Pirate of the Caribbean

Clemente

The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero

David Maraniss

Simon & Schuster, $26, 416 pp.

Thirty-five years ago this month, veteran right-fielder Roberto Clemente willed his Pittsburgh Pirates to a World Series victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles. During a nationally televised postgame interview, Clemente bestowed a blessing on his three young sons and asked his parents in Puerto Rico for theirs. Clemente spoke English eloquently, but at this moment he spoke in his first language. “I had never heard anything in Spanish on TV,” Bronx resident Julio Pabon told the New York Times thirty years later. “To hear it that day was like an out-of-body experience.”

As David Maraniss affirms in his elegant new biography of Clemente, “It was one of the most memorable acts of his life, a simple moment that touched the souls of millions of people in the Spanish-speaking world.” Born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, in 1934, the youngest son of Luisa and Melchor Clemente, Roberto became a magnificent, charismatic ballplayer. He batted .317 with exactly 3,000 base hits over eighteen seasons-all with the Pirates. Clemente was among the few players in baseball history who could dominate a game from his outfield position, routinely throwing out runners who dared to test his arm. “Clemente was art, not science,” writes Maraniss. “Every time he strolled slowly to the batter’s box or trotted out to right field, he seized the scene like a great actor. It was hard to take one’s eyes off him, because he could do...

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