Posted: Monday, December 30, 2002
This date in Pirates history marks the 30th anniversary of the tragic passing of a legend. Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash on Dec 31, 1972 as he was bringing relief supplies to Nicarauga, right after the country suffered a large earthquake. Roberto was born in 1934 and played his entire ML career (1955-1972) for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Clemente's career stats are impressive and made him an obvious choice for the Hall of Fame, in which he was elected just 11 weeks after his untimely death. Roberto's final stats include exactly 3,000 hits, a .317 average, 1416 runs scored, 12 All-Star appearances, 12 Gold Gloves, 2 W.S. rings and an MVP award in 1966.
Among Pirates, he is tied for first in games played with Honus Wagner with 2433. He's 1st in at-bats, 1st in hits (3000) and total bases (4492). He ranks 3rd in homeruns (240), RBI's (1305), doubles (440), runs scored (1416) and triples (166). Roberto batted over .300 13 times, with a career high of .357 in 1967. He had four 200 hit seasons, 3 times scored over 100 runs and twice drove in over 100 runs with a career high 119 during his MVP year.
Clemente also did well during the 2 World Series appearances he made. First in 1960, when the Pirate beat the Yankees in 7 games, he hit .310 with a team high 9 hits and he also drove in 3 runs. During the 1971 W.S. he did even better, batting .414 with 12 hits, 2 home runs and 4 RBI's. He was also named the MVP of the series as the Bucs beat the Orioles in 7 games. His postseasons weren't all great and as Roberto went, so did the Pirates. In 1970 when the Bucs lost to the Reds, Roberto hit .214 and in 1972 when they lost in the NLCS to the Reds again, he hit just .235.
Roberto also had 4 batting crowns to his credit, 1961 (.351), 1964 (.339), 1965 (.329) and 1967 (.357). Twice he lead the league in hits (1964, 1967) and once in triples (1969 with 12). He is just 1 of 25 guys with 3,000 hits and besides Clemente only Honus Wagner and Paul Waner among those 25 guys played for the Pirates. Roberto also led all of the majors during the decade of the 60's in batting average with a .328 mark.
Roberto played over 2300 of his career games in right field (an NL record), but also appeared 63 times in center, 27 times in left field (but not once after 1957). In 1957 he even got into 2 games at 3rd base and 1 game at second, making 1 error in 3 total chances at each position.
On this, the 30th anniversary of his death, lets remember all of the great things that Roberto did while in a Pirates uniform. Although I never saw him play live, I have seen plenty of tapes and I can appreciate what he meant to the Pirates, to fans everywhere and especially to his fellow countrymen from Puerto Rico, for whom he did so much and where he was and still is an idol. To quote Roberto himself, "A country without idols is nothing". Thanks for the memories Roberto!
Only 2 former Pirates players born on this date to write about. First Bobby Byrne who played for the Bucs from mid season 1909 till late season 1913. He was acquired from the Cardinals on Aug. 29,1909 for Alan Storke and Jap Barbeau. During the W.S. that year, which the Pirates won, Bobby hit .250 with 5 runs scored. The next season he had his best season, scoring 101 runs (2nd in the NL), batting .296 and leading the NL in doubles with 43. He also tied for the league lead in hits with teammate Honus Wagner.
Byrne would score over 95 runs each of the next 2 seasons as the Pirates everyday third baseman. In 1911, he hit a career high 17 triples, the 2nd of 3 straight seasons in double digit in that category. Bobby lasted 113 games into the 1913 season with the Bucs before being sent to the Phillies, for whom he played with till 1917. He played just one game with the White Sox after leaving the Phils and finished his 11 year career hitting .254 over 1283 games. Byrne was born in 1884.
Finally, Esteban Loaiza, who pitched for the Bucs from 1995 till 1998, as of last season pitched for the Blue Jays, turns 31 today. Loaiza made his ML debut on April 29th and would start 31 games for the Pirates that year. He went 8-9 5.16 and he tied for the league lead in games started. The next season he started in the minors and was even loaned to the Mexican League for 2 months before coming back to the Pirates for 10 starts. He went 2-2 4.96 with a shutout, his only one as a Pirate.
In 1997, back as an everyday starter, he went 11-11 with a 4.13 ERA, which to this date is a career low for him. He struck out 122 batters in a team leading 196+ innings. In 1998, Loaiza went 6-5 4.52 before being traded to the Rangers for Todd Van Poppel and Warren Morris. His record to date stands at 69-73 4.88 in 235 games.