ESPN ran a program entitled THE ENDOURING SPIRIT OF ROBERTO CLEMENTE. That evening program on September 30th commemorated many things about the humanitarian–including the 35th anniversary of the 3000th hit of the Puerto Rican Superstar made by world citizen, Roberto Walker Clemente.

I have several personal memories of Roberto Clemente’s life and death because of the fact my father was a life-long Pittsburgh Pirate fan and I had come to love the elegant playing and hitting of Bobby Clemente during the late sixties and seventies. I’ll share some of those memories below. In the meantime, I want to state that I’m still waiting on Spike Lee or Oliver Stone (or another high caliber director) to do a film on this humanitarian Latin American baseball player and elegant leader of the campaign to integrate baseball with blacks and Latinos in the 1950s and 1960s.

For years the outspoken Latin player failed to get along with much of the American press because he called a spade a spade. He spoke up when he felt racism was at play in how he or any other player was treated—such as in the 1960 MVP campaign where he was voted number eight and behind three other teammates in the year the Pirates took the World Series from the New York Yankees.

Clemente also told the press that he was playing hurt and would go out and get three or four hits or throw out a runner at third base. This led to incredulity by the journalists who in those days expected baseball heroes to be as tough as nails, i.e. to play when they are hurt and to shut up about it. (Having suffered from back and neck pain since I myself was 25 years, I can really empathize with Clemente on the unfair show-us-the-pain type of macho baseball reporting undertaken in the pre-designated hitter era of major league baseball.)

The Pittsburgh Pirate fans in that hard-working blue collar town on the Three Rivers, though, starting in the 1950s warmed to this young Puerto Rican immediately due to Clemente’s great hustle. Clemente played hurt a great part of his career suffering consistently from back pains following a road accident early in his career. Nonetheless, in one fine 24 hour period in late August 1970, Roberto Clemente had 10 hits in two games—he only played the second game, it was reported, because his teammate Willie Stargell was out injured for the week and Clemente’s bat was needed in the line-up.

Coming from a large and impoverished family, Roberto Clemente was not only a natural athlete but a man willing to speak out against racism and on behalf of younger Latino ballplayers. [He would have been in the 1952 as a triple jumper, but he had turned professional athlete by that date.] The ESPN program interviews of Latino player after Latino player who were counseled by the elder Clemente as they got settled in the major leagues were many on ESPN that night. Some of these players Clemente helped were those who he had lent his own car to in order to learn to drive or whom he had taken out to a tailor and had had good clothes made for.

Clemente saw himself as a teacher to his Latino brothers and some 200 Puerto Rican players have been active in the major leagues since Clemente first put on a Pirate uniform.


The Roberto Clemente Sports City in Puerto Rico, which was a center created through the inspiration and leadership of Roberto Clemente, has spawned many past and present day major league stars, including Carlos Beltran and Ivan Rodriguez. The sports complex focuses on providing a place for youth throughout the island to not only learn the art of baseball at various camps held there, but aids swimmers and participants in many different individual and team events to train. Youth learn teamwork, discipline and how to meet lifelong goals. On ESPN several lawyers and other professionals throughout Puerto Rico were interviewed about there experiences attending the Robert Clemente sports city over the recent decades in Puerto Rico.

Naturally, the big financial boost to the Sports City project envisioned by Roberto Clemente just prior to his untimely death on December 31, occurred after knowledge of Clemente’s death had swept the world on January 1, 1973.

I recall well that morning myself.

I was only 10 years-old at the time. My dad, my brother and I drove to early morning New Year’s Day mass 1973 at the local catholic church in Wentzville, Missouri. On the way to mass, my dad announced with sadness that Roberto Clemente’s plane had gone missing during the night. Naturally, a candle was lit for him at the church that morning. After the mass, we drove around in the rain and the fog listening in vain to the St. Louis Sports radio station to provide the hoped for news of the discovery of Roberto Clemente alive.

