A report by Christian Red for the New York Daily News.
When he was a teenager, Roberto Clemente Jr. says he first learned to drive behind the wheel of the muscle car his father, Hall of Fame Pirate Roberto Clemente, had received for winning MVP honors in the 1971 World Series.
“Dodge Charger, 440 Magnum, stick shift. It’s a special edition. I used to race in that car,” says Roberto Jr. “The car itself has less than 37,000 miles. The car is in unbelievable shape, mint condition. That car is a trophy.”
Roberto Jr., his two brothers and Clemente’s widow, Vera, are finally saying goodbye to the Charger, as well as bidding farewell to hundreds of other Roberto Clemente memorabilia items. The amazing treasure trove is currently on the auction block through Hunt Auctions – everything from Clemente’s ’71 World Series ring to a 1966 Clemente game-worn No. 21 Pirates road jersey – and the Clemente items will be available to bid on until July 11, when a live auction will conclude during the All-Star Game “FanFest” in Miami.
Roberto Clemente died Dec. 31, 1972 after a plane he boarded in his native Puerto Rico crashed shortly after takeoff. Clemente was flying to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua to deliver relief supplies. Forty-five years after his death, Clemente’s surviving family is ready to part ways with a significant chunk of what embodied the Pirates legend’s baseball career and life.
“It was time. For so many years, everywhere we go, people are looking for Clemente stuff. People that have Clemente stuff, they don’t get rid of it, they don’t sell it because it’s an attachment,” says Roberto Jr., 51. “The timing of it all is perfect – All-Star Game in Miami. Mom is actually the catalyst in many ways. She never wanted to get rid of anything. But she got to a point, ‘You know what? It’s time. This is time to be able to share everything with the people that loved (Clemente) – which is the fans.'”
Clemente Jr. now lives in Pittsburgh, the city in which his father became a star Pirates slugger/rightfielder, while Vera and the two other Clemente sons, Luis and Enrique, still live in Puerto Rico. Everywhere in Steel City, Roberto Jr. says he sees reminders of his dad, whether it’s fans sporting a No. 21 jersey (still a top-selling jersey in Pittsburgh), or the No. 21 adorning the right field wall at PNC Park.
“The fan base has been unbelievable for so many years. The legacy has been stronger every single year,” says Roberto Jr.
One element of Clemente’s legacy that has not been realized is the retiring of his No. 21 throughout the majors. Dodgers Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 is retired throughout baseball and Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier 70 years ago this season. Clemente was a pioneer for Latino players, but although many current and former players support the idea of retiring No. 21, Major League Baseball told the Daily News that commissioner Rob Manfred’s stance has not changed from last summer, when Manfred told ESPN that Clemente’s legacy is honored with the Roberto Clemente Award, given out at the end of each season to the player who excels on the field and within his community.
“We think that’s what Roberto stood for and thought it was the most appropriate way to honor him,” Manfred said last summer.
Roberto Jr. says he has no strong feelings about the retiring of his father’s number, and that the Clemente family is just happy to be able to offer the memorabilia items to the fans after all these years.
“I don’t (have an opinion). I know that there have been some efforts (to retire the No. 21 jersey). (Former) Commissioner (Bud) Selig stated that he was not going to be doing that. (Rob) Manfred, today, that’s a story for him to address. For me, I believe the legacy is so strong. All I care about is for children to understand how to emulate someone that cared for people. That legacy of giving – that’s what it’s all about,” says Roberto Jr.
And there are plenty of Clemente items to choose from, although Roberto Jr. will miss seeing that Dodge Charger in the driveway. Alas, it’s time to turn the keys over to someone else.
“The uniform, silver bats, gold gloves, there’s nothing emotional about it for me except the car. The hardware is hardware. I think it’s going to continue (Clemente’s) legacy by providing more things to give,” says Roberto Jr. “The way my dad played, the way he really believed that he owed every fan that bought a ticket to watch him play. He owed that to them, and this is all part of that.”