Roberto Clemente facts most don’t know: Part 2–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Vic Power

Victor "Vic Power" Pellot
Victor “Vic Power” Pellot was the 1962 Twins MVP.
The Great One “El Magnifico” Roberto Clemente was both black and Latino, one who sought equality despite the disparity between Puerto Rico’s easygoing acceptance of all and America’s hardline segregation regarding race, language and culture during the 50’s. The first black Puerto Rican to play in the American League was Clemente’s friend “El Gran Senor” Vic Power, the flashy-fielding Kansas City Athletics outfielder–who was dragged off the team bus one spring by the local authorities for buying a Coke from a whites-only gas station. Roberto despised the humiliation, internalizing it as if it were his own. Power tried to calm Clemente down with his wit and humor by recalling a conversation he had with a server at a Jim Crow-esque restaurant. “We don’t serve Negroes,” said the waitress. Power was relieved and replied, “That’s okay. I don’t eat Negroes. I just want rice and beans.”Vic Power A's
Pittsburgh Pirate Roberto Clemente
“El Magnifico” Roberto Clemente was elected posthumously into the MLB Hall of Fame in 1973.
As a Spanish-speaking black man from Puerto Rico, Clemente battled against discrimination from day one
in America and was outspoken about the inequities
he faced. During his first seven years at Pirates Spring Training in Florida, he was not afforded the comfortable amenities a downtown hotel offered. Instead, Clemente was confined to living with a black family in the Dunbar Heights section of Fort Myers. When the Pirates held its annual spring golf tournament at the local country club, Roberto and the other black teammates were excluded.
As if that was not enough disrespect, while his white teammates dined at roadside restaurants on Grapefruit League road trips, Clemente would have to remain on
the team bus. Fed up with such atrocities, he finally coerced the Pittsburgh Pirates front office management
to allow the black players to travel in their own station wagon. Clemente said that enduring the unjust racial divide during spring training was like being in prison.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Inter-American University in San Germán, Puerto Rico in February 1962.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico in February 1962.
1961 National League All-Stars Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron pose for a post-game photo.
1961 National League All-Stars Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron celebrate their victory
after Clemente was named Most Valuable Player.
Roberto Clemente’s admiration for
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his participation in the civil rights movement was spurred by the racism he experienced in the United States. During his professional career from 1954 to 1972, he saw significant change in both Major League Baseball and American society. Clemente was an intelligent and politically-charged activist who marched in the street protests of the 60’s and spent time with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. when the civil rights leader visited him at his farm in Puerto Rico. He
had a strong connection to King as
the humanitarian witnessed firsthand the black freedom struggle from the Montgomery Bus Boycotts to the urban ghetto rebellions and from Rosa Parks to the Black Panthers. ClementePortrait_1000pxWhen Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968, Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star Roberto Clemente was devastated by the news. However, out of respect for the slain leader, he gathered up his teammates for a meeting to prevent the Pirates and Astros from opening their season on April 8th–the day before King’s burial. He convinced his fellow Pirates, which included 11 African-Americans, to stand with him in unity. As a result of his extraordinary call to action in honoring his fallen hero, Pirates 1968 Opening Day was postponed and moved back to April 10th in observance of King’s memorial service. Like Dr. King, Clemente was a passionate believer of social and economic justice. Clemente once said, “If you have the chance to make things better for people coming behind you and you don’t, you are wasting your time on earth.”clemente_quote
David Maraniss quotes Clemente about being warned before speaking out on American injustice in his 2005 biography of the Hall of Fame outfielder: “They say, ‘Roberto, you better keep your mouth shut because they will ship you back.’ [But] this is something
from the first day I said to myself: I am in the minority group. I am from the poor people.
I represent the poor people. I represent the common people of America. So I am going
to be treated like a human being. I don’t want to be treated like a Puerto Rican, or a black, or nothing like that. I want to be treated like any person.” Clemente had a profound social conscience and drive for justice. Toward the end of his career, Clemente felt he had made some headway against prejudice. “My greatest satisfaction comes from helping to erase
the old opinion about Latin Americans and blacks,” he said.On April 3, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech saying, “I would like to live a
long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight,
that we as a people will get to the promised land.” Clemente shared Dr. King’s personal fatalism and always believed that he would die before his time. His widow Vera remembered, “He always said he would die young that this was his fate.” Born on August 18, 1934 in Puerto Rico just outside of Carolina’s sugar cane fields–where today nearby stands a 30-foot-long cenotaph which encapsulates the life and death of the Puerto Rican legendary hero–Roberto Clemente boarded an ill-fated overweight DC-7 aircraft attempting to fly from San Juan to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua with relief supplies and died when the humanitarian mission flight went plunging into the sea shortly after take off on New Year’s Eve, 1972.
Roberto Clemente is regarded with the reverence of a saint, a perspective reflected by the 30-foot-long cenotaph in Carolina, Puerto Rico.  The center panel portrays Clemente holding a lamb.
Roberto Clemente is regarded with the reverence of a saint, a perspective reflected by the 30-foot-long cenotaph in Carolina, Puerto Rico. The center panel portrays Clemente holding a lamb.
Clemente’s body was never found so the cenotaph designed by José Buscaglia is a heartfelt tribute to the Puerto Rican hero. Traditionally, cenotaphs are funerary monuments dedicated to heroes whose bodies are not recovered from the field of battle. So the very genre of Buscaglia’s work honors Clemente as one who gave all for his country. In the center panel, the lamb in Roberto’s arms is the lamb from the Puerto Rican coat of arms. In his life and death, Roberto lifted Puerto Rican identity to a new level in the world. The monument’s inscription reads “Son of Carolina, Exemplary Citizen, Athlete, Philanthropist, Teacher, Hero of the Americas and the World. Believing the promised land was more than a vision, both Clemente and King sacrificed everything to help set into motion a righteous path toward peace, equality and justice for oppressed people throughout the world. On the door of the room Clemente used during Pirates Spring Training is a plaque that reads Roberto’s final wish: “I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all he had to give.” Indeed, not only would that quote suffice as an appropriate epitaph but also accurately depicted the consummate good samaritan that Clemente was in being of service to all. Clemente