Meanwhile, Manny Sanguillen, a Puerto Rican teammate of Clemente’s on the Pittsburgh Pirates, was joining diving teams off the coast of Puerto Rico looking for the overloaded submerged plane that had taken Clemente to his early grave the night before.

Why was Clemente on that plane?

The First Answer: World events forced Clemente to be on an overloaded cargo plane that night. On Christmas Day 1972 a major earthquake had shaken downtown Managua, Nicaragua. Roberto Clemente volunteered to lead the effort in the Caribbean to raise aid for the beleaguered citizens of Nicaragua.

The Second Answer: Corruption in Somoza’s Nicaragua six days after the earthquake had forced Clemente to get on the plane himself. Stories had begun to circulate that the aid Clemente was helping to send to Nicaragua was being taken by unscrupulous persons and sold to the earthquake victims on the ground in Managua—even though most people in parts of Managua had lost everything. Clemente promised himself and his donors that he would see that the next shipment on December 31 was gotten to the right people. That is why he committed himself to leave his family and escort the goods to Nicaragua that fateful night

The Third Answer: Clemente, the humanitarian—the teacher, the athlete, and the philanthropist—always lived his life as though he was going to die, i.e. he was always prepared to die in the cause of helping others.

In the ESPN broadcast on THE ENDOURING LEGACY OF ROBERTO CLEMENTE, Clemente is quoted as stating, “If you don’t do something to make the world a better place for those who come after you, you are wasting your life on earth.”

I can’t concur more with living life with such a motto. This sort of motto has inspired many leaders, teachers, humanitarian, philanthropists, and athletes.

Clemente was a man who spoke up for what he believed. The ESPN program directors noted that Clemente didn’t think anyone should go hungry, and he let his voice rise against this and any sort of injustice.

Hank Aaron was shown in the ESPN special program stating, “Clemente was a fine human being . . . not for Latin players . . .but for any player.”

Not only did major league baseball name its humanitarian award after Roberto Clemente in 1973, that same year Clemente became only the second player—after Lou Gehrig—to be elected to the Hall of Fame without going through the obligatory 5 year waiting period.

The Roberto Clemente Award is given to the baseball player who is considered to have contributed the most to the wider community each year. Players, like Curt Shilling and John Smoltz, consider the prize the most important they have ever received.


The last time I personally saw Roberto Clemente alive was in the summer of 1972 when the Pirates were in St. Louis for a series.

That day my father, my brother, and I sat in the bleachers behind Clemente. I was just a kid, but I was able to see one of the worst forms of bigotry and racism dealt out by a single fan at a ballpark. Inning after inning that day, a drunken fan to-my-left in the bleacher seats yelled horrible things at Roberto Clemente.

Besides calling Clemente a “Bum”. Clemente was called every name in the book by this evil “fan” using the “M— F—“ words, the “B—“ word, and the “N—“ word.

Nonetheless, that fan continued to receive his brew or beer from the Cardinal vendors at old Busch Stadium that night. No Cardinal security came to shut the man up until one of the late innings when Clemente when back to the wall to catch a high fly ball below us. Just as Roberto Clemente, my childhood star, arrived at the wall, the drunken and abusive fan dropped his cup of beer right on top of Clemente—drenching my hero in beer and suds.

Clemente had made note of the heckler much earlier and had told the groundskeeper to watch the man. Only after Clemente caught the ball and received a towel to clean himself up from that fan’s beer was that ill-mannered and fan ejected from the stadium by uniformed guards.

I am sure that the abuse taken on by Clemente registered a lifelong hatred against abusive language in my writings and world outlook, i.e. supporting the marginalized parts of American society.


I traveled twice to Nicaragua over recent decades. I visited Managua and rural areas during the early part (the more successful parts) of the movement known as the Nicaraguan Revolution in summer 1983. At that time, I saw that old downtown Managua had never been rebuilt by the Somoza family and friends who’d continued to dominate that Central American country throughout the 1970s.

