Roberto Clemente 1955 #164
by William Szczepanek
This 1955 Topps #164 is the most sought after Clemente card largely because it is his rookie card. Playing in 124 games for the Pirates in 1955 Clemente got off to a very inauspicious start, hitting 5 home runs and batting just .255. He was involved in an auto accident and injured his lower back in the middle of the season. He didn't begin to really excel until 1960, when he hit .314 with 16 home runs and placed 8th for the MVP Award.
Clemente started in the Dodgers organization and was playing for the Montreal Royals when management tried to hide his talent by not playing him when scouts were around, but he was gobbled up by the Pirates in the Major League draft of 1954 and played for many young and inexperienced Pirates teams in the 1950s. Branch Rickey of the Pirates also tried to sign Henry Aaron away from the Braves in 1955. What an outfield that pair would have made!
Clemente was controversial and spoke his mind. Sometimes he seemed like he was a complainer, but he was just calling it he saw it. Clemente considered all men as equals and was just looking for respect. When he didn't get it he would lash out at reporters and anyone else who challenged him.
Injuries seemed to plague him. He always appeared to be in pain. In the batter's box he would roll his head trying to take the kinks out of his neck. Kids everywhere imitated his actions.
As a right fielder, he had a rifle arm, maybe the best ever, and made difficult catches look easy with graceful leaps and dives. He was no hot dog, but he was very colorful. He won 12 straight Gold Gloves and set a Major League record by leading the National League in throwing assists 5 times. He is considered by many to be the greatest fielding right fielder ever.
As a hitter he won 4 batting championships. He would lash at pitches, good and bad, and hit to the opposite field often. When he did pull the ball he could hit it harder than anyone. He is known for hitting one out of Wrigley Field just to the left of the scoreboard.
Clemente ended the 1972 season with his 3,000th hit. The following New Year's Eve, he died in a plane crash taking relief supplies to Nicaragua after an earthquake. The five year waiting period was waived and Clemente was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973. He was the first Latin American to received the honor.
Clemente was a true humanitarian, using his newfound wealth, meager compared to today's players, to help Latin American people. He didn't ask for anything other than respect. A few of his baseball cards listed him as Bob Clemente. The press tried to Americanize him. He preferred to be called "Roberto" and let people know it./p>
Roberto, you were a great one.
You can check out Clemente's stats at Baseball-Reference.com.