This is not my typical Sports Junkie subject matter, but it is far more important. It’s about prejudice, the ugliest word in the dictionary. No, not prejudice in sports, but rather prejudice in general.
More wars have been fought over one kind of prejudice or another, and more human pain and suffering have occurred in the world over one kind of prejudice or another. Innocent people have been victimized and terrorized because of prejudice since time began. And the beat goes on. Will it ever end? Unfortunately not. All people, especially those of a minority group who have been victimized by prejudice, should absolutely never have a prejudicial thought; that means racial, religious, cultural, or any other kind.
One of my dearest friends was randomly shot to death by a sniper, the latter a member of the American Nazi Party, in 1977 at age 42 as he and his family were departing a synagogue in St. Louis, so I am painfully aware first-hand of the horrors of prejudice.
The best way to beat prejudice is for all parents to train and teach their children the right way, when they are very young; ignorance is neither bliss nor a viable excuse. And the question people who feel prejudice should ask themselves is "Why?" If this "Quick Take" changes the thinking of just one person who reads my newspaper articles and accesses my websight, then it has accomplished exactly what I hoped it would.
Story of the Week
When Roberto Clemente graduated from high school in Puerto Rico, he received not only the best wishes of his friends and family, but also personal blessings from scouts for ten different big league teams. They were all very interested in his services.
He had played for Santurce in the Puerto Rican Winter League while still a student, and had quickly attracted representatives of the major leagues with his hitting, fielding, throwing ability, and speed. Although the Milwaukee Braves offered him a $30,000 signing bonus, he kept an earlier commitment to the Dodgers and signed for $10,000.
However, he never played for either Brooklyn or Los Angeles. A rule then in effect required that any player signing for more than $4,000 be put on the big-league roster after a year in the minors; otherwise, he could be signed by any other club for $4,000. Although the Dodgers tried to hide Clemente on their Montreal roster by not playing him, he was claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates on November 22, 1954 for $4,000. The handling of the Clemente situation would prove to be Walter O’Malley’s greatest blunder.
It’s safe to state that it was the Bucs’ best investment since Honus Wagner. Roberto Clemente batted over .300 13 times, won four NL batting crowns, finished with an even 3,000 hits, and ended an 18-year career with a lifetime batting average of .317. The NL MVP in 1966, he was also selected to the All-Star game 12 times.
A textbook right fielder, Clemente won twelve straight Gold Gloves. In 1958, he threw out 22 runners to win the first of a NL record five assist titles. A World Series star, he led the Pirates to championships in 1960 and 1971, and hit safely in every World Series game in which he played. In 1971, he homered in the sixth and seventh games, hit .414 with 12 hits in the Series, fielded flawlessly, and was chosen the Series MVP.
Throughout his career, Roberto was plagued by back injuries, the result of an arthritic spine caused by an automobile accident. Clemente died in an airplane crash on New Year’s Eve, 1972, carrying food and medical supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua.
The customary five-year waiting period was waived, and in 1973 he became the first Hispanic member of the Hall-of-Fame. Later he became the second baseball player, after Jackie Robinson, to be pictured on a U.S. postage stamp.
Clemente was a five-star player; he hit for average, he hit with power, he could run, field and throw. It doesn’t get any better than a five-star position player. And he was as exciting a baseball player as I’ve ever seen.
Last Week’s Trivia
Who was the first switch-hitter to accumulate 100 hits from each side of the plate in one season? Garry Templeton did it as the Cardinals’ shortstop in 1979.
Trivia Question of the Week
As long as we’re on the subject of shortstops, who is the youngest shortstop in baseball history to reach the 200-hit plateau in one season? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answers.