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This statue outside PNC Park’s Center Field Gate commemorates Pittsburgh Pirate great Roberto Clemente (1934-1972). A native of Puerto Rico, he spent his entire eighteen-year major league career with the Pirates. In that time, the right-fielder won four National League batting titles, captured twelve straight Gold Glove Awards, amassed a career batting average of .317, and led the team to two World Series championships. Tragically, Clemente died in a plane crash on December 31, 1972 while attempting to deliver earthquake relief to Nicaragua. The following year, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America elected him to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Additionally, Major League Baseball renamed the annual award given to a major league player for exemplary sportsmanship and community service in Clemente’s honor. On July 8, 1994, to kick off the festivities leading up to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Pirates unveiled a statue of Clemente outside Gate A of Three River Stadium. Designed by artist Susan Wagner in cooperation with the Pittsburgh-based architectural firm of L.D. Astorino & Associates Ltd., the twelve-foot-tall bronze sculpture depicts the right fielder running out of the batter’s box. As he drops his bat, he watches the flight of the ball he just hit. The statue rests on a circular black granite and steel base inset with a rudimentary outline of a baseball diamond. Installed in the pedestal, representing the diamond’s first, second, and third base, are three glass boxes filled with dirt from Puerto Rico, Forbes Field, and Three River Stadium.


The statue outside PNC Park's Center Field Gate

Cloud, Sky, Sculpture, Street light

Roberto Clemente (1934-1972)

Arm, Cap, Sleeve, Flash photography

Roberto Clemente (full name: Robert Enrique Clemente Walker) was born to humble beginnings on August 18, 1934 in Carolina, Puerto Rico. His father, Melchor, was a foreman in the sugar manufacturing industry, while his mother, Luisa, was a laundress. The youngest of several children, Clemente excelled at sports during his early years. He began his professional baseball career in the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League playing for the Santurce Crabbers. 

In early 1954, Clemente signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. After giving him a $10,000 signing bonus, the organization sent him to play in its minor league system. Following the 1954 season, the Dodgers did not place him on their major league roster, thus making Clemente eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Designed to prevent major league teams from hoarding young talent on the rosters of their minor league affiliates, it allows clubs to select players from other team’s farm systems and sign them to their major league rosters. In the draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates chose Clemente. On April 1, 1955, he made his major league debut. 

Ultimately, Clemente spent his entire eighteen-year major league career with the Pirates. In that time, the right fielder won four National League batting titles, captured twelve straight Gold Glove Awards, and amassed a career batting average of .317. During the 1960 season, Clemente powered the Pirates, hitting .312 with a team-leading 94 RBIs. In the World Series, he batted .310 to help the team defeat the New York Yankees in seven games. Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning—one of the more memorable moments in baseball history—secured the title for the Pirates. Eleven years later, in 1971, Clemente once again led the team to a World Series title and, in the process, won the World Series Most Valuable Player Award. The following season, in his final regular season at bat, he recorded his 3,000th hit. Until then, only ten players in major league history had reached the offensive milestone. 

In addition to being a major league star, Clemente was also a great humanitarian who possessed a deep love for his native land. Throughout his career, in the off-season, he returned to Puerto Rico, where he played in the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League and held clinic for young players. In December 1972, when a catastrophic earthquake struck Nicaragua, Clemente led Puerto Rican relief efforts. Disturbed by reports that the Nicaraguan army was using the supplies rather than distributing them to those affected by the natural disaster, he decided to accompany a supply plane scheduled to leave San Juan on New Year’s Eve. Soon after takeoff, however, the overloaded plane encountered engine trouble and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean just off the Puerto Rican coast, killing Clemente. His body was never recovered. 

A few months later, in March 1973, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America held a special election for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. They voted to waive the mandatory five-year waiting period for Clemente and almost unanimously elected him to the Hall of Fame. That same year, Major League Baseball renamed the annual award given to a major league player for exemplary sportsmanship and community service in Clemente’s honor. 

On July 8, 1994, to kick off the festivities leading up to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Pirates unveiled a statue of Clemente outside Gate A of Three River Stadium. Designed by artist Susan Wagner in cooperation with the Pittsburgh-based architectural firm of L.D. Astorino & Associates Ltd., the twelve-foot-tall bronze sculpture depicts the right fielder running out of the batter’s box. As he drops his bat, he watches the flight of the ball he just hit. The statue rests on a circular black granite and steel base inset with a rudimentary outline of a baseball diamond. Installed in the pedestal, representing the diamond’s first, second, and third base, are three glass boxes filled with dirt from Puerto Rico, Forbes Field, and Three River Stadium. Today, the statue resides outside PNC Park’s Center Field Gate near the bridge that bears Clemente’s name. 

Berry, Adam. "History Behind Pirates Statues at PNC Park: Wagner, Clemente, Stargell, Mazeroski Immortalized in Bronze." mlb.com. Major League Baseball. 5 December 2020. Web. 4 June 2021 <https://www.mlb.com/news/pirates-statues-at-pnc-park-history>.

Jamail, Milton. "Roberto Clemente." Encyclopædia Britannica. Web. 4 June 2021 <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Roberto-Clemente>.

Kirsch, George B., Othello Harris, and Claire E. Nolte, eds. Encyclopedia of Ethnicity and Sports in the United States. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.

"Roberto Clemente." baseballhall.org. National Baseball Hall of Fame. Web. 4 June 2021 <https://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/clemente-roberto>.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

http://www.woodwarddigital.com/miscellaneous

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Roberto-Clemente