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3,000 means a lot more than another oil change

It’s been 40 years since Roberto Clemente joined MLB’s elite 3000 hit club on September 30, 1972 after hitting a double off Mets’ lefty Jon Matlack at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA.

Baseball Hall of Fame Legend and Latino Hero Roberto Clemente reaches out for his 3000th hit.
1972 National League Rookie of the Year Pitcher Jon Matlack
Just one year prior to dishing out Roberto Clemente’s monumental 3000th hit in 1972, the young Mets prospect and the seven other American players on the
San Juan Senadores Winter League team were personally invited to visit Clemente at his home in Puerto Rico. Currently working as a Houston Astros Minor League pitching coordinator, Matlack recalled when Clemente gathered everyone in his trophy room to talk baseball: “I thought that was pretty classy on his part. He was very personable, showed us his trophy room and memorabilia and spent
a lot of time talking about hitting. Every part of me
was awe-struck.”Matlack reminisced: “This bat was leaning in a corner. Somebody asked about hitting, and he picked up the bat to demonstrate. I remember thinking, ‘That’s a big bat,’ and
I asked about it. He said it had the maximum dimensions. He set it back down, and when everybody sort of moved on, I grabbed hold of it. I could barely pick it up. It led me to believe how strong this guy really was.” Clemente’s strength was tested when Matlack faced “The Great One” six times prior to their final reunion in the fourth inning on September 30, 1972. Clemente was hitless off him with one walk in previous matchups. Matlack’s strategy this at-bat was to avoid a mistake on the inner half, while hoping Clemente would take a quality strike on the outside corner. On a 2-2 pitch, the lefty spun a curveball on the outside.
Umpire Doug Harvey hands Roberto Clemente the game ball after he doubled off the Mets’ Jon Matlack for his 3,000th career hit on September 30, 1972.

Matlack said, “As it left my hand,
I was a little upset, because I realized this thing’s not going to make the strike zone. But he took that long stride, kept himself back and pulled it off the left-center-field wall for a double.” Matlack did not recognize what had happened until the second-base umpire, Doug Harvey, presented the ball to Clemente. Jim Fregosi, the Mets’ shortstop who retrieved it, remembered Clemente’s rather nonchalant reaction. He raised his helmet briefly to the fans. Fregosi said, “He was pretty cool about everything he did. That’s how he was.” Fregosi believed Clemente understood the importance of #3000.