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Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero
Synopses & Reviews
On New Year's Eve 1972, following eighteen magnificent seasons in the major leagues, Roberto Clemente died a hero's death, killed in a plane crash as he attempted to deliver food and medical supplies to Nicaragua after a devastating earthquake. David Maraniss now brings the great baseball player brilliantly back to life in Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero, a book destined to become a modern classic. Much like his acclaimed biography of Vince Lombardi, When Pride Still Mattered, Maraniss uses his narrative sweep and meticulous detail to capture the myth and a real man.
Anyone who saw Clemente, as he played with a beautiful fury, will never forget him. He was a work of art in a game too often defined by statistics. During his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he won four batting titles and led his team to championships in 1960 and 1971, getting a hit in all fourteen World Series games in which he played. His career ended with three-thousand hits, the magical three-thousandth coming in his final at-bat, and he and the immortal Lou Gehrig are the only players to have the five-year waiting period waived so they could be enshrined in the Hall of Fame immediately after their deaths.
There is delightful baseball here, including thrilling accounts of the two World Series victories of Clemente's underdog Pittsburgh Pirates, but this is far more than just another baseball book. Roberto Clemente was that rare athlete who rose above sports to become a symbol of larger themes. Born near the canebrakes of rural Carolina, Puerto Rico, on August 18, 1934, at a time when there were no blacks or Puerto Ricans playing organized ball in the United States, Clemente went on to become the greatest Latino player in the major leagues. He was, in a sense, the Jackie Robinson of the Spanish-speaking world, a ballplayer of determination, grace, and dignity who paved the way and set the highest standard for waves of Latino players who followed in later generations and who now dominate the game.
The Clemente that Maraniss evokes was an idiosyncratic character who, unlike so many modern athletes, insisted that his responsibilities extended beyond the playing field. In his final years, his motto was that if you have a chance to help others and fail to do so, you are wasting your time on this earth. Here, in the final chapters, after capturing Clemente's life and times, Maraniss retraces his final days, from the earthquake to the accident, using newly uncovered documents to reveal the corruption and negligence that led the unwitting hero on a mission of mercy toward his untimely death as an uninspected, overloaded plane plunged into the sea.
"David Maraniss, winner of a Pulitzer Prize and an associate editor of The Washington Post, has written two of the most accomplished biographies of his time. In 'First in His Class,' he went a long way toward defining the life and character of Bill Clinton, then in his first term as president. With artful accumulation of detail, he made a series of Rhodes scholar interviews seem as exciting as a presidential... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) campaign and augured both Clinton's ascent and his subsequent indiscretions. 'When Pride Still Mattered,' his biography of Vince Lombardi, the late Green Bay Packers football coach, did as good a job of evoking an era, and placing a man and his ethos in it, as any sports book I've read. Now Maraniss has tackled baseball's Roberto Clemente, an inspired and brilliant player, and one of the game's last enigmas. The result is a perfectly good biography of the late Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder and Puerto Rican cultural icon. Maraniss dutifully charts the progress of Clemente's career, culminating in his magical performance in the 1971 World Series, when he batted .414 and put his team ahead to stay with a Game 7 home run. He portrays Clemente as by turns ebullient and brooding, selfless and self-absorbed, and records the slights against him, real and imagined, by baseball insiders and sportswriters. Clemente fans won't be disappointed. But Maraniss fans might be. Until the end, Clemente remains opaque, inexplicable. He was 'somber, reserved, cautious about letting strangers close to him, with pride bordering on arrogance,' yet 'if something touched him he reacted deeply, immediately, and took you in as part of his family.' After reading the book, I'm still not sure why. Though Maraniss conducted interviews with Clemente's teammates and family members, the narrative feels more researched than reported — heavy on newspaper accounts and the hagiographic memories of Pirates rooters whom the author seems to have met by happenstance along the way. Clemente deserves the full Maraniss treatment, though today's fan paging through the record book might not understand why. In 18 years in the major leagues, all with the Pirates, Clemente drove home 100 runs only twice and never managed to hit 30 home runs in a season. A free swinger like many Latino players of the 1960s, he rarely walked, which undermined a .317 lifetime batting average, and stole just 83 bases during his 2,433-game career. But trying to gain the man's measure through numbers, Maraniss writes, is like 'trying to explain Van Gogh by analyzing the ingredients of his paint. Clemente was art, not science.' His movements on the diamond are etched in a