“With great power comes great responsibility.”
It’s a phrase by a French philosopher, more commonly known as the guiding words for a young superhero.
The phrase is designed to speak to those who have power — whether that’s power over other people, the power to influence other people, or just a power to do what no one else can do. In any case, the person wielding the power has a responsibility to use the power for the good of all people.
The phrase is more of a concept, a guide on how to live your life.
It’s very similar to another phrase in its messaging:
“Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.”
That’s a phrase from a real life superhero, more commonly known as the guiding words from a great baseball player.
Roberto Clemente was more than a baseball player.
As a baseball player, he reached the 3,000 career hit milestone, batting .317 for his career, with an .834 OPS. He won an MVP award in 1966, and won 12 Gold Gloves in a row, still holding the record for outfield Gold Gloves today.
Clemente knew how good he was on the field.
Prior to the 1971 World Series, the right fielder was quoted as saying “Nobody does anything better than me in baseball.”
He went on to become the MVP of the 1971 series against Baltimore, going 12-for-29 with two home runs, including a game seven home run that gave the Pirates a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning.
This was during a time when the league had greats like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, who garnered fame with their ability to hit home runs. Clemente eschewed home runs in favor of average, saying “I am more valuable to my team hitting .330 than swinging for home runs.”
He batted .329 or better seven times in his career, winning four batting titles.
We probably would have remembered Roberto Clemente forever as a baseball player, just based off his stats and accomplishments in the game.
But Clemente aspired for more than just being the best baseball player out of Latin America, and one of the best players in the game.
Then, on December 31, 1972…
Clemente was a very outspoken player. He spoke out about the lack of sponsorships and endorsements that Latin players received at that time, along with the way Latin players were considered lower than American players.
His sponsorships largely came from Spanish companies, and he would donate the money from those sponsorships to charities.
His charity work went beyond his home country in Puerto Rico, helping out all Latin American countries. On December 23rd, 1972, an earthquake hit Nicaragua. Clemente learned that the victims weren’t receiving much aid.
On December 30th, Clemente was loading supplies in San Juan to send to those victims. There were too many for the plane he had. He worked a deal with another pilot to fly the extra supplies. That plane had damage from a previous flight, and was overloaded.
Clemente was warned of the plane, but boarded on New Year’s Eve, aiming to deliver the aid to the victims. At 9 p.m., the plane took off. It quickly exploded after reaching an altitude of 200 feet, and crashed into the ocean.
The body of Clemente was never found, despite a search that even sent Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillen joining the efforts with a scuba tank.
In 1973, Clemente was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Today, on September 15th, MLB holds Roberto Clemente day — which will be held on this day every year going forward.
On this day, we don’t just remember a great baseball player.
We remember a great man.
A man with great power, whose great responsibility was carried out until his life was tragically cut-short.
A man who knew that it was his responsibility to use his power for good.
A man who knew that it would be a waste of his time on Earth if he didn’t use those powers to make a difference.
Today, we remember Roberto Clemente.
A man who was a superhero.
For more articles on Roberto Clemente, head over to Pittsburgh Baseball History, where we have a Roberto Clemente section featured all year.