From Publishers Weekly
If ever a baseball player were deemed worthy of canonization, right fielder Roberto Clemente might be the one. Jackie Robinson may have suffered greater hardships during his career, but Clemente's nobility, charity and determination make him far more appropriate for a postage stamp than a Nike commercial. After 18 distinguished seasons, the Pirate star with the astonishing throwing arm died in a 1972 plane crash while en route to deliver relief supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims. Considering the potential for hagiography, Washington Post
staffer and Clinton biographer Maraniss sticks to the facts in this respectful and dispassionate account. Clemente is a deceptively easy subject for a biographer: his acquired halo tinges past events and the accounts of his colleagues (although close friend Vic Power is frequently quoted to both admiring and frank effect). Clemente wasn't entirely virtuous—he had a temper and was sometimes given to pouting—but his altruism appears to have been a genuine product of his impoverished Puerto Rican upbringing. Maraniss deftly balances baseball and loftier concerns like racism; he presents a nuanced picture of a ballplayer more complicated than the encomiums would suggest, while still wholly deserving them. Photos.
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It's hard not to feel that Clemente
, for all its virtues, is a bit of a letdown. With a Pulitzer Prize and notable biographies of Bill Clinton (First in His Class
) and Vince Lombardi (When Pride Still Mattered
) under his belt, David Maraniss sets high expectations. He mostly satisfies by revealing details about Clemente's tragic death and the compassionate instincts and dogged stubbornness that enabled it and by rightfully placing him alongside his generation's best players. But some critics note a reliance on research rather than reporting, which leaves Maraniss's famously inscrutable subject opaque until the closing pages. Still, not every hit is a homer, and critics applaud Maraniss for delivering the first notable biography of one of the most compelling players to take the diamond.<BR>Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.