On Sunday, Dec. 31, it will be 45 years since one of the greatest players who ever stepped on a baseball field, Roberto Clemente, died in an airplane crash as he tried to take humanitarian supplies to earthquake victims in Honduras.
It is one of the highlights of my life that I was able to see Clemente patrol right field at long-gone Forbes Field in Pittsburgh during the late 1960s. I watched and cheered as he sprayed line drives all over the park, as he chased down long fly balls, turning them into spectacular outs, and as he fired laser shots to home plate sending sliding runners back to the dugout shaking their heads in wonder.
It was a sad, sad day in Pittsburgh -- and throughout the baseball world -- when word came that this great player and humanitarian had lost his life in that airplane crash on Dec. 31, 1972 and would no longer be patrolling right field for the Pirates.
Clemente was immediately inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame. You can check out the official Hall of Fame article here.
But this article by Joe Posnanski published today on MLB.com helps to put into proper perspective Clemente's personal growth as a baseball player who fought against racism and as a man who became determined to use his fame and fortune to help others.
Posnanski quotes David Maraniss, author of "Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero," who wrote:
"Overcoming race and language, Clemente became the undisputed leader of the Pirates, something that all the statistics utterly fail to measure, just as in the matter of joy and beauty they fail to measure the thrill of watching him go to the wall and uncork a rope to third."
Clemente's story cannot be told enough times, Posnanski writes. Indeed, it can't.
As Maraniss says, it is "the story of a migrant worker, essentially, black, and Latino, the greatest of the first wave and someone who fought against his own pride and fears of mortality, and against the white sporting press establishment and yet somehow emerged beloved."
If you are a baseball fan, please watch the video above. Watch it, even if you are not. Roberto Clemente was like no other baseball player I have ever seen -- to this day. It's worth a couple minutes of your time.
And feel free to pass this commentary along to others who remember Roberto Clemente.