Roberto Clemente was a Hall of Fame outfielder who played 18 years in the Major Leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He won the NL MVP award in 1966, was an All-Star 12 times, and won 11 Gold Gloves for his good defense and rifle arm in right field.
More importantly, he was a tremendous person on and off the field. Major League Baseball annually gives the Roberto Clemente Award to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement, and the individual’s contribution to his team.” The Seattle Mariners had back-to-back Roberto Clemente Award winners in 2003 and 2004 when Jamie Moyer and Edgar Martinez were recognized.
Tragically, Roberto Clemente’s life ended on New Year’s Eve 1972 when he was 38-years-old. He died in a plane crash while en rout to Nicaragua to help victims of a devastating earthquake. During his baseball career, Clemente spent much of his off-season time involved in charity work. When a massive earthquake hit Nicaragua in December of 1972, Clemente immediately worked to arrange emergency relief flights to help the people of Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. He learned that the first three emergency relief flights had been diverted by corrupt officials and never reached the people who needed them, so he decided to accompany the fourth relief flight, hoping his famous presence would ensure that the aid would be delivered to those in need. Unfortunately, the plane had a history of mechanical problems and was overloaded with relief supplies and crashed into the ocean off of Puerto Rico.
Clemente’s body was never found, although his closest friend on the Pirates, catcher Manny Sanguillen, repeatedly dove into the waters to try to find his teammate. In an interesting twist of fate, another Major League Player, Tom Walker, had joined Clemente in loading the plane with supplies. Walker expected to join Clemente on the flight, but Roberto told him not to, either because Clemente knew the plane was overloaded or because he thought Walker, who was single, should be able to enjoy New Year’s. Walker’s son, Neil, is now the second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates.