TALK & OPINIONS BY SILVIO CANTO JR.

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1972: Clemente and # 3,000

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The great Roberto Clemente got # 3,000 on this day in 1972.   It turned out to be his last major league hit because he died in a plane crash 3 months later.   This is how Gregory H. Wolf recalled the moment:   

Clemente came to the plate again to lead off the fourth inning in a scoreless game. Once again the crowd was on its feet, cheering on the former MVP entering the twilight of his illustrious career. “Everyone’s standing,” said Bob Prince on the KDKA radio broadcast, “and they want Bobby to get that big number 3,000.”6 Clemente looked at Matlack’s first pitch. The partisan crowd groaned disapprovingly as home-plate umpire John Kibler called strike one. On the next pitch, Clemente lunged to reach a breaking ball over the outside of the plate and connected. “Bobby hits a drive into the gap in left-center field,” said Prince excitedly. “There she is.”7 Clemente scampered to second base standing up while the crowd cheered wildly. “He jumped on the curveball and delivered the type of hit he’s produced so many times before,” wrote Smizik.8 Said Clemente after the game, “It was the same pitch he struck me out on in the first inning.”9 Clemente became just the 11th player to reach 3,000 hits. Second-base umpire Doug Harvey briefly stopped the game to give the ball to Clemente, who tossed it over to first-base coach Don Leppert.

It was only fitting that Clemente tallied the game’s first and the Pirates’ winning run. With the crowd still standing, he scampered to third on a passed ball, and subsequently scored on Manny Sanguillen’s one-out single to left field. Two batters later, Jackie Hernandez tripled, driving in Sanguillen and Richie Zisk (who had walked) to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead.

In between innings, the Mets’ Willie Mays, who had become the 10th member of the 3,000-hit club in July 1970, defied custom by leaving the visitors’ dugout to congratulate Clemente on the Pirates’ bench. Afterward Clemente jogged out to right field to start the fifth inning and doffed his cap to a still-standing crowd. Ellis set down the side in order, his fifth consecutive hitless inning.

Clemente was due up with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, but his day was done. Virdon sent in 35-year-old Bill Mazeroski, set to retire at the end of the season, to pinch-hit. A teammate with Clemente and Virdon on the 1960 World Series champion Pirates, Maz popped out to second.

With Clemente out of the game, the remainder of the contest was anticlimactic. Ellis left after the sixth inning, in which he yielded his first and only hit of the game. Willie Stargell and Zisk led off the sixth with walks, and scored when Wayne Garrett misplayed Sanguillen’s hot chopper to third base for a two-base error. Staked to a 5-0 lead, the Pirates’ Bob Johnson held the Mets to just one hit in three scoreless innings of relief to preserve the victory for Ellis.

Reporters gathered around Clemente in the Pirates’ dressing room after the game. While players congratulated him, there was no champagne or extravagant celebration. An intensively private person, Clemente was quick to deflect attention and give credit to all those who had supported him since he started playing baseball. “I dedicate this hit to the fans of Pittsburgh,” he said. “They have been wonderful. And to the people back home in Puerto Rico, but especially to the fellow who pushed me to play baseball. Roberto Marin.”10

“I’m glad it’s over,” said Clemente honestly about his chase for 3,000 hits. “Now I can get some sleep.”11 The Pirates announced that he would not play in the club’s final three games to rest his aching feet in preparation for their division playoff series with the Cincinnati Reds, scheduled to open on October 7 in Pittsburgh.

Clemente was honored the next day in a brief ceremony before the finale of the Pirates-Mets series. As the crowd of more than 30,000 gave him a standing ovation, a visibly moved Clemente accepted a trophy. After the game Clemente once again reflected on the support he had received throughout 18 years playing in Pittsburgh. “We are here for the purpose to win for the fans. That is who we work for. Not for (GM) Joe Brown. He does not pay our salary. The fans pay our salary.”12

Clemente collected his 3,000th hit in his final at-bat of the 1972 season. No one could have expected that it would be his last. On December 31, 1972, the Great One died with four others when his cargo plane crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico en route to delivering relief supplies to Nicaragua following a disastrous earthquake.    

I recall reading about # 3,000 the next day in the sports pages.  

Sadly, I recall hearing about that plane crash too.  It was a shock!

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Written by scantojr

September 30, 2016 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Baseball Hall of Fame

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