As a kid, I fell in love with this card because Roberto Clemente just looked so cool in this photograph, blithely tossing a ball in the air. Judging from the background, my best guess is that this picture was taken sometime during the 1971 season at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. It holds special meaning in that it was the last card issued by Topps of Clemente while he was still alive. To this day, it still delights.
On the occasion of what would have been his 81st birthday, I wish Happy Birthday to one of the most iconic baseball figures of my childhood, Roberto Clemente. I remember having a poster of the above photograph that I had pulled out of a 1973 Baseball Preview magazine and it hanging on my wall for years. It simply read : In Memoriam Roberto Clemente, 1934 -1972. Roberto had died of course, on New Year’s Eve 1972 in the course of attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. His death had the profound effect of making him a larger than life character to me and even now, he looms large in my lexicon of baseball giants. I believe this to be so not only because I grew up hearing and reading stories from older baseball fans and writers that he was without question one of the greatest outfielders ever to play the game, but more so because of the very nature of the way he died – in the course of serving others. Without naming names and and without condemning the current generation of players as a whole, I will say , however, that there are a number of current players /stars who could take a lesson and cue from Roberto Clemente and his humility and sense of humanity. I will have much more to write about this great athlete and man in future posts on this blog but for today, let it suffice for me to say,Happy Birthday Roberto, we miss you still.
My favorite quote from this USA TODAY piece on two of my favorite players :
“When you face those guys back-to-back, you should get paid double,” Houston Astros reliever Pat Neshek said. “They’re the greatest 1-2 punch in the game. You look at Trout, and it feels like you’re facing a young Mickey Mantle. And then you face Pujols, and it feels like you’re facing an older Mickey Mantle.”
Here’s hoping that Pujols can finally stay healthy long enough for him and Trout to match and exceed the production put forth by Mantle and Maris in their peak years. Like my son has said “what a wonderful time to be a baseball fan”, watching these two in action together on the same team. Two great players at two different stages of their careers, one a can’t miss Hall of Famer and the other a very probable one. Pure baseball joy.
Mike Trout-Albert Pujols stokes comparisons to Mickey Mantle-Roger Maris.