generation's memory: his neck-rolling before each at bat, his fierce swing (a 'great swirling motion in blinding speed that routinely dislodged his batting helmet,' in the words of one observer), his frenzied baserunning ('as (if) to escape from some unspeakable phantasmal terror') and the uncoiling of his fearsome throwing arm from right field. He was an actor who seized the stage each time he took the field. Clemente's larger-than-life baseball was an extension of his 'huge sense of self-worth,' as former Pirates executive Joe Brown described it. Fans who lived through the 1960s will remember his pride and sensitivity manifesting themselves in diatribes about being underappreciated, which led to a false characterization of him as a hypochondriac and malingerer. When filmmakers offered him $100 to hit into a triple play on camera as part of a story line in 'The Odd Couple,' he fulminated, not because of the ignominy of the triple play but because of the meager remuneration. 'Nobody buys Roberto Clemente cheap!' he replied. 'I have my pride! I am a hero to my people!' At the other extreme, Clemente had an almost childlike kindness that would show itself in acts of extreme generosity. After one game in Philadelphia, he spent so much time talking to a shy high schooler outside the players' gate that he missed the team bus to the airport. He accepted a ride with the girl and her family, played boleros on his portable record player to introduce them to island culture, insisted they come to New York to see the Pirates play a week later, and put them up in the team hotel when they did. He and his wife, Vera, later entertained the girl and her mother in Puerto Rico. As a dark-skinned Latino, Clemente was affected by the civil rights movement, though not precisely part of it. Defining himself as Puerto Rican, he 'never wanted to be categorized or limited by race. When he talked about the issue, especially in English, his comments occasionally were seen as rebukes of blackness, which they were not.' Perceived as black by the Pittsburgh community, he identified increasingly with his black teammates. The slights that he and the rest of the Pirates' non-whites endured during spring training in Florida in the late 1950s and early '60s are especially poignant, and Maraniss' study of that evolving sociology contains some of the best writing in the book. But after each season concluded in October, Clemente had an escape that Pittsburgh's other blacks didn't: He would return to Puerto Rico and his family, eat crabs on the beach, play winter baseball for one or another of the local teams, and bask in his status as a national hero whose skin color was immaterial. As Clemente matured, his actions were shaped by a growing social conscience. He insisted that the Pirates delay their season-opening series in 1968 until after the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr., made a moving appeal in support of a players' union and expressed concern about the plight of the poor and dispossessed. He dreamed of building a sports complex for underprivileged Puerto Rican youths. 'If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don't do that, you are wasting your time on this earth,' he said. Even with all that colorful detail, it is only as Maraniss describes Clemente's inexorable march toward death — in a plane crash during a rescue mission to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua on Dec. 31, 1972 — that the ballplayer comes alive. Maraniss documents numerous occasions on which Clemente predicted that he would die young, most likely in a plane, and that Vera would outlive him. In a masterful piece of reporting and writing, Maraniss shows why Clemente felt it necessary to personally accompany to Nicaragua the food, medical materials and other items he had raised money to buy. He follows the parallel histories of the doomed aircraft and Clemente's frantic efforts in the hours following the earthquake, foreshadowing how they intersected like the iceberg and the Titanic. Clemente's son tried to hide his father's travel documents, his wife felt an overwhelming sense of foreboding, and Clemente himself posed for pictures as if he knew it would be the last time. And then the plane — 4,000 pounds overweight, badly in need of a new engine, loaded haphazardly with supplies, its nose barely off the ground, 'a death trap even before it rolled down Runway 7' — made an uneasy ascent. It plunged into the sea just off the island, taking this proud, talented and still enigmatic man with him. Bruce Schoenfeld is the author of 'The Match: Althea Gibson & Angela Buxton' and a former baseball beat reporter for the Cincinnati Post." Reviewed by Bruce Schoenfeld, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"A baseball-savvy book sensitive to the social context that made Clemente, a black Puerto Rican, a leading indicator of baseball's future....Thanks to Maraniss, Clemente's legacy is suitably defined and explained." George F. Will, The New York Times Book Review
"A skilled athlete who was seemingly taken for granted, Clemente became an iconic figure for Latin America and world baseball." Library Journal
"A nuanced, expertly written life of much more than a sports hero." Kirkus Reviews
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of When Pride Still Mattered comes a book destined to become a modern classic — a full-scale biography of great baseball player and humanitarian Roberto Clemente, who lived, played, and died with enduring passion and grace. of photos.