A powerful coalition of peoples had marched on Managua in summer 1979 and kicked the Somocistas and cronies out of power. (That year Jimmy Carter as U.S. president had refused to prop up America’s “son of a bitch”, Somoza, any more. Recall that FDR had called Somoza “our son-of-a-bitch” four decades earlier.)

I returned to teach in Managua in 1995-1996, and I found a shell-shocked nation that had suffered a counter-revolution of sorts and was having trouble organizing a new identity for itself.

However, one thing was still the same. Earthquake destroyed downtown Managua was still empty of structures and signs of reconstruction some quarter of a century after Roberto Clemente’s plane had crashed into the sea outside San Juan, Puerto Rico carrying aid to the poor Nicaraguans of a generation earlier.

I was told by many Nicaraguans that the downtown had not been rebuilt because it is so earthquake prone.

However, in the 1990s I had also taught in both Japan and California—very earthquake prone zones. So, I would have to say that the lack of political and economic will and consensus has been the primary culprit in rebuilding old Managua—and this despite the fact that a the National Parliament building still stands near the central zone where the earthquake struck in 1972.

In short, underdevelopment can be a conscious choice made by urban planners, economists, politicians, or real estate agents.

Meanwhile, I was equally saddened to discover that fewer and fewer Nicaraguans knew who Roberto Clemente was and how he had reached out to save so many of them in one of their nation’s darkest hours.


In 2002 I traveled to Puerto Rico. It was the 30th anniversary of the death of my old baseball hero and humanitarian, Roberto Clemente. The country is much better developed than many other Latin American states—a great improvement over the era when Roberto Walker Clemente grew up and played baseball in the sandlots among coconut palms and along the sea sides.

Puerto Ricans today still remember quite well the legacy of Roberto Clemente and all around the Caribbean baseball players come there to shine. Sammy Sosa and others from the Dominican Republic or from Venezueala to the south come often to participate there, especially at the Roberto Clemente’s Sports City.

Puerto Rico is still part of the United States. It is a territorial possession.

It’s time for all Americans—Hispanic or not–to ask ourselves: “What kind of legacy are we going to have?”

Are we going to live our lives for just this day or are we going to live a life worth living and make our land–and other lands–better places for coming generations to live in after us?

I fear we in America are stuck in the forgetfulness of the Cold War and Post-Cold War world that enveloped Nicaragua in the mid-1990s. We need to get out of that funk and meet life straight on in the manner Roberto Clemente witnessed for the North American continent in the 1950s. 1960s, and 1970s.

Fight against hunger! Fight injustice! Build a better planet! Reach out and teach others to do the same!


BEYOND BASEBALL: The Life of Roberto Clemente,

Biography, Roberto Clemente Walker,

Honor A Quien con Merece,

My Hero Project: Roberto Clemente,

The Legacy of Roberto Clemente,

Roberto Clemente,

Roberto Clemente,

Roberto Clemente,

Roberto Clemente Award,

Submitters Website:

Submitters Bio:

KEVIN STODA-has been blessed to have either traveled in or worked in nearly 100 countries on five continents over the past two and a half decades.–He sees himself as a peace educator and have been– a promoter of good economic and social development–making-him an enemy of my homelands humongous DEFENSE SPENDING and its focus on using weapons to try and solve global issues.

“I am from Kansas so I also use the pseudonym ‘Kansas’ and ‘alone’ when I write and publish.- I-keep two blogs–one with BLOGGER and one with WORDPRESS.- My writings range from reviews to editorials or to travel observations.- I also make recommendations related to policy–having both a-strong background in teaching foreign languages and degrees in teaching in history and the social sciences.–As a Midwesterner, I also write on religion and living out ones faith whether it be as a Christian, Muslim or Buddhist perspective.”

On my own home page, I also provide information for language learners and travelers,-


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home