By now one thing
should be clear to Pittsburgh's opponents. For their own good, they ought to
warm the cockles of Clemente's heart with praise, commiserate with him when he
has a hangnail, elect him to the All-Star team with a landslide vote, punch any
sportswriter who does not quote him as if he were Churchill on the floor of
Parliament and campaign for him to receive his first Most Valuable Player
award. "If I would be happy I would be a very bad player," Roberto
himself says. "With me, when I get mad it puts energy in my body."
This business of
failing to elect him to the All-Star team (as was the case last year when the
malaria and/or paratyphoid caused Roberto to get off to a poor start) only
assured that he would win another batting championship. Moreover, he cannot
forget that in 1960, when he batted .314 and the Pirates won the pennant, he
finished a shabby eighth in the voting for MVP. Dick Groat hit .325 for the
Pirates that year, leading the league and winning the MVP trophy, but Clemente
drove in 94 runs to Groat's 50, and demands to know why, if he was not
Pittsburgh's most valuable player, he was the one the pitchers most often
knocked down? When told that Groat sparked the team, Roberto proves that his
American idiom is on the upgrade by retorting, "Sparked, my foot!" The
point is, however, that he hit .351 the following year. Lest he ever simmer
down and acquire a happy disposition, his teammates call him No Votes.
rebuffed by baseball's In crowd, Clemente nevertheless leads all popularity
polls where it counts—with the paying customers in Pittsburgh. They seem to
grasp that, if he is a man who covets recognition, he would rather have it from
Joe Doaks than from all the members of the Baseball Writers Association of
America. "Winning the World Series in 1960 was not the biggest thrill I
ever have in my life," he said not long ago, looking out on the lights of
San Juan from his veranda. "The biggest thrill was when I come out of the
club-house after the last Series game and saw all those thousands of fans in
the streets. It was something you cannot describe. I did not feel like a player
at the time. I feel like one of those persons, and I walked the streets among
Such utterances by
Clemente are not a pose for public consumption. Behind closed doors he has
urged his teammates to set their sights high, for the novel reason that "we
owe these people another pennant." Says Pitcher Bob Friend, a Pirate until
traded to the Yankees in December: "He gets pretty windy on the subject,
and you wonder how to turn him off. A lot of players leave the game feeling the
world owes them a living, but Clemente's an exception to that rule. He knows
what baseball's done for him, and he expresses his appreciation."
meanwhile, hold Clemente in an esteem they otherwise tender only to Cellist
Pablo Casals and Elder Statesman Luis Mu�oz Mar�n. "He is a glory to the
island," says a nightclub guitarist named Frankie Ramirez, whose sentiments
are echoed from San Juan to Mayag�ez. One recent morning Roberto and his
engineer friend, Libertario Avil�s, drove into the countryside east of San
Juan. Avil�s steered his Wildcat convertible past the old sugarcane fields that
were now being bulldozed for factory sites. Roberto's father had owned a few
acres himself once and at the same time had worked as a foreman of a great
plantation and with his wife had run a grocery and meat market for the workers.
"My mother and father, they worked like racehorses for me," said
Roberto. He has the mid-Victorian morality of the old Spanish families, and his
sense of obligation runs strong. "Anybody," he was saying now, "who
have the opportunity to serve their country or their island and don't, God
should punish them. If you can be good, why you should be bad?"
coursed through the seaside village of Fajardo and, not far beyond, turned up a
dirt road where lay a dream that had possessed Roberto's emotions all winter.
He was negotiating with the government to lease a lush 20 acres on which he
plans to construct a sports camp for boys, plowing the profits into camp
scholarships for the underprivileged. He will call the camp Sports City.
Tramping through the seaside forest where Sports City will rise, Roberto
explained his ambition: "We are known as a good sportsmanship people, and
I'm proud to be part of that recognition. But today life is moving too fast for
these kids. You see 15-year-old boys and girls holding hands. They hang out on
street corners. Maybe if I can keep them interested in sports they will not
always be talking about stealing and about gangster movies. I'm proud to do
good for my island."
As Roberto spoke
of his dream, he seemed no longer the worrier on whose lips are complaints of
headaches, backaches, sore feet, sore arms and tired blood. "I like to work
with kids," he said. But then he added with a frown, "I'd like to work
with kids all the time, if I live long enough."