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Mailbag: Defiende Clemente
A Reader Comes to the Defense of Roberto Clemente
by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
February 8, 2011

Dear Mr. Glab,

I recently read your 2006 article at BaseballEvolution.com ("Top 10 Reasons Why PNC Park Is Superior to Wrigley Field").  I was amazed that someone of your baseball acumen would think so little of the late (and very great) Roberto Clemente.  You are certainly entitled to your opinion if you think that he was over-rated or not that good or whatever.... But to ridicule the man was both appalling and infantile.

First, from a pure baseball perspective. Roberto Clemente was certainly one of the game's all-time greats.  He and Honus Wagner were the two greatest Pirates ever (they both have a PNC statue).   He was the greatest all around player of the 1960's.  In that decade he had the most hits (1,877) and the highest batting average (.329) of any player in all of MLB.   He is arguably the greatest defensive outfielder ever with his arm being the "gold standard" for MLB history.   His 266 OF assists are still the most since WWII.  His 5 years leading the NL in OF assists still stands as the all time NL record.   Also, he is 5th all time with a .362 WS avg, was a NL MVP & WS MVP.... and can you say 3,000 hit club?  

The numbers along with his leadership intangibles certainly seal his greatness. While being a great humanitarian and person are not necessarily "numbers" they also elevate his "intangibles" level.

You say he was "over-rated"? What were you smoking when you wrote that article?

But, you ARE entitled to that opinion....

What you are NOT entitled to is the ridiculing of this baseball superstar and humanitarian, as evidenced by your caption for the picture from your article.

We all do things that we regret in hindsight and perhaps you have had time to think on this since 2006.....

Do you still feel the same?  What say you?

Respectfully,
Ron Andino


Thank you for the email, Ron, and congratulations on being the first to respond to this nearly five-year-old article with something other than blind adulation for Wrigley Field. It's a pity, though, that you instead responded with blind adulation for Roberto Clemente.

It only bothers me a little that most people rate Clemente higher than Paul Waner, Ralph Kiner, and Fred Clarke in the pantheon of Pirate outfielders. I think it's incorrect to do so, but it is at least defensible. What bothers me is that most Pirates fans have not even heard of Waner, Kiner, or Clarke, and that many baseball analysts would place Clemente head and shoulders above them.

It bothers me even more that most Pirates fans have not heard of Arky Vaughan and that many baseball analysts rank Clemente as a better player than Vaughan, even though Vaughan is easily among the top five shortstops of all-time and Clemente is not among the top dozen right fielders of all time.

Anyway, let me address your specific points.

Roberto Clemente was not the best all-around player of the 1960s. I've heard and read some serious man-love for Clemente in my time, but this is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever read on any subject. Have you heard of Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, or Frank Robinson?

Roberto Clemente was not arguably the best defensive outfielder of all-time. If he were, then the Pirates must have been pretty obtuse to continually use him in right field rather than centerfield. You could argue that he was the best defensive right fielder of all-time or that he had the strongest outfield arm of all-time. You shouldn't argue that his outfield arm was the best of all-time, though, because it wasn't always accurate. He led the NL in errors twice and finished with a career fielding percentage below his league average due in part to errant throws.

You are right in noting that Clemente had a very high batting average and a very good throwing arm. What I don't understand is how being really good at two things makes him a complete ballplayer. He had pretty good range and hit for some power, but did not have enough range to be an everyday centerfielder and did not have the kind of power you would like to see from a star right fielder.

Clemente was not especially fast. He did not steal many bases and he led the NL in grounding into double plays twice. Even though he's 64th all-time in plate appearances, he's 15th all-time in double plays grounded into. The man almost never drew a walk, which is somewhat ironic for a man whose legacy is justifiably his selflessness. He averaged one unintentional walk very 5.35 games over his career, or roughly one unintentional walk a week. Most stars who do not draw walks at least make up for this by driving in lots of runs; Clemente never led his league in RBI and only finished among the NL's top ten thrice.

As far as his “leadership intangibles,” who are you to say that he was more of a team leader than Dick Groat, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski, Manny Sanguillen, or Vern Law were? Were you in the clubhouse with them? He may not have been the leader of most teams he played for, and there's certainly no reason to think that he's one of the better team leaders in baseball history.

You did bring up an interesting point in your email, Ron. I tend to dislike players who are overrated, even though it is no fault of the player. Roberto Clemente, Ken Griffey Jr., and Derek Jeter were each great players and, from what I can tell, good people. But because the public exaggerates their greatness and overlooks their flaws, I feel the need to put their greatness into context and underscore their flaws. Think of it as bringing balance to the universe.


Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.


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