There are four sculptures around PNC Park that pay tribute to some of the Pittsburgh Pirates greatest players. Three of them were created by Susan Wagner between 1994 and 2010. Those include Roberto Walker Clemente, Willie Stargel, and Bill Mazeroski. The fourth, Honus Wagner, was done back in 1955 by Frank Vittor. His brother Tony Vittor did the relief work on the base of the Honus Wagner sculpture.
Roberto Walker Clemente AKA
The Great One
Roberto Clemente was a 12 time all star that played for the Pirates from 1955–1972. A major star in Puerto Rico, where he was born, Roberto spent a lot of off season time continuing to play baseball there. He also spent a lot of time doing charitable work in Puerto Rico and South America. It was on one of his charitable missions – flying relief supplies to the victims of a Nicaragua earthquake – that Roberto died. The plane crashed immediately after takeoff off the coast of Puerto Rico.
In an interview with WTAE, Susan Wagner (the sculptor of this piece) said
and I read the article about how he died, and I fell in love with him. I got chills and I said, ’I have to do this’. This was only the second statue she had ever made. Extaordinary.
As are many of the public art displays around Pittsburgh, this one was also worked on by the Astorino Architecture firm. They designed the base of the display where they depict a baseball diamond. What makes it special though, is that marking the three bases are three small glass boxes, each containing a bit of soil from the important places in Roberto’s history. First base holds soil from Santurce Field, Carolina, Puerto Rico. It represents his birthplace as well as his time playing Puerto Rican Baseball. Second base holds a small bit of Forbes Field – a special place for number 21 as well as a lot of the other players and fans. In the 1960 World Series there, Roberto became the first Latino player to win a World Series as a starter. Third base contains the soil from Three Rivers Stadium. While never a particularly favorite stadium for watching baseball, it was where a lot of us saw
The Great One play. It was also the stadium where Roberto won the MVP award during the 1971 World Series.
Roberto Clemente was so much more than just a great baseball player. His humanitarian work is respected by everyone. We could list all of the awards that he won in baseball, but you can look those up on line. We will mention instead the three civilian awards from the US Government issued to him posthumously:
The Roberto Walker Clemente Congressional Gold Medal (1973)
Presidential Citizens Medal (1973)
Presidential Medal of Freedom (2003)
The citation on the Citizens Medal reads:
All who saw Roberto Clemente in action, whether on the diamond or on the front lines of charitable endeavor, are richer for the experience. He stands with the handful of men whose brilliance has transformed the game of baseball into a showcase of skill and spirit, giving universal delight and inspiration. More than that, his selfless dedication to helping those with two strikes against them in life has blessed thousands and set an example for millions. As long as athletes and humanitarians are honored, Roberto Clemente's memory will live; as long as Citizens Medals are presented, each will mean a little more because the first one went to him.
Before the naming rights for the new stadium were sold, PNC Park was almost named after Roberto Clemente. The right field wall in the new park is 21 feet high in his honor. (21 being his number, and right field his position.) The former 6th St Bridge was renamed the Roberto Clemente Bridge, and the large green space west of the stadium is Roberto Clemente Memorial Park. There are plenty of other naming honors around the city and elsewhere.
Just a few stats:
career 3,000 hits
career average of .317
First Latino MVP
First Latino inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame