I was an avid follower of baseball through the later years of the career of Roberto Clemente and I never understood why he was not more popular than he was. His .317 lifetime batting average and the repeated Gold Glove awards as a best fielding outfielder attest to his great all-around skills. My friends and I constantly talked about baseball, but most of the time the subjects were Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver. This was unfortunate as Roberto Clemente deserved to be discussed along with these stars and receive equivalent recognition. Appropriate recognition is even more fitting given the fact that he died in a plane crash while providing relief to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
The purpose of this book is to present the life and career of Clemente and it is very well done. His childhood growing up in Puerto Rico is fairly typical of children in Latin America, where they play baseball with whatever equipment they can scrounge or simply create from what they have. Clemente was the first Latin player to win many of the most prestigious awards in baseball, a fact often lost on the modern fan is how recent the large influx of Latin players into the major leagues is. In 2005 28.7 percent of major league players were Latino compared to only 8.5 percent that were black. While Clemente was by no means the first Latin player in the major leagues, there is no question that he was the first to be a star.
Written at the level of the middle school child, this book is an excellent addition to the library of schools that champion diversity. The name of Jackie Robinson has deservedly been heard by nearly everyone that follows sports, yet Roberto Clemente's name is rarely heard. This is unfortunate for he was also a trailblazer and the role model for many of the greatest players of the last three decades.