on May 3, 2006
Roberto Clemente was a legendary ballplayer - a .317 career batting average, 3000 hits, four N.L. batting titles, twelve gold gloves, 1966 National League MVP, 1971 World Series MVP, and the first Latino elected to the Hall of Fame. Impressive as these statistics and facts may be, they cannot capture Roberto's greatness. To try to capture Clemente this way, David Maraniss writes, "is like chemists trying to explain Van Gogh by analyzing the ingredients of his paint. Clemente was art, not science...it was hard to take one's eyes off him". Maraniss' new biography of Clemente, (the first since shortly after he died) captures the many facets of this complex man who truly did live his life both on and off the diamond with passion and grace.
Where the earlier Clemente biographies, written shortly after his death, were little more that tributes and eulogies for the fallen hero, Maraniss writes of the man in all his complexity, and though he deservedly calls him a hero, he does not treat him as a saint. Notoriously thin skinned and prickly, Clemente had a career-long feud with the press. Though it was aggravated by the racism of the time, (Clemente was infuriated when the press would quote his interviews using phonetic spelling to capture his accent) and the language barrier, his sensitive personality, often perceiving slights where they were not intended, was equally to blame. He was obsessed with his health and ailments, complaining constantly about his pain, and some accused him of being a goldbricker and a hypochondriac, yet he seemed to play at his best when in his greatest pain, and ended his career breaking the record for most games played in a Pirates uniform. He constantly and vociferously complained about how he did not get the recognition that he deserved, and played every game like it was the seventh game of the World Series.
Clemente was baseball's last hero, not just for his greatness on the field, but for his life off the baseball diamond. He constantly (and quietly) visited children in hospitals throughout his career, both in the states, and in his beloved Puerto Rico. He dreamed of building a sports city for the children of Puerto Rico (a dream fulfilled after his death). He paved the way for Latin players in the major league, and mentored many of them throughout his career. He once said, "If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don't do that, you are wasting your time on this earth", and he lived by that line. And of course, he died a hero's death, attempting to bring aid to victims of Nicaragua's earthquake. Steve Blass, Clemente's teammate, put it best - "The rest of us were just players - Clemente was a prince."
Maraniss has written a worthy biography that is more than just a sports book. The incredible character that Clemente was - the passionate grace with which he lived his life, and the heroic way in which he lost it should interest even those only marginally interested in baseball. I highly recommend it to all.
on April 26, 2006
I still recall where I was (family living room) and who I was with (my Dad) when we heard the news of Roberto Clemente's tragic death. As a pre-teen boy, at the time all I knew of Clemente was his batting average and his bullet arm. Then, as details trickled out concerning the events surrounding his death--his mission of mercy to people in need, I learn more and more about Clemente the man.
Maraniss does a superb job telling both a baseball story and a biography. He also deftly balances the many remarkable traits of the man, with the few flaws he, like every human being, had.
If you love baseball history, you'll love "Clemente." If you love a "poor boy makes good" story, you'll love "Clemente."
Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of "Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction," "Soul Physicians," "Spiritual Friends," and the forthcoming "Sacred Friendships: Listening to the Voices of Women Soul Care-Givers and Spiritual Directors."
on April 15, 2006
I was carrying an advance copy of this book on the Washington Metro and several people stopped to ask me how they could get it. They won't be disappointed. At times Maraniss can be a little wordy like when he takes a page and a half to list all the players on some labor committee and he takes a long time to get to the end, and when he does get to the end, it turns into an NTSA report. I have written a full review at [...] and I encourage all potential readers to find my full opinion at that location. Having said that, this is an absolutely amazingly complete and fascinating account of one of my favorite all time players and the baseball era in which many of us just turned 50 somethings lived. Juan Pizarro, Vic Power, whose pre-swing I emulated all my life, they all come alive on these pages. Clemente of course in all his pride and arrogance. From 1960 to 1971, two pennant seassons, baseball and the world changed a lot. Clemente would be happy that his story was told not by a hack baseball writer, but by a world class biographer. Who does the player and his tragic, heroic story more than justice.
