Daytona man restoring Roberto Clemente's MVP Charger for charity
A Western Pennsylvania native who grew up idolizing Roberto Clemente is restoring a relic of his hero's past, hoping to use it to raise money for charity.
Randy Dye, who grew up near Franklin, Venango County, but now owns a Dodge dealership in Daytona Beach, Fla., spent $105,570 at the memorabilia auction preceding July's All-Star game in Miami to buy the car Clemente won as part of his 1971 World Series MVP award.
Dye, 57, said he admired Clemente as a kid and saw him play in Game 5 of the Pittsburgh Pirates' 1971 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. The Pirates went on to win the series and Clemente won the MVP award, which came with a 1972 Special Edition 440 Magnum Charger.
“I don't know if I can accurately describe what it means to me to own a piece of Roberto Clemente's history,” Dye said. “A little over a year (after the MVP award), Clemente dies tragically, but for me that wasn't where it ended. I was intrigued by Clemente for a long time.
“If he was a hero to me as a child, I don't know what the word would be above hero status, but for me as an adult he was even more than a hero.”
To that end, Dye is restoring the orange-and-white Charger to its condition the day that Clemente took the keys, with the hope of finishing by November and making it the centerpiece of fundraisers for children's charities.
“Clemente was a really generous person who used his resources to benefit many people. ... I want to do what he would have done,” Dye said of Clemente, who died in 1972 when his plane delivering relief supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims crashed into the ocean.
“Depending on the size of the donation to charity, people could be going for a ride,” Dye said.
Dye learned the car was still around during a 2013 tour of the Roberto Clemente Museum in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood.
He worked with museum owner/operator Duane Rieder to try to add the car to the museum's collection and transport it to the continental United States, but Clemente's family in Puerto Rico wasn't ready to give it up at the time. They ultimately put about 37,000 miles on the vehicle before agreeing to part with it.
For now, the Charger is in pieces: the bright-orange body is at the dealership's “beauty shop,” its engine is in the midst of being rebuilt and a restoration of its chrome parts is nearly finished.
A planned completion date of Nov. 1 means that the Pittsburgh winter and its rust-inducing road salt would probably prevent the first charity tours from happening here, but Dye said he definitely would bring the Charger to Pittsburgh and the Clemente Museum.
Dye is one of many Clemente fans who recognize the Puerto Rican Pirate's significance beyond his athletic achievements. There are movements to have Major League Baseball retire Clemente's number, 21, and even a push to have Clemente named by the Vatican as a saint.
“We think restoring the Dodge Charger is a great idea. It'll help bring people to Roberto's story and learn more about him,” said Craig Ferrence, one of the people behind the “Retire 21” petition and social media effort. “Older generations are sharing it with younger generations and it seems to be working. When we were in Miami for the All-Star game we had numerous kids under the age of 15 but fully aware of Roberto's accomplishments on and off the field.”
Dye enthusiastically supported both initiatives.
“Yes and yes (to both),” he said. “If anyone deserves sainthood in the modern era, it's him.”
Dye said he hadn't realized that canonizing Clemente could bump the Charger from a figurative holy relic to a literal one.
Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @msantoni.