The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Bill Eggert

January 12, 2013

BILL EGGERT | Remembering the Great One: Roberto Clemente

— New Year’s Eve 1972: A date that began with much joy and anticipation in western Pennsylvania, but ended with much sadness. The Steelers were playing the undefeated Miami Dolphins for a trip to the Super Bowl. Steelers coach Chuck Noll was facing his old mentor, Dolphin coach Don Shula at Three Rivers Stadium. Incredibly, the Steelers almost won the game, but lost on a fake punt by the Dolphins.

Pittsburgh sports fans thought things could not get much worse, but they did.

Later that night, when most folks were celebrating New Year’s, a small plane overloaded with relief supplies for earthquake victims of Nicaragua left the San Juan airport in Puerto Rico. The plane struggled to get airborne but quickly plunged into the water, killing all on board. One of the crash victims had spearheaded the relief efforts: Pirates superstar Roberto Clemente.

Has it really been forty years since the Pirates’ greatest right fielder (arguably the greatest right fielder ever) took his leave from us on that dark New Year’s Eve?

It seems like only yesterday and so long ago at the same time.

It was my maternal grandfather who first told me about the remarkable Roberto when I was a small child.

Pop-Pop, a lifelong Pirates fan, had watched Bucco legends such as Honus Wagner and Pie Traynor play at Forbes Field.

Now he was telling me amazing stories about “the Great One,” Roberto Clemente. As I grew older I witnessed the exploits of this incredible athlete who patrolled the right field with such grace and agility, equipped with an amazingly accurate cannon for a right arm that gunned down opposing base runners foolish enough to test Roberto.

The stats and awards verify Clemente’s greatness during the 18 years he played professional baseball: National League MVP (1966), National League All-Star (15 seasons), 12 Gold Glove Awards, National League batting champ (4 seasons), hit safely in all 14 World Series games he played (1960 and 1971) and was World Series MVP (1971) at the age of 37.

The following year he became only one of a select few ballplayers to gain 3,000 hits during his career. He was posthumously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame following his tragic death.

While plagued with injuries during his career (especially his back) Clemente nonetheless amazed and delighted fans over the ensuing years with his acrobatic catches in right field, his rocket of a throwing arm, his speed on the base paths and his prowess as a batter. Clemente was a unique individual, whose pride in his accomplishments and his homeland were worn on his sleeve every day he played.

He never shied away from telling reporters how he felt physically, something novel back then.

He backed up his bold talk. It was Clemente’s leadership of the Pirates during the 1971 World Series that helped the Bucs defeat the overwhelmingly favored Baltimore Orioles in seven games after losing the first two. Clemente’s timely home runs and flawless fielding gave him a worldwide platform and audience for fans everywhere to see what they had been missing by not being a Pirates fan.

On a personal note, Roberto Clemente was my first childhood sports idol, along with others of my generation here in western Pennsylvania. We lived and died with Roberto and the Bucs back when sports seemed a bit more innocent back then. Our amber-tinted memories of No. 21 as he strode to the batters box, twisting his neck, drawing a line in the dirt with his bat, and entering that familiar stance, bring a smile to those of us who thrilled to each hit of his.

And every New Year’s Eve I take a moment to pay tribute  to No. 21, the Great One: Roberto Clemente, for those great memories of baseball past.

Bill Eggert is a Johnstown resident. He writes an occasional column.

To read stories in their entirety, visit one of these links:

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Bill Eggert
  • EGGERT AND CHILLY BILLY Bill Cardille brings back childhood chills

    One of the nice things about moving back to this area was being able to connect with childhood heroes from local television. Some, like Paul Shannon (“Adventure Time”) and Hank Stohl (“Popeye and Kinesh”), unfortunately have passed on. Others, like wrestling champ Bruno Sammartino and Bill Cardille (“Chiller Theatre”) are happily still with us.

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • EGGERT6 Riverboat reverie on ‘uncle time’

    Thoughts of the summer months bring to mind annual weeklong vacations with Granny, Pop-Pop and Uncle Don in Pittsburgh. One memorable summer, “Unck” took me to see the Delta Queen riverboat, sitting majestically in the Monongahela River, moored at the Mon wharf.

    July 5, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bill Eggert Columnist Photo Bill Eggert | ‘Whatever it takes’: remembering Chuck Noll

    Once upon a time there was a colorful yet inept professional football team, owned by an equally colorful Irishman who participated in sports during his younger days. Unlike their crosstown professional baseball and collegiate football team counterparts, the pro football team never tasted the sweet nectar of success for about 40 years. That all changed in 1969, when Steelers owner Art Rooney and his family found a wise, humble and grounded 37-year-old man named Chuck Noll.

    June 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert columnist  photo Life after Dad: A Father’s Day reflection

    One of my dad’s favorite movies was the 1947 classic “Life With Father,” starring the great William Powell (coincidentally also born in Pittsburgh) as the stern but lovable family disciplinarian.

    June 7, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bill Eggert columnist  photo BILL EGGERT | Hollywood’s take on the Great Flood

    About 37 years after the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889, Hollywood decided to make a motion picture of Johnstown’s most catastrophic event.

    May 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • EGGERT4 75 years of Batmania: The Dark Knight’s evolution

    The appeal of Batman is universal. We can identify more with Batman.
    Local resident Wayne Faucher has been a professional artist/inker on the various Batman titles for over 20 years.

    May 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert Columnist Photo Travelogue of terror features Johnstown area

    A historic week will surround the venerable Silver Drive-In come the beginning of May.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bill Eggert BILL EGGERT | Captain America: Sentinel of liberty for 70-plus years

    When I was a kid reading comic books, my two favorite superheroes (Batman and Captain America) were not really super; maybe that is why they were my favorites.

    April 5, 2014 1 Photo

  • BILL EGGERT AND FRANK COONELLY BILL EGGERT | Pirates: a rite of spring

    Opening day for the Bucs is March 31. Every year, hope springs eternal for Pittsburgh Pirate fans. Especially for the past two decades, since outfielder Barry Bonds’ errant throw allowed gimpy-kneed Sid Bream to score the come-from-behind winning run for the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 National League Championship Series.

    March 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert BILL EGGERT | Going home can sometimes be only walking distance

    One of the most popular topics during my eight years of writing this column is the one of looking into the past of the Johnstown (and my areas of Moxham and Richland) of my childhood. A lot of baby boomers relate to these time trips with a sense of nostalgia, remembering a kinder, simpler, more innocent era. Or at least that is the way we remember our childhood, looking through those rose-colored glasses.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo


What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

     View Results
Order Photos

Photo Slideshow

House Ads