Len's Reviews > Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero

Clemente by David Maraniss
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's review
Apr 06, 2008

it was amazing
Read in April, 2008

I try to begin each baseball season with a baseball book and this year it was an easy choice -- David Maraniss' bio of Roberto Clemente was at the top of my list. Clemente died in 1972 just as I was beginning to fall in love with baseball, so I didn't get a chance to see him play nor did I really know much about him other than the fact that he died tragically in a plane crash. This book was an eye-opener on many fronts.

To begin, there is no question Clemente was a true hero in every sense of the word, especially to the people of his native Puerto Rico. when he wasn't thinking about baseball or playing baseball, he was helping others -- not just in Puerto Rico but everywhere. His most famous quote was: "if you have a chance to help others, and don't, then you are wasting your time on this earth."

Clemente was orginally drafted by the Dodgers, but they didn't think he was ready for the majors and hid him in Montreal where they hoped nobody would notice him. But when they left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft the next year, the lowly Pirates snapped him up with the first overall pick. Over the next 18 years he led the Pirates to two world championships and knocked out 3,000 hits, won a trophy case full of gold gloves and cemented his position as one of the greatest players of all time. But none of that seems important when you reflect on what he meant to both latin players and black players that followed.

Clemente was one of the first black player on the Pirates, but he was also one of the first great latin players in the majors. As a black latin he dealt with twice as much racism in the U.S., even though he was proud to play in America and signed up to be a Marine reservist. In spring training in Florida, he had to endure Jim Crow racism and in Pittsburgh he had to overcome the largely white population. He always spoke out and became a hero to black and latin players that followed him.

Maraniss is a wonderful storyteller and he brings Clemente's life alive. It's an amazing life and a tragic life, but altogether a great life and a story worth reading whether you are a baseball fan or not.

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