Roberto Clemente: The Humanitarian Hall of Famer On 'Stuff You Should Know'

On this episode of Stuff You Should Know, Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant tell us all about Roberto Clemente, one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Not only did he cement his legacy in baseball with his lifetime batting average of .317 and 3000 hits, leading the Pittsburgh Pirates to win the World Series twice, and for being a quintuple-threat player, he was also a humanitarian and philanthropist who worked hard to overcome racial bias in the United States, mentored young Caribbeans and Puerto Ricans, and personally oversaw a fundraising campaign for Nicaragua after a devastating hurricane. His legacy is more than just incredible playing stats – it’s the people he helped along the way that really make him a name you should know.

Roberto was born in Puerto Rico during the Great Depression, so there weren’t any fancy baseball diamonds around – but baseball was big, and everyone liked to play. Roberto and his brothers would use anything they could get their hands on as bats and balls, wadding up tape and paper or putting stones in a sock. Maybe these makeshift tools were part of what made Roberto such an amazing player, Chuck says – ”if you’re playing with a broomstick and a bottlecap, imagine what that does for your hand-eye coordination.” He was playing in amateur leagues in Puerto Rico when he caught the eye of a baseball scout, who recognized him as a “five-tool” player, meaning he could throw, he could hit, he could run, he could field, and he could hit for power. 

But even though he proved his talent in every game, the press and the leagues weren’t giving him the respect he thought he deserved. He railed against segregation and racism in his interviews, but the press ignored his comments. He joined the Marines Reserves and served for six years; he paved the way for other Caribbean players who came after him; he visited kids in hospitals at every city they stopped in; and he dreamed of one day opening a sports complex in Puerto Rico, where kids could go to learn sports and find mentors. Finally, in 1966, he was being recognized as one of the greats. His life was tragically cut short during a humanitarian trip to Nicaragua, but his legacy has never been forgotten: His wife, Vera, dedicated herself to opening his sports complex, Major League Baseball named a humanitarian award for him and inducted him into the Hall of Fame, and more than 40 public schools in America bear his name. Learn all about the fascinating history of the great Roberto Clemente on this episode of Stuff You Should Know.

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