We've been to the wars together,
We took our foes as they came;
And always you were the leader,
And ever you played the game.
Vera and Sanguillen were not at the service. She was walking the beach of Punta Maldonado, the closest point of land to the crash, hoping for a miracle. Sanguillen was out in a boat, futilely diving without equipment and amid sharks, looking for some sign of his friend. Only one of the five bodies on board was recovered, that of the pilot, Jerry Hill. The plane settled 150 feet below the surface. The only personal effects of Clemente's ever found were a brown sock and the alligator briefcase he had bought in Nicaragua.
Contrary to Jim Brewer's prediction, Clemente did not hit .320 the year after he died. He did, however, have a pretty good season. Three months after the crash, the Baseball Writers Association of America held a special election, and of 424 ballots cast, an impressive 393 voted Clemente into the Hall of Fame, the first Latin American player to be so honored. And on Aug. 6, 1973, he was inducted into the Hall, along with his boyhood idol, Monte Irvin.
There are those who know her who say that Vera Clemente is still expecting Roberto to come home.
"For many years I was waiting for him. I even kept his clothes in the closet and in the drawers of his dresser. But then one day I found Ricky, who was five at the time and never really knew his father, sitting in front of the TV set, watching a film of Roberto playing baseball with some children. It broke my heart, because next to Ricky on the floor were clothes he had taken out of Roberto's drawers. That is when I decided to put them away."
The three Robertos bear a special burden. Even had their father lived, it would not have been easy living up to his name; martyrdom has made it that much more difficult. Roberto Jr. realized at an early age what was expected of him. "A few weeks after the crash," says Vera, "Robertito said to me at bedtime, 'Mommy, tell the Pirates not to put anyone in rightfield. I want to play that position myself.' When I told him he might be able to when he grew up, he said, 'No, tell them I want to play it right now.' "
At 27, Robertito bears a strong resemblance to his father, especially when he rotates his neck to crack a vertebra. Warm and engaging, he does much of the ambassadorial work for the family. In November he flew to Nicaragua to manage the same amateur team his father had managed 20 years before. "I am not complaining," he says, "but every day of my life I have been reminded of who I am. Once, when I was in Pittsburgh, I stopped to help an old lady change a tire. She said. 'Thank you, young man, where are you from?' And I said Puerto Rico. And she said, 'Puerto Rico! Why that's where Roberto Clemente was from. He was a great man. What is your name?" And I said, 'Roberto Zabala.' "
To compound his problem, Robertito was also a pretty good ballplayer. The Pirates and their minor league director, Branch Rickey III—the grandson of the man who originally stole Clemente—passed on Junior, but the Philadelphia Phillies signed him as an outfielder. Robertito had many of his father's tools, but he also suffered from many of the same kinds of injuries, and he bounced from the Phillies to the Padres to the Orioles, who released him two years ago. He still harbors a dream to play major league ball: "Maybe if my father were still alive. I could have been tike Ken Griffey Jr."
Luis Roberto, a year younger than Roberto Jr., did sign with the Pirates. But now he too is out of baseball and works for American Airlines in Miami while pursuing a career in music. Like his father, he plays keyboards. Enrique Roberto, now 23, also played ball. Says Millan, who has seen all three Robertos play, "I think Ricky was the best of the three sons." But Ricky was also painfully shy. "I never heard him speak," says Millan. "I used to kid him, 'How do you talk to your girlfriend?' but he would just smile." Ricky now works at Marín Airport. It is a strange irony that two of Clemente's sons work near airplanes.
As early as 1965, Roberto Clemente had talked of building a sports city for the underprivileged and undernurtured kids of Puerto Rico. In 1971 he had given a speech at a banquet in Houston that had the audience on its feet. "If you have an opportunity to make things better, and you don't do that," he told the people, "you are wasting your time on this earth."