Forty-five years ago today, baseball fans woke up to the news that the Pittsburgh Pirates’ star outfielder Roberto Clemente had been killed in an airplane crash on December 31 on his way to Nicaragua to deliver disaster relief after an earthquake.
A few months earlier, on September 30, 1972, Clemente had pulled a curveball from New York Met and Rookie of the Year Jon Matlack into the gap for a double. It was his 3,000th hit, and he had become only the 11th player in nearly a century of Major League Baseball to reach that milestone. It was also the last at-bat of his life.
The dramatic and tragic end of Clemente’s career capped a story that is uniquely American and uniquely baseball. While today Latin American players dot Major League lineups like marks on a successful bingo card, when Clemente began his career in 1955, this was not the case. While …