It’s the last day of 2021, which was a difficult year for a lot of people, so December 31 brings with it a lot of hope for better days in 2022. However, for us Pittsburgh Pirates fans, every December 31 has a little bit of a different meaning as one of the most somber days in franchise history. On this date in 1972, the DC-7 carrying Roberto Clemente to Nicaragua to deliver earthquake aid crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing everyone aboard.
Clemente was personally supervising the delivery of aid after the previous three attempts at sending material support was reportedly confiscated by Nicaraguan military and never distributed to the citizens in need.
The plane had a history of mechanical issues, was over weight after being loaded with goods, and also was operating on a skeleton crew, and it began having trouble almost immediately after take off, experiencing total failure of one of its engines, and crashed only moments later. Clemente’s body was never found.
He reportedly had a premonition of his own death, insisting for most of his career that he thought he would die young, and members of his own family had encouraged him not to take the flight.
The 38-year-old Clemente spent 18 seasons with the Buccos, playing in 15 All-Star Games. He also won four batting titles and 12 consecutive Gold Glove awards. He won the regular season MVP in 1966 and the World Series MVP in 1971 and to this day is the only MLB player to execute a walk-off inside the park home run, which happened in 1956.
Clemente was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1973, with MLB breaking its own wait rules for Clemente, and they also instituted the Roberto Clemente Award, which “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.”
Clemente hit .317 for his career, finishing with 3,000 hits, and he also swatted 217 homers with 1305 RBIs. His career OPS was .834.
So while we look forward into the New Year with hope for better times ahead, also take a moment to remember the best player in franchise history and one of the premier humanitarians in sports.