By Joseph Sabino Mistick
Published: Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 8:04 p.m.
Molly-O wept that New Year's Day 40 years ago.
Anytime our mother called early in the morning, it could only be bad news. This time, reports were breaking in Pittsburgh that Roberto Clemente had died in a plane crash the day before.
As tough as her life had been — she fought through the poverty of the Depression, became a young widow in the wake of World War II and stoically lost too many friends and family — this loss broke her that day. At the other end of the phone line, her son cried, too.
Clemente had found his way into the hearts of many in this blue-collar town, opening minds, bridging gaps. He was an odd fit at first but the quirky Puerto Rican baseball player played through his aches and pains, much like those who answered the mill whistle every day in spite of their own ailments.
Nobody cared that he was a little hard to understand or that he complained about his health. Pirates fans knew that The Sporting News was on the money in 1957 when it reported, “The case history of Clemente is the worse he feels, the better he plays.”
If you were lucky enough to be a kid in one of the old industrial towns, once every year or so you and your pals were given free tickets and a bus ride to Forbes Field. These Knothole Gang seats were thought to be “the cheap seats,” out in right field, but no kid ever wanted to sit anywhere else.
Starting with the pre-game warm-up, it was all about the kids for Clemente, as he smiled and joked and tossed a few balls up to the crowd clamoring at the rail. He showed many of them for the first time that giving 100 percent, striving for excellence, was OK and that being different could be a virtue.
The shock of his death while flying aid to Nicaraguan earthquake victims was eventually replaced by the realization that “The Great One” could not have passed any other way. Mention Clemente today and those who watched him live get suddenly quiet and smile.
Two decades after his death, men who had been boys when that plane went down found themselves in city government, trying to make a tough sale, the construction of a baseball-only park on the Allegheny River. They called the prototype Clemente Field.
Years later, when those politicians who first opposed the project could finally claim the idea as their own, the ballpark was built. By then, the temptation to sell the naming rights was too great and it became PNC Park, a clone of the original concept and a gem of a facility.