Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente was one of nine players of color that started for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sept. 1, 1971. This was the first time it happened in Major League Baseball’s history. Clemente would become the first Latin player to win the World Series Most Valuable Player Award later that year. 

 

The Pittsburgh Pirates did something that had never happened in the history of Major League Baseball on Sept. 1, 1971. This was five days before my 11th birthday.

The nine Pirates starters were players of color. The 50th anniversary of this milestone evening is upcoming, and currently there are MLB teams that have NO Black players.

Dock Ellis, a 1971 All-Star who had thrown a no-hitter while on the effects of LSD on June 12, 1970, was the starting pitcher. Manny Sanguillen was catcher, and Al Oliver was at first base.

Rennie Stennett played second base. Dave Cash, the team’s usual second baseman, played third base. Jackie Hernandez played shortstop. Gene Clines and future Hall of Famers Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente played in the outfield. Sanguillen, Clemente, Stennett and Hernandez were Latino.

According to history.com, you won’t find any mention in a Pittsburgh newspaper. Racism was not the reason. Both of its major newspapers were on strike.

It was “briefly mentioned” by longtime Pirates radio announcer Bob Prince and his partner Nellie King and just 11,278 attended the game in Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium.

“I don't think we even realized it until the second inning,” King told the Pittsburgh Press in 1986.

“We didn't make a big thing about it on the air. We mentioned it, I'm sure, but we didn't dwell on it.”

It should be noted that Prince, a flamboyant and opinionated broadcaster, “spoke Spanish, took many of the Pirates’ Black and Latin players under his wing, inviting them to his home and giving them advice on how to survive life as a major leaguer. One of those players was Clemente,” according to Prince’s Society for American Baseball Research biography. 

When the 40th anniversary of the historic contest was celebrated in 2011, Oliver told mlb.com that he and teammates didn’t realize what was happening until well into the game.

“It really wasn't a major thing, until around the third or fourth inning, and Dave Cash was sitting next to me and one of us said: 'You know, we got all brothers out there, man,' and we kind of chuckled, because it was no big deal to us,” he said.

“We really had no idea that history was being made.”

Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh told UPI after the game he could have cared less about the color his players.

When it comes to making out the lineup, I'm colorblind, and the athletes know it,” Murtaugh said.

“The best men in our organization are the ones who are here. And the ones who are here all play, depending on when the circumstances present themselves.”

Ellis lasted less than two innings after the visiting Philadelphia Phillies hammered him early. Bob Moose, a white pitcher, replaced him. The Pirates rallied to win 10-7. Clemente, Stargell and Sanguillen each drove in two runs.

The Pirates would go on to win the World Series over the favored Baltimore Orioles, winning the final two games on the road.

Clemente capped the historic season by becoming the first Latin American player to win the World Series MVP Award.

The Reid Roundup

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