As a collector Roberto Clemente is one that I personally collect. As we would say in the collecting community, “I PC Roberto.” For that reason this post may seem a bit biased, but with good reason. When you consider all that he accomplished on and off the field one can clearly see why he’s considered one of the all-time greats of the game.
The reasons I PC Roberto are: he hits close to home because my parents are from Puerto Rico as was Roberto. They had much love for Roberto and I remember often times having long discussions about him. I remember as a kid going to my cousin Eddie’s house and looking at, seems for hours, his 1972 & 1973 Topps Clemente cards. And among the baseball card collecting world he’s held in high regard too, with collectibility similar to Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and/or Hank Aaron.
Roberto Clemente started his pro career by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers on February 19, 1954 and by April of the following year he was traded to the Pittsburg Pirates. He struggled early on and much of that can be attributed to differences of opinion when it came to Latin American players in major league baseball. When first arriving to Pittsburg there was so much racial tension with the local media and some of his own teammates that this caused much frustration to the young ball player. He began with tremendous disadvantages, not only was he considered black but Clemente knew very little English and had to adapt to an entirely new culture. In many ways he is like a Latin American version of Jackie Robinson who crossed the color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The above player capsule shows us his really impressive accomplishments in the game of baseball. His 18 year career stat line reads:
Batting Average .317 | Hits 3,000 | Home Runs 240 | RBI 1,305
But even more impressive are his trailblazing statistics. He was the first Latin American baseball player to: win a World Series (1960); to receive an NL MVP Award (1966); first to receive a World Series MVP Award (1971) and he was also, the first Latin American (Puerto Rican) baseball player to be enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Roberto was a humanitarian at heart, during the offseason he spent most of his time helping to improve the welfare and happiness of people, specifically in Latin American countries. In fact, tragedy struck on December 23, 1972. Roberto heading to Nicaragua to help those effected by a horrific earthquake died in a plane crash into the Atlantic ocean just moments after take off. The baseball community was heavy-hearted by the news and soon after the Baseball Writers Association of America voted and waived the five-year waiting period for induction into the Hall of Fame, due to the circumstances of his death, his outstanding skill on the field he was enshrined in 1973. Major League Baseball in an effort to show honor to Roberto’s memory changed the name of the Commissioner’s Award to the Roberto Clemente Award and every year a player who shows great playing skills and who is actively involved in community work is selected at the World Series. They are given an award and a check to the charity of their choice, and this one can say is Roberto Clemente’s legacy. Decades after his death his name and memory are still synonymous with helping others.
ROOKIE CARD OF HALL OF FAMER ROBERTO CLEMENTE
Clemente had his first Topps card printed in 1955 and he didn’t even play in a major league baseball game. I guess the scouts over at Topps saw something in him the Brooklyn Dodgers didn’t. The 1955 Topps set was the smallest ever printed by Topps, only 206 cards made up the complete set. The odd number was caused by four cards that were never issued for the set: #’s 175, 186, 203 & 209, it’s believed this was caused by contractual issues with certain players. Still only a 210 card set is rather small, perhaps Topps had there hands full and were struggling to meet deadlines since they recently had purchased long time rival Bowman.
The card design is unique because it is the first time Topps designed an all horizontal set. However, the overall design of the card front resembles the 1954 Topps offering quite a bit. The photos and team emblems were rearranged but the card photos were repeats of the 54′ set – not cool Topps! The card back I absolutely love. Notice the card number inside the baseball this is classic Topps vintage! And one can really appreciate those “Daffy-Nitions” cartoons teaching young collectors about the terminology of the game. This rookie card of Roberto Clemente is a work of art and offers collectors a painted portrait, action pose, facsimile autograph, put it all together and what you have is one of the greatest cards in baseball card collecting history – of one of the greatest baseball ball players in history.
As of the date of this post low graded copies sell in the $500.00 – $1,000.00 range; mid-grade copies sell between $1,200.00 – $5,500.00; high-end grades sell in the $7,300.00 – $167,000.00 range. And on October 2, 2016 a PSA 9 sold for $468,000.00!