The sudden and tragic passing of Roberto Clemente in an airplane crash on New Year’s Eve in 1972 shook the baseball world. On this day in 1973, the Pittsburgh Pirates legend became the first Hispanic player to be inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame.
There was no question that Roberto Clemente would end up in the MLB Hall of Fame. He had put together an incredible career through the 1972 campaign, posting a .317/.359/.475 batting line. He had exactly 3000 hits during his career, and won four batting titles. Clemente was a 15 time All Star, and a 12 time Gold Glove winner. Clemente was one of the top stars in the game, and an inspiration for Hispanic players throughout the game.
Tragically, his life, and career, were cut short. Clemente had been known for his humanitarian efforts as well, and after a devastating earthquake in Nicaragua, he spearheaded the relief efforts for the victims for Puerto Rico. The discovery that the supplies were going to the army instead of the people angered Clemente, who boarded a supply plane to make sure that the provisions reached the right people.
Unfortunately, neither Clemente or the supplies would get to Nicaragua. His airplane crashed during a storm on New Year’s Eve in 1972, and his body was never found. His sudden passing sent shockwaves through not only the Pirates, but the entire game. Tributes began pouring in, as Clemente was remembered not just as a great player, but a great person as well.
Those tributes continued on this day in 1973. Clemente was placed on a special ballot by the Baseball Writers Association of American, as the normal five year wait for induction was waived. He earned 393 of the 424 votes, as 31 members somehow felt as though he was not worthy of being a part of the MLB Hall of Fame. It was a fitting final tribute to Clemente, a memorial of his accomplishments on the diamond.
Induction also came with another honor. Clemente became the first Hispanic player to ever be enshrined in the MLB Hall of Fame, helping to further legitimize the impact that players from Latin America had upon the game.