Sunday, April 01, 2018

Review of David Maraniss Clemente

I read David Maraniss' Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero, which I liked quite a bit. Clemente was larger than life even while alive.

Clemente was peevish and tended toward whiny. But that wasn't without reason because he had suffered segregation and discrimination. He didn't get endorsements the way white players did. He didn't get the same accolades (though in part that's because the Pirates were not a big market team). Even worse, and Maraniss comes back to it numerous times with quotes, the press routinely quoted him in phonetics. English was his second language and it became caricatured ("Eef I can geet better...") and justifiably made him mad.

Maraniss depicts the extreme and disgusting corruption of the Somoza government when it sucked up all the aid it could for profit and let people go hungry after the 1972 earthquake. Clemente was angry and that compelled him even more to take the trip to Nicaragua so that he could force the aid where it needed to go. Roberto Clemente could (and would) stand up to a dictator. He was a real role model, on and off the field. He was an elite player who was idolized by both African American and Latino teammates. He was a fan favorite and a devoted family man.

Maraniss gives substantial attention to the history of the DC-7 that took him into the Caribbean shortly after takeoff. I had no idea about any of it, and I felt impotent and useless anger at the owner, who was both stupid and negligent. Many people knew that plane shouldn't be flown. I don't know about being baseball's "last" heroes but Clemente was one of its greatest.


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