Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero (Maraniss)

I am not sure why baseball biographies have become my “go to” genre whenever I need a break. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been unable to find a replacement for Mankell’s Wallender series.

I came to this bio knowing little of Clemente – that he had exactly 3,000 hits, had a great arm, and died in a plane crash while he was trying to deliver humanitarian relief.

I learned a great deal from this well-written book. To his credit, Maraniss largely stays out of the way. He’s not afraid to criticize Clemente – in particular for his (sometimes feigned) anger and its consequences. And the book moves well.

I had no idea about how Branch Rickey serves as a connection between Jackie Robinson and Clemente. Rickey knew the Dodgers were trying to hide Clemente in the farm system because he’d helped get him there.

The Pirates are making an impressive run for the post-season this season. I hope they make it. It would be good for Pittsburgh and for baseball. And perhaps it will bring more attention to Clemente – both to his career and to his life. I had no idea he was the labor rep when Curt Flood tried to change the way baseball operated. I had no idea how much he meant to Puerto Rico. I had no idea that, as he struggled to learn and pronounce English, reporters would write his quotations using phonetic spelling. (How editors allowed that is beyond me.)

But Clemente wasn’t first, and his arc and reputation are not as storybook as Robinson’s, so perhaps that’s why (and this was one of Clemente’s most regular laments) he never seemed to get enough credit. Where is his movie?

Clemente seemed to make an impact on everyone he met everywhere he went. After his plane crashed, the people of Puerto Rico lined the beaches and “waited for [him] to come walking out of the sea” (340). One sportswriter (and Clemente seems to have had a rather contentious relationship with the profession) said, “there were things he did on a ball field that made me wish I was Shakespeare” (343).

Perhaps baseball is right not to retire #21, but attention, Arthur Miller wrote, must be paid. Clemente was quite a player; he was also quite a man.


One Reply to “Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero (Maraniss)”

  1. Had Clemente not lost his life at age 38, he would have played another 2 or 3 years, then would have become an excellent manager at some point in his baseball career.

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