Dodgers: The players that got away
Of all the players that got away from the Los Angeles Dodgers, former Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente is likely the one that few knew was once with the Dodgers’ organization. However, the Dodgers originally signed Clemente out of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League in 1952 and assigned him to their minor league affiliate in Montreal.
During a pre-Rule-5-Draft visit by then Pirates pitching coach Clyde Sukeforth, Dodgers management tried to stash Clemente with the pitchers so as to hide him from interested parties and prevent them from seeing him play. However, the move failed as Sukeforth witnessed Clemente taking batting practice with the pitchers and the Pirates ultimately selected him with the first pitch of the Rule 5 Draft in November of that year.
They say, “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” and the Dodgers learned that lesson the hard way.
Clemente would make his MLB debut in 1955 at just 20-years-old, hitting .255/.284/.381 with a piddly wRC+ of just 73. However, the Pirates had time to develop him and gave Clemente the opportunity to play and grow.
Like most players, it would take a few seasons to find his footing, and by 1960 things really came together. From 1960 to 1972, Clemente would hit a combined .329/.375/.503 with an average of 178 hits, 16 home runs, and 82 RBI per season. He would also place in the top-10 of MVP voting eight times during that 13-year stretch (winning in 1966), taking home 12 gold gloves, and making 12 All-Star appearances as well. On September 30, 1972, Clemente would record his 3000th and final hit.
Sadly, Roberto Clemente’s career and life would come to an end after the 1972 season. While making leading a humanitarian mission to Nicaragua, Clemente departed Puerto Rico via plane with food and other aid for earthquake victims. However, his plane crashed immediately after take-off, killing all on board including Clemente.
Today, Major League Baseball recognizes one player from each league with the Roberto Clemente Award, designed to pay tribute to their efforts for their communities and charities outside of the game.
Clemente would be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame on March 30, 1973, appearing on 92.7% of the ballots.