The following was recently published by William Coppola on Latino Sports. And with 21 Days of Clemente in full swing, we feel that it is only right to re-post the article for our readers to learn more on The Great One Roberto Clemente. Enjoy!
LOS ANGELES, CA — Who is the best baseball player you have ever seen? That question comes up all the time for fans. With the use of the internet, it is easy to find old footage of entire games and spectacular plays, like “The Catch” by Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series and Puerto Rico’s Roberto Clemente’s fantastic grace and powerful, accurate arm to the plate to save a run against Baltimore in Game 6 of the 1971 World Series. But to watch a great player over his entire career and witnessing him at the ballpark will remain with you forever by what you saw with your own eyes.
I was fortunate enough to see many great players in my lifetime. Growing up in New York, I was spoiled from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s. I believed that the World Series was only allowed between two NY teams every year. The Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants were in the “Fall Classic” for eighteen years from 1949 to 1966, if you include the transplanted Dodgers’ four appearances after their move to LA in 1958. So, I saw the best of the best every year for many years. Then there was the Mets in 1969 and 1986, plus the Yankee teams with Reggie Jackson and later the monster Derek Jeter teams from 1996 to 2009.
So, who is the best I ever saw? Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Duke Snider of the 1950s? Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Thurman Munson of the 1970s? Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, and Mike Piazza of the Mets? Derek Jeter, Roger Clemens, Panama’s Mariano Rivera?
Amazingly, it is not any of the greats mentioned above who played in my hometown. The best I ever saw was Roberto Clemente. Others hit more home runs and had more RBIs. Those mentioned had spectacular plays on their resumes and more World Series rings. But Clemente had something special that set him apart from all the other greats.
Whenever I saw him play, he was exciting and graceful, and he had a style of play that left an image printed on my brain that I can not remove to this day. He was the enemy to my teams that I rooted for every time I saw him on the field.
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