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Clemente: The Passion and Grace of…

Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero (2006)

by David Maraniss

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I became a Pirates fan when I moved from Canada to Pittsburgh in 1971 as a small boy with my family. I don’t remember much of Roberto Clemente, but I remember how huge he was in the city. Willie Stargell was my favorite Pirate. Still, I remember when Clemente died on New Year’s Eve, 1972, and what a shock it was to the world, to the baseball community, and to Pittsburgh, and what a sense of loss it brought.

Maraniss writes a pretty good book about Clemente. It’s not perfect, but the highlights are well written and one learns a lot about the man. Coming from Puerto Rico up to Montreal, in the minors, around 1954 was a huge shock for him, and then when the Pirates drafted him from the minors in 1955, it continued to be a culture shock for him, not only as a Latino player, but as a black Latino player. Since Spring Training was in Florida, Clemente was exposed first hand to Jim Crowe laws and couldn’t stay with the team, eat with the team, do anything but stay in the “colored” sections of towns and play ball. He wasn’t an immediate star, but he was obviously talented. He had a rocket for an arm and played a mean right field. He could hit fairly well, and with some power. He was primed for stardom.

By the time 1960 rolled around, the Pirates had risen from mediocre to National League champs, but they had to play the dreaded Yankees (with Mantle and Maris) in the World Series. And NY bombed Pittsburgh in three games by huge margins. Nonetheless, Pittsburgh won three games too, setting up a seventh and deciding game. The game was tied going into the ninth inning. Finally, at the end of the ninth inning, Bill Mazeroski hit a home run out of the park in one of the most famous moments in Pittsburgh sports history, winning the Series for the Pirates. It was the “shot heard round the world,” and to this day, is probably the most readily remembered World Series home run. For the Series, Clemente hit safely in every game.

Now my complaint with the author comes into play. He basically skips entire seasons after that Series. The 1967 season isn’t even mentioned, and Clemente was the 1966 National League MVP. You’d think Maraniss would want to follow up on that. Also, while we learn about Clemente’s tempestuous relationship with the press, who really never truly understood him, we don’t get as much on his relationship with the team, such as his manager Danny Murtaugh. It would have been nice to read more about their interactions.

Finally, we come to another good chapter – the one on the 1971 World Series against Baltimore, a team with four 20 game winning pitchers. By this time, Clemente was the old man on the team, but he hit safely in all seven games of this Series too, and was named Series MVP as Pittsburgh won another World Series.

In all, Clemente finished his career with a .317 batting average, 3000 hits, four N.L. batting titles, 12 Gold Gloves, the 1966 National League MVP, the 1971 World Series MVP, and was the first Latino elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

At the end of 1972, there was a devastating earthquake in Nicaragua, a country where Clemente had just managed the Puerto Rican national team in a playoffs. He was determined to help the people and helped gather over $100,000 and hundreds of tons of supplies to take to Nicaragua for disaster relief. Unfortunately, he put his trust in a shady character who had a plane he contracted out. This guy had 66 FAA violations and couldn’t even fly the plane, even though he was the co-pilot. The pilot had 12 violations and was exhausted from a trip he had just taken. Additionally, the plane was in bad shape and had been wrecked just two weeks before. Finally, it was overloaded by something like 4,500 pounds. It could barely lift off the ground. Nonetheless, Clemente said goodbye to his wife and three boys, took off, and never made it, as the planed crashed into the ocean shortly after takeoff, smashing everything to smithereens. His body was never found.

Roberto Clemente was the pride of the Latino world, could have ruled Puerto Rico, was much loved by kids around the world, who he related to quite well, and had millions of fans everywhere. While he didn’t always get along with the press, they decided to do something that had only been done once before – bypass the five year minimum requirement of being away from baseball for election into the Baseball Hall of Fame (the other player was Lou Gehrig), and he was elected 11 weeks after his death.

It’s a good book, even though it does leave details out. (Why did Clemente give one of his Silver Slugger awards to announcer Bob Prince?) It’s well researched and documented and it sheds light on one of the greatest athletes of our time. Clemente will never be forgotten, and I certainly recommend this book. ( )
  scottcholstad | Feb 18, 2014 |
Summary: A biography about the life of Roberto Clemente. He grew up in Puerto Rico where his father taught him to work hard in all aspects of life. Roberto’s love was the game of baseball. His dream was to play baseball so he worked very hard until he became a Major League baseball player. He played for the Pirates and won many awards. He had a wife and 3 children. He died in a plane accident trying to help others.

Personal Reaction: Roberto Clemente worked very hard to reach his dreams of playing the sport he loved. It shows that hard work will lead to success.

Classroom Extension:
1. Advise students to look up information about Roberto Clemente and write an essay about him.
2. Go outside and play baseball as a class.
  Mandi20 | Nov 13, 2013 |
I wasn't sure I would finish this biography after the first chapter or two, it seemed fairly standard fair, but the book deepend and matured as it followed the great outfielder's life. I was profoundly moved by the last half of the book. ( )
  nmele | Apr 6, 2013 |
It's hard to believe that it will be 39 years this New Year's Eve since an overloaded plane carrying Roberto Clemente fell into the ocean off the coast of his native Puerto Rico, the athlete's body lost to the sea. This biography of the baseball great is not perfect. It's a little too long, and a little too heavy on the hero worship -- though the title gives fair warning of that perspective. The reality is that despite Clemente's flaws -- and the author does admit that there were some -- it's hard not to lapse into some hero worship regarding Clemente. The baseball stats alone are enough to dazzle -- 12 consecutive Golden Glove awards, 3000 base hits, .317 lifetime batting average. His untimely death at age 38 in a plane crash while personally escorting relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua -- well, that says a lot about the humanitarian aspect of the man, and why he is so admired.

