As if a strange language and a new culture were
not challenges enough, Clemente also met racism and discrimination
in their crudest forms. He quickly became an active defender of
his rights and the rights of others. In one of his first games
as a professional, he protested angrily when fans yelled racial
insults at one of his teammates.
He became a union leader in the incipient Major
League Baseball Players Association and defended players’ rights
to demand better working conditions and benefits.
Clemente’s relationship with the press
was marked by racial tension. Some members of the press were rude
or scornful simply because he was black and Latino. Some made fun
of his heavy Latin accent, quoting him with phonetic spelling rather
than merely reporting what Clemente said.
away you writers stay, the better I like it. You know why? Because
you’re trying to create a bad image of me… you do
it because I’m black and Puerto Rican, but I’m proud
to be Puerto Rican."
—Roberto Clemente, 1969
"He was just
learning to handle the language, and writers who couldn’t
speak three words of Spanish tried to make him look silly."
Pirates teammate (1956-72) and Hall of Fame second baseman