Beyond Baseball: The Life of Roberto Clemente < back   next >
Images: (from top to bottom) Building destroyed by earthquake in Nicaragua; newspaper headline "Bucs’ Clemente Killed in Crash"; a shrine of photos and flowers in San Juan.


His Story


On December 23, 1972, a massive earthquake devastated the Nicaraguan capital of Managua. 7,000 people died and thousands of others were injured. More than 250,000 people were suddenly homeless.

Roberto lost many friends in the quake. He had spent most of November in Nicaragua managing a Puerto Rican all-star team in the Amateur Baseball World Series tournament. He felt the threat to his many colleagues, thousands of fans and friends.

Clemente accepted the honorary chairmanship of an earthquake relief committee and used local media to appeal for help. He worked day and night, even soliciting donations door to door. The relief team raised $150,000, and gathered and shipped nearly 26 tons of food, clothing and medicine by air and sea. Then came reports from Managua—the corrupt regime of General Anastasio Somoza was intercepting the deliveries.

Roberto wanted to make sure the food and medicine got to the people who needed it. On New Year’s Eve, he helped load an aging DC-7, then boarded the flight.

"When your time comes, it comes; if you are going to die, you will die,' Vera remembered him saying. "And babies are dying. They need these supplies."

One of the DC-7’s engines exploded almost immediately after take-off. There were two more explosions, then a fourth.

"He liked Nicaragua because it looked like the old days in Puerto Rico when we didn’t have so much progress. He said the people on the farms still used animals, and it reminded him of when he was a little boy. And when we traveled through the country he liked to visit with the people and learn more about the way they lived. The common people, he just liked to talk with them."
—Vera Clemente


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