Monday, April 21, 2008

PBS: Roberto Clemente (American Experience)

Tonight, Monday, April 21, 2008, PBS stations (WETA in Washington) aired “American Experience: Roberto Clemente” about the famous Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder from Puerto Rico. He did not experience discrimination or segregation in Puerto Rico.

Once in spring training in Florida, he experienced segregation on the various bus trips. Even in Pittsburgh he stayed in an African American section of the City. People in those days did not know how to “classify” him. Clementi gradually became an all around player despite an early back injury from a car accident.

In 1960, the Pirates got into the World Series with the Yankees and won game 7 in Forbes Field, 10-9, on Bill Mazerowski’s home run, despite being outscored 55-27. Forbes was a typical old asymmetric park, with a long left field. By now, Clementi had become famous as a baseball player. He would watch the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s closely. The Pirates would get into the 1971 World Series with the Baltimore Orioles. At the time, the Pirates were in symmetrical Three Rivers Stadium, and the Orioles were in the old Memorial Stadium with the short foul lines. The Pirates won that series in 7 games. Clementi helped spur the team by drawing on error from the pitcher running out a roller. He had a tremendous throwing arm, throwing out runners trying for triples.

In the 1972 season, at 37, Clementi achieved his 3000th hit. There was a devastating earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua around Christmas, 1972. Clemente tried to go by private plane to deliver relief supplies in an early “Big Give” spirit. He would be killed in a plane crash shortly after takeoff. People from the Puerto Rican neighborhood in the Bronx gave to the relief in his name.

George Will often comments in the film. “Great athletes compress life’s trajectory… Most live most of their life after…” Clemente was the exception because of a “horribly abrupt end.”

There is mention of Gary Cooper's role of Lou Gehrig ("Pride of the Yankees", 1942) as a stoic role model whom Clemente did not want to emulate.

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