31 December 2012

in service

2012 is almost over, but before it goes, i want to recognize the 40th anniversary of roberto clemente's death.  clemente died when the plane he had chartered to deliver relief supplies to the people of nicaragua following an earthquake crashed into the ocean shortly after it left puerto rico.

here's a clemente card from one of my favorite sets - 1999 upper deck century legends
i did not see clemente play - i wouldn't remember it even if i had - but i became a fan of his at a young age.  i wrote a report about him in elementary school, and had a pc going of his cards as soon as i first saw his fantastic 1973 topps card, probably around 1980 or so.  

he has a statue outside what used to be three rivers stadium, and it was featured on jose guillen's 1998 topps card
i believe that this photo was used because guillen had been compared to clemente early on, kind of similar to the cesar cedeno/willie mays comparisons, although guillen played for the same franchise as the player he was being compared to.  it's still a nice card.

the mlb network aired a nice piece on clemente over the weekend, and i was glad i stumbled upon it.  i did not realize that neil walker's father, former major league pitcher tom walker, had been in puerto rico playing winter ball and helped clemente load the plane.  walker said that he asked to go along to nicaragua, but clemente told him to stay behind and enjoy new year's eve.

earlier this year, as i started to put together my 1974 topps set, this bob miller card made me do a double take.
miller, obviously airbrushed into a mets cap, is shown using a photo from his time in pittsburgh, which happened to be the latter half of 1971 and all of 1972, although he was cut during spring training of 1973.  the pirate over his left shoulder is what made me look twice - i can't tell if that is number 21 or not.  hopefully topps would have avoided using a photo of clemente in the 1974 set.

topps left clemente out, and rightfully so, of the 1954 set altogether.  he was in the dodgers' farm system, but they were unable to keep him hidden from other teams, and pittsburgh took him in the rule 5 draft in november of 1954.  clemente debuted five months later and the rest is history.  topps did make a card for their 1994 archives reprint set that featured the 1954 set
and they used it again in the 1995 brooklyn dodgers archives set.  ah, what might have been.

clemente was 38 when he died, which means that he has been gone for a couple years longer than he was alive, and that's a shame.  the roberto clemente award (formerly the commissioner's award) is given to the player who best exemplifies sportsmanship and community service.  clayton kershaw won it this year (the first dodger to receive the award since steve garvey in 1981), and i believe that the award is a nice way to remember clemente's efforts off of the field.  however, i would support the idea of retiring number 21 across baseball as another way of honoring clemente's contributions to the game and to the latin american community.

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