HALL OF FAMER ROBERTO CLEMENTE HITS THE AUCTION SWEET SPOT AT HUNT'S SPORTS SALE
Road jersey; grey flannel vest style shirt with original black over gold Pirates team name on front and #21 on back; 1958; $71,500. Photo courtesy of Hunt Auctions.
I grew up listening to Pittsburgh Pirate baseball games on the radio. As a 10-year-old there was power in the way Roberto Clemente smacked a ball over the fence at Forbes Field that came across loud and clear even through my plastic portable radio.
Not only could I hear Clemente’s hit as I lay in bed, I could see it in my mind’s eye. Even today some 45 years later, I can still see it.
My heart raced along with his as he tore around the bases at full speed. And Clemente could throw. Man could he throw. He was magic.
He made steamy inner-city afternoons in Pittsburgh bearable. A hard worker as well as a humanitarian, Clemente was everything right about Pittsburgh.
It never made any sense to me why at the height of his career, Clemente was gone. A huge hole in right field was left behind.
Clemente came to the Pirates in 1954 as the number one draft pick. The Puerto Rican player joined the team in 1955 and spent his entire 18 year Major League career with the Pirates.
He was National League batting champion four times, played in two World Series, and received 12 Gold Gloves. He hit over .300 13 times with Pittsburgh. He was chosen as the National League’s most valuable player in 1966 and the most valuable player in the 1971 World Series.
“He's the strangest hitter in baseball, figure him one way and he'll kill you another," said Sandy Koufax, former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher.
Clemente was the first player of Latin American descent to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and the first to get there without the customary five year post-retirement wait. He made it the hard way.
It was New Year’s Eve 1972. The weather was bad. The cargo plane was shaky. Clemente insisted on taking medicine, food and clothing to earthquake victims in Nicaragua anyway. It really bothered him that previous supplies never made it to the people who needed it.
This time he would go himself. On route to Nicaragua, Clemente’s plane crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico. Prior to his death, his wife Vera later said he told her about a dream where he was lost in the clouds.
Clemente’s body was never found. But his spirit never left Pittsburgh or Puerto Rico where he remains a hero and baseball legend.
"He gave the term 'complete' a new meaning. He made the word 'superstar' seem inadequate. He had about him the touch of royalty," said Former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
Clemente played full out like he was running out of time. He was. In the end he taught this kid about coming through when it counts and about loving the game of baseball.
It’s no surprise that Clemente memorabilia commands serious interest at auction. On July 12, a selection of Clemente memorabilia went on the block in the 2005 Major League Baseball All-Star auction at Hunt Auctions in Exton, Pa. Here are some current values.
Nodder; souvenir doll; clean condition; circa 1962; $2,090.
Game bat; Louisville Slugger 125 model; 21 written in black marker; originally obtained from Pirate equipment manager; circa 1969-72; $8,250.
Signed baseball; unused near-white Worth “Official League” ball; black ink; likely a commemorative or promotional ball given out in honor of his 3,000th hit; 1972; $9,900.
Road jersey; grey flannel vest style shirt with original black over gold Pirates team name on front and #21 on back; 1958; $71,500.
Silver bat award; presented to Clemente as the 1965 NL batting champion; made in the manner of a professional model Louisville Slugger 125 model Clemente bat; 34 inches long; $99,000.
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