Author David Maraniss does a good job helping to explain Clemente's life and character in the context of the times in which he lived. He gives insights into the factors which influenced Clemente's actions on and off the field, and those factors which influenced the perceptions of him by the the American media of his time. He reminds us of the impact of the language barrier and racial prejudice, especially in the earlier years of Clemente's career.

Maraniss also gives a fascinating account of the circumstances which led to the plane crash -- again, placing the tragedy solidly in the context of other events which were taking place at the time.

The book could have used some editing, but overall it was a satisfying read. ( )
1 vote tymfos | Dec 8, 2011 |
Clemente was in a class by himself, no doubt. But Maraniss' inability to turn off his childhood hero worship gets in the way of the story, instead of informing it. ( )
  phyllis01 | Jun 4, 2011 |
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Most biographies of great athletes are tinged with melancholy, for three reasons. Athletic greatness is often achieved by a narrowing, even infantilizing, monomania about physical things. Sport compresses life's natural trajectory of ascent, apogee and decline. And often an athlete's life after sport is a long, dispiriting decrescendo. David Maraniss's splendid "Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero" is different, for three reasons. Roberto Clemente was an unusually elegant, even noble, athlete. He was emblematic of a social transformation. And he had no life after baseball.

Maraniss's biography of Bill Clinton is still the best of the first president formed by the 1960's. He is also the author of one of the best books on the 1960's, "They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967." And now he has produced a baseball-savvy book sensitive to the social context that made Clemente, a black Puerto Rican, a leading indicator of baseball's future. Clemente was not the first Latino player, but as the first Latino superstar — the National League's first Latino batting champion and M.V.P. — he propelled baseball's "southern strategy" for finding talent.
added by kidzdoc | editNew York Times, George Will (May 7, 2006)
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we are the sons of our own deeds.

In memory of Elliott Maraniss, my wonderful dad, the sweet-swinging left hander from Abraham Lincoln High
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The familiar sounds of modern baseball, pings of aluminum bats punctuating the steady drone of a crowd, can be heard from the street a half-block away.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743217810, Hardcover)

On New Year's Eve 1972, following eighteen magnificent seasons in the major leagues, Roberto Clemente died a hero's death, killed in a plane crash as he attempted to deliver food and medical supplies to Nicaragua after a devastating earthquake. David Maraniss now brings the great baseball player brilliantly back to life in "Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero," a book destined to become a modern classic. Much like his acclaimed biography of Vince Lombardi, "When Pride Still Mattered," Maraniss uses his narrative sweep and meticulous detail to capture the myth and a real man.

Anyone who saw Clemente, as he played with a beautiful fury, will never forget him. He was a work of art in a game too often defined by statistics. During his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he won four batting titles and led his team to championships in 1960 and 1971, getting a hit in all fourteen World Series games in which he played. His career ended with three-thousand hits, the magical three-thousandth coming in his final at-bat, and he and the immortal Lou Gehrig are the only players to have the five-year waiting period waived so they could be enshrined in the Hall of Fame immediately after their deaths.

There is delightful baseball here, including thrilling accounts of the two World Series victories of Clemente's underdog Pittsburgh Pirates, but this is far more than just another baseball book. Roberto Clemente was that rare athlete who rose above sports to become a symbol of larger themes. Born near the canebrakes of rural Carolina, Puerto Rico, on August 18, 1934, at a time when there were no blacks or Puerto Ricans playing organized ball in the United States, Clemente went onto become the greatest Latino player in the major leagues. He was, in a sense, the Jackie Robinson of the Spanish-speaking world, a ballplayer of determination, grace, and dignity who paved the way and set the highest standard for waves of Latino players who followed in later generations and who now dominate the game.

The Clemente that Maraniss evokes was an idiosyncratic character who, unlike so many modern athletes, insisted that his responsibilities extended beyond the playing field. In his final years, his motto was that if you have a chance to help others and fail to do so, you are wasting your time on this earth. Here, in the final chapters, after capturing Clemente's life and times, Maraniss retraces his final days, from the earthquake to the accident, using newly uncovered documents to reveal the corruption and negligence that led the unwitting hero on a mission of mercy toward his untimely death as an uninspected, overloaded plane plunged into the sea.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:03 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

On New Year's Eve, 1972, following eighteen magnificent seasons in the major leagues, Roberto Clemente died a hero's death, killed in a plane crash as he attempted to deliver supplies to Nicaragua after an earthquake. Journalist Maraniss now brings the great baseball player back to life. Anyone who saw Clemente play will never forget him--he was a work of art in a game too often defined by statistics. But Clemente was that rare athlete who rose above sports to become a symbol of larger themes. Born in rural Puerto Rico, at a time when there were no blacks or Puerto Ricans playing organized ball in the United States, Clemente went on to become the greatest Latino player in the major leagues, a ballplayer of determination, grace, and dignity who paved the way and set the highest standard for waves of Latino players who followed in later generations.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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