Baseball great, family man, humanitarian—the life and enduring legacy of Roberto Clemente, as told by his family.
With a swift bat and fierce athleticism, Roberto Clemente intimidated major league pitchers for eighteen seasons, compiling three thousand hits. His legs were among the quickest of his era. His throwing arm was one of the strongest, gunning down base runners from right field with incredible frequency. He would spend a career fighting for respect and finally achieve it after a historic World Series performance and a second half of a career that would have him mentioned with greats like Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle.
But what Roberto Clemente did off the field made him an equally great humanitarian. One of the first athletes who understood how the power of sports could be used to transform not just a handful of lives but many thousands of them, he would die following his heart and conscience by helping others. Clemente was on an aircraft loaded with supplies for an earthquake-stricken Nicaragua when the plane crashed in the Atlantic Ocean.
Forty years after that tragic day, the widow and sons of this regal athlete and consummate humanitarian open up for the first time about the husband and father they lost. Featuring an extensive array of rare and never-before-seen photos of Clemente on the field and off, this powerful memoir tells his inspiring story from the voices of those who knew him best.
The story of baseball's first Latino superstar--with photographs throughout
With a swift bat and fierce athleticism, he intimidated major league pitchers for eighteen seasons, compiling 3,000 hits. His legs were among the quickest of his era. His throwing arm was one of the strongest, gunning down base runners from right field with incredible frequency. He would spend a career fighting for respect, and finally achieve it after a historic World Series performance and a second half of a career that would have him mentioned with greats like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.
But what Puerto Rican-born Pittsburgh Pirate outfielder Roberto Clemente did off the field made him the greatest combination of athlete and humanitarian that ever lived. One of the first athletes who understood how the power of sports could be used to transform not just a handful of lives but many thousands of them, he would die following his heart and conscience by helping others. Clemente was on an aircraft loaded with supplies for an earthquake-stricken Nicaragua when the plane crashed in the Atlantic Ocean.
Forty years after that tragic day, the widow and sons of this regal athlete and consummate humanitarian open up for the first time about the husband and father they lost. Featuring an extensive array of rare and never-before-seen photos of Roberto Clemente on the field and off, the powerful memoir tells his story from the voice of those who knew him best.
Includes Photographs Throughout
About the Author
David Maraniss is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author. As a reporter for the Washington Post he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for his stories about the life and career of candidate Bill Clinton in the 1992 campaign for the U.S. presidency. Maraniss and wife Linda live in Washington, D.C. and Madison, Wisconsin.
Table of Contents
Memory and Myth
1. Something That Never Ends
2. Where Momen Came From
3. Dream of Deeds
4. The Residue of Design
5. ¡Arriba! ¡Arriba!
6. Alone at the Miracle
7. Pride and Prejudice
10. A Circular Stage
11. El Día Más Grande
12. Tip of the Cap
14. Cockroach Corner
15. December 31
16. Out of the Sea
Myth and Memory
What Our Readers Are Saying
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