Roberto Clemente documentary coming on PBS

Long Live Roberto ClementeFor those of you with cable or satellite television reception, mark your calendars, because on April 21st, the Public Broadcasting System will air a historic documentary about Roberto Clemente. While locally there's a chance that channel 6, WIPR will broadcast the special, I've long since stopped trying to apply logical reasoning to anything local, of course I think they would be insane not to carry the program.

The special is part of a new ongoing series on PBS, entitled the American Experience. According to Mark Samels, American Experience executive producer, "With all the negative attention being paid to baseball these days, it's important to look back at the kind of impact a true sports hero can have on our nation, Roberto Clemente was much more than an athlete-he channeled that fame into a larger mission of helping people, broke racial barriers, and continues to inspire today."

While most people are familiar with his baseball achievements and his fateful end on December 31, 1972, while traveling aboard a DC-7 aircraft loaded with relief supplies for survivors of a catastrophic earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua; many not be familiar with the obstacles and prejudices he faced during his career. Here are just a few:

  • His starting bonus of $10,000 was just a fraction of the amount paid to white draftees;
  • During his first spring training in Florida in 1955, segregation laws meant that while Clemente's white teammates relaxed at beaches, swam in pools, and stayed in hotels that didn't admit blacks, he was frequently forced to find his own lodging, and eat meals on the bus.
From independent filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz, the Clemente documentary features interviews with Pulitzer Prize-winning authors David Maraniss (Clemente) and George F. Will (Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball), Clemente's wife Vera, Baseball Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, and former teammates, to present an intimate and revealing portrait of a man whose passion and grace made him a legend.

Believe it or not, back in the 70's when I used to enjoy watching baseball with my Dad, the Pirates were my team and I can still remember marveling at the exceptional play of Clemente. After Clemente's death, which I only slightly remember, my interest in baseball began to wane and I eventually switched to become a Cub's fan, as they were the most widely broadcast team in the area where I grew up.

I look forward to seeing the special and learning more about this legend. I know for me just reading the following quote makes him a lot more nearer and dearer to my heart already. According to the press release for the documentary, Clemente is quoted as saying
"If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don't do that, you are wasting your time on this earth,"
he told a Houston audience in 1971, just one year before his death. My friends, truer words have never been spoken, and should be a clarion warning call for more Puerto Ricans to switch their ego-centric focus off of themselves and onto the lack of positive change they are having for future generations. Long live the spirit of Roberto Clemente and let's retire his number, while we're at it!