The Great One: Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente at bat

Baseball fans celebrate Roberto Clemente as “The Great One.” Family members called him “Momen.” His accomplishments in the sport, hard work, fierce pride, and resilience in the face of racism and discrimination won him the admiration of countless fans in the United States and across Latin America.

Clemente’s death in a plane crash, while carrying supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua on December 31, 1972, shocked fans across the globe. His sudden death added mythology to the legacy Clemente had already built through his performance as a player and his leadership and philanthropy off the field.

The arc of Clemente’s story is familiar to many Latinos: humble roots, immigrant aspirations, strong bonds to birthplace, and fighting for the dignity of all people. He went from a family of modest means in Carolina, Puerto Rico, to one of baseball’s biggest stars.

Roberto Clemente giving a tutorial to children in Carolina, Puerto Rico, 1962

Roberto Clemente spent time during the off-season working with kids’ baseball teams in his hometown in Puerto Rico.

Courtesy of The Clemente Museum, Pittsburgh, PA

Roberto Clemente’s Cangrejeros de Santurce contract, 1952–1953

Clemente’s first professional contract was with the Cangrejeros for $40 a week.

Courtesy of Kevin Marshall 

Roberto Clemente was an ultimate game-changer in Major League Baseball. In 1947 African American Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers dismantled the color line, opening the door for Latinos, regardless of skin color. A few years later, Clemente’s stellar play and outspokenness against racism and discrimination commanded national and international attention.

Roberto Clemente’s batting helmet, around 1960

Batting helmet worn by legendary Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente.

National Museum of American History

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In an 18-year tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates begun in 1955, Roberto Clemente was a 15-time All-Star, 12-time Gold Glove winner, four-time National League batting champion, and the 1966 National League Most Valuable Player.

See Pleibol in 3D! Explore a model of Roberto Clemente's jersey and batting helmet or view in augmented reality.



QR link to augmented reality experienceEnjoy a narrated augmented reality (AR) experience featuring baseball legend Roberto Clemente's jersey and batting helmet, made possible by the Smithsonian Digitization Program Office in parternship with Verizon 5G Labs. Follow this link or scan the QR code with your smartphone.

Roberto Clemente was committed to his communities in Puerto Rico and chose to play in the winter leagues on the island. He played for the Cangrejeros de Santurce and the Senadores de San Juan.

Roberto Clemente’s San Juan Senadores jersey, 1972

Roberto Clemente’s San Juan Senadores jersey, 1972

Courtesy of The Clemente Museum, Pittsburgh, PA

This was the last jersey Clemente wore before his death on December 31, 1972.