In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States, Google’s doodle team put together a special homepage graphic commemorating the famed career of Puerto Rican baseball star and humanitarian Roberto Clemente. On this day in 1971, Clemente led the Pittsburgh Pirates to victory against the Baltimore Orioles, helping the team earn their Series title.
Born on Aug. 18, 1934 in Carolina, Puerto Rico, the young athlete began playing for the Puerto Rican Baseball League’s Santurce Crabbers at age 16 and was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers minor league affiliate in Montreal after graduating high school.
“Well, I said to myself, there’s a boy who can do two things as well as any man who ever lived,” Dodgers scout Clyde Sukeforth said, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame website. “Nobody could throw any better than that, and nobody could run any better than that.”
During his professional career, which began in 1955 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Clemente earned “12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards, 4 National League batting titles, 3,000 career hits, the 1966 National League MVP Award, 2 World Series rings, and the 1971 World Series MVP Award,” Google noted in its doodle blog.
But his heart wasn’t restricted to the game. Clemente had a humanitarian mission to be an agent of positivity for the youth in his community.
“Clemente’s philanthropy was not calculated to gain public or private recognition. He simply wanted to help people in need,” the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition wrote about the star. “Despite his busy schedule, he made time to hold baseball clinics for kids, especially for those from low-income families. He dreamed of building a “Sports City” where Puerto Rican youth would have ready access to facilities, coaching, and encouragement in many sports. It was another way of working toward a Puerto Rico that was healthier, happier, and fairer.”
The legendary baseball player died in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972 while attempting to deliver food and medical supplies to victims of the 6.2-magnitude Nicaragua earthquake that killed more than 10,000 and left 250,000 others homeless. Clemente’s body, along with the bodies of three others on the airlift, were never recovered. He was 38 years old.
Months later, Clemente became the first Latin American and Caribbean player to be inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Since his death, he’s also earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Roberto Clemente Walker Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Citizens Medal.
“I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all he had to give,” Clemente once said. And in his home country, that’s how he’s remembered.
Puerto Rico’s professional league was renamed the Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente 60 years after his pro-debut and in 1999, on what would have been his 65th birthday, sculptor José Buscaglia created a 30-foot long, 7.5-foot high cenotaph exalting the hero. The Clemente Cenotaph sits at the center of the sports facilities in his hometown of Carolina, Puerto Rico.