on May 19, 2006
As a young boy growing up near Chicago, I attended countless baseball games at both Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field. Visits to those stadiums were a routine and regular occurrence. But each year a special treat would take place for my brother and me. My father would travel with us 90 miles north of Chicago to Milwaukee County Stadium to watch the Milwaukee Braves. I remember a game played one evening in the early 1960s when the Braves battled the Pittsburgh Pirates. Henry Aaron was the Braves right fielder and that evening he homered and played his normal exemplary game. But the star was number 21, Roberto Clemente, the Pirates right fielder who was then establishing himself as one of baseball's young stars. Clemente had two hits and showed extraordinary speed as he ran the bases. In the field he was flawless, and uncorked an incredible throw from right field as he cut down a Braves baserunner attempting to go from first to third on a hit. Even my father, not much of a baseball fan, was impressed, remarking to me, "Who is that 21, he is quite a player!" While the years have diminished some of the details of that game played more than 40 years ago, I have never forgotten the night when perhaps the two greatest right fielders of their generation performed on a weeknight evening in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
David Maraniss selects unique subjects for his biographical talents. For reasons known only to him, he has limited his subjects to the fields of politics and sports. While these two topics may seem diverse and unrelated, in many ways they are part of a common thread. Politics and sports are a unique juxtaposition of two significant aspects of our culture, where success and failure are often public and fleeting. Many people have strong opinions about both topics and do not hesitate to publicly share those views. Politicians and sports figures often lead significantly different lives in public than in private. Thus it was with legendary Green Bay Packer coach Vince Lombardi, whose life Maraniss chronicled in WHEN PRIDE STILL MATTERED: A Life of Vince Lombardi. So it is again in CLEMENTE: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero, a superb account of not just a man, but of an era when life in America and life in baseball underwent cataclysmic changes that profoundly altered the characteristics of both entities.
The Puerto Rican-born Clemente began his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954, an era of baseball far different from the present game. In the '50s, ownership ruled and players were commodities bought and sold at the team's whim. Clemente signed with the Dodgers because their New York location would allow greater opportunity for his family to see him play. After one year in the Brooklyn organization, the talent-rich Dodgers could not protect Clemente on their roster and he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. By 1955, when Clemente joined the Pirates to commence his 17-year Hall of Fame career, there were 28 black players in the major leagues including many who are now considered the greatest in the game.
But in the '50s, baseball was still faced with issues surrounding the influx of African-American and Latin players. Spring training in Florida found the players confronting segregated facilities for food and housing. Clemente often remarked that spring training was like being in prison. He would not forget the slights, both intended and unintended, of his time in the South. Throughout his career Clemente was a strong and compassionate supporter of the Civil Rights movement.
By 1960, Clemente was a bona-fide star in the National League. That year he led the pirates to the National League pennant. The 1960 World Series between the Pirates and New York Yankees was one of the fall classic's memorable battles. It went back and forth, and the seventh game ended with Bill Mazeroski's winning home run. Maraniss is superb in his recounting of the Series; his writing recreates the drama and tension of a hard-fought battle between two outstanding teams.
Throughout his baseball career Clemente labored under many difficulties. As a Latin player he was forced to battle the stereotype of laziness often attributed to players of his nationality. He hated the fact that sportswriters who spoke no Spanish and made no effort to learn the language mocked him by quoting his broken English. Late in his career, after another outstanding performance in the 1971 World Series, Clemente obtained a measure of revenge. As television cameras circled him for comments after his most valuable player performance in the Series, Clemente spoke first in Spanish to his parents in Puerto Rico.
CLEMENTE is more than a story of baseball, because Roberto Clemente was more than a baseball player. Throughout his life, and even in his death as he led a mission of mercy to earthquake-savaged Nicaragua, he cared about others. He lived his life as a compassionate person and much of what he did was unknown to the media. He was a great man who also happened to be a great baseball player. David Maraniss has captured the spirit and life of Roberto Clemente in this truly beautiful biography. A great biography tells the reader about a person and about the era in which he lived. In that scorebook Maraniss is two for two, both hits being home runs.
--- Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman
Its about time a book on Clemente was written by a great biographer. Maraniss cut his teeth writing about Bill Clinton, and I'm glad he finally got to a subject that deserves his impressive skills.
Clemente wasn't the best baseball player of all time, but he was and is the best outfielder to ever have played the game. Period. As I read this book I kept thinking about the many spoiled, mediocre primadonnas we pay so much attention today in the world of sports. Clemente had a temper thats true but don't we all? He didn't do drugs, performance enhancing or deadening. He came from a impoverished background and new what hard work was all about....he asked for nothing that he didn't earn. Maraniss does a good job of show casing Clemente against some of the down right brats that play the game today (not all are bad by the way) whether he wanted to or not and he does a good job of it also.
Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero is about a player that put others first, both in and out of baseball. He was a man of grace on and off the field. Hurray for David Maraniss for a job well done. Well researched with appropriate information provided from the people that knew Clemente, this book is a must read for the sports enthusiast. If you're cynical about professional sports today, Clemente is a breath of fresh air.
on May 25, 2006
Roberto Clemente came to major league baseball with two strikes against him. In a time when a dark skin was still a relatively new feature in major league baseball, Clemente was a Spanish-speaking star of African slave descent who, more than anything wanted and deserved professional respect. Yet Maraniss makes it clear that skin color and language were formidable barriers, mostly to the Pittsburgh media. They translated his shyness and devotion to excellence as hostility and malingering over injuries. Playing major league ball from 1955 to 1972, Clemente had an arm of mythical strength, 3,000 hits, twelve straight Gold Gloves, two World Series championships, a league and World Series MVP award, four league batting titles, and a .317 lifetime average. It took his untimely death, flying supplies to earthquake disaster victims in Nicaragua, to earn him some respect as, along with Lou Gehrig, Clemente made the Hall of Fame without a five-year wait after the end of his career. That recognition came tragically late and he fully deserves this definitive, breezy, rich, if belated biography.
Clemente came to be a respected leader of the Pirates and the profession, taking part of the players' decision to back the Curt Flood reserve clause court challenge. But it probably did not win him many friends among fans and sports writers of the time. Clemente also suffered from the shift of attention in the city of Pittsburgh, from the Pirates to the Steelers, with Franco Harris' Immaculate reception the inflection point. It didn't help that many blue-collar, European, ethnic Pirate fans showed less attention to the Pirates as the team grew to be more African and Hispanic. The Pirates in the late 1960s were the first team to ever put nine non-whites on the field at the same time. By then, 1960s World Series hero Bill Mazeroski, another slighted star, was one of the few white faces left to carry the load, when Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen, Dave Cash, Dock Ellis, and Al Oliver became the stars of the team. And, as a final barrier, playing his entire major league career in Pittsburgh left Clemente underexposed and underappreciated by the dominant New York media.
Maraniss also does a wonderful job of describing the era when Clemente ascended, back when the International League included Montreal and Havana, when the World Series week day games were played in the afternoon, when ballplayers had off-season jobs to make ends meet, when tickets were reasonably priced, when players did their own laundry, when players did not charge for autographs, and even a star like Clemente could befriend fans, inviting the to join him for meals and visits to his winter home in Puerto Rico. And ballparks had grass and architectural oddities that are coming back in style.
This book also had significant, personal sentimental value. My personal relationship with the Pirates dates to 1960 when, at the age of eleven, my Pittsburgh Aunt Ann got me to sing the Pirate theme song and to believe in the scrappy Pirates, even as the Yankees plastered them in the three games they won in that fateful series. And the ball in Tony Kubek's throat will remain as my most memorable sports moment, even more than Mazeroski's winning shot in the bottom of the ninth. And none of this would have been possible without the magic of Roberto Clemente.
on May 28, 2006
Wow. I read reviews of this powerful book but after finishing it, I was still bowled over. David Maraniss has captured the life and times of Roberto Clemente far better than one could have imagined. Baseball biographies abound, but this is the best.
For those of us who grew up watching Roberto Clemente play ball, author Maraniss strikes just the right chord. He is directly focused on Clemente...but he also reminds us of the era in which Clemente performed. Clemente arrived in the major leagues in 1955 at a time when segregation existed in the south but segregation of a different sort in baseball. Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier earlier (with the help of Branch Rickey) but Roberto Clemente was in a kind of middle generation...able to play in the big leagues but separated when it came to travel. Maraniss deftly points out the conundrum...coming from Puerto Rico where racism was unheard of, Clemente's experience of the prejudice of the south affected not only him, but other Latin players as well. Maraniss also tells of "white" Puerto Ricans and "black" Puerto Ricans and how baseball in this country treated them differently. Just think of how the Yankees' Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada might have seen things in another fashion had they come up through the ranks when Roberto Clemente did. This is a book about the social progress of baseball as seen through the eyes of one of its greatest hitters. As Maraniss points out, the difference between 1960 (the first year that Clemente was on a World Series winning team) and 1971 (the last year he also starred in post-season play) is phenomenal.
David Maraniss combines the gift of research with a superb narrative. Not only does he tell of Clemente's passionate side... at once both thin-skinned and courageous... but the role model that Clemente played for so many. His delicate recounting of the plane crash which ultimately took Clemente's life is handled with tenderness and respect.
Roberto Clemente was an exciting player to watch and I'm glad I'm old enough to have seen him in action. David Maraniss has given us a look at this magnificent baseball player as he should be remembered...a man who elevated the excitement of baseball and a humanitarian who died trying to help others. I highly recommend this extraordinary biography.
For all those who had the enviable opportunity to watch him in the right field, know how great it' s early departure meant for the sports world
He was the passionate showman baseball player, in the sense he could produce from a single hit to a superb home run according the team's special necessity. He had that genius touch about all what he made in the playground. Who could imagine that fatidic day in which he would give his famous 3000 hit in the glorious World Series of 1972, would be his last one?
I can remember with photographic precision how he made so easy the most difficult plays. Caracas, March 1971: in an exhibition game between Pirates and Twins. So imagine these emblematic figures in plain action: Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew but his special charisma and his assertive attitude in the ground became of him the most acclaimed player that evening. His tragic and absurd death, when he just decided to offer his personal support, in service of the survivors of that devastating earthquake in Managua, December 1972, became of him an instantaneous legend.
Memorable and well documented information with mesmerizing graphical support.
on August 10, 2006
For those of us who grew up in this precious little island of ours during Clemente's rise to stardom and revere him as our national hero, this book is indeed a blessing.
For there has never been nor will there ever be another Clemente. As much as he's idiolized, respected and emulated, his magical blend of sports heroics and humanitarian concern will forever set him apart in a class all by himself.
We thank author Maraniss for his selection of Clemente to write about, even though no mention is made of his reasons for doing so. A gifted writer of his considerable credentials could have conceivably chosen other, perhaps more marketable sports figures to write about.
His honest portrayal of an often misunderstood and much maligned character such as Clemente gives credence to what we had thought all along, that Clemente is undoubtedly baseball's last hero. Today's astronomical salaries and the use and abuse of performance-enhancing substances make it rather improbable that talented players will ever reach the impossible dream of surpassing Clemente, a true baseball artist, an even better human being.
We also thank Maraniss, given his interest in the world of politics, for not delving into our soap-opera, status-driven, inmensily divisive political mess. For Roberto Clemente, notwithstanding his outspoken behavior in terms of race, color, culture and language, was not a politico. He was, first and foremost, a superb performer in baseball's arena.
Maraniss's hard work and tremendous effort in researching this book mirror Roberto's work ethic and dedication, bringing those of us who consider Clemente our cultural icon, a book that is a joy to read, a real gift with which to remisnisce, "una bendición" for our hearts and souls.
P.S. Forgive the extra e typo in "benedicion", as well as others. Perhaps next time a Spanish versed editor could review the book prior to its being published.
on May 26, 2006
Clinton biographer David Maraniss has paid the ultimate compliment to Roberto Clemente's spectacular life by writing a very thorough and honest biography which, in revealing "Momen" to be as flawed and human as the rest of us, paradoxically shows what a truly special human being he was. Here in Puerto Rico we are taught, almost at birth, to worship Clemente as our greatest son and most prominent ambassador, yet little else is provided in the way of characterization other than a two-dimensional portrayal of Clemente as a saint. In this, much like Robert Creamer in his canonical biography of Babe Ruth, Maraniss has helped his subject greatly by showing us Clemente the son, the friend, the husband, the father, the teammate... Even for me, a Puerto Rican reader who already boasted a very thorough, almost encyclopedic level of knowledge about Roberto's life and times, the book shed light on things I did not know.
Given the unique nature of our ethnic and political reality, Puerto Ricans are often misunderstood and grossly lampooned and disrespected in the U.S. Clemente's life fits snugly within the concept of a passion play in that he was, as the most prominent Puerto Rican then and now, victimized by this tendency. It is refreshing to see Maraniss avoid this pit-fall and bring forth as flawless a biography (not merely a "baseball biography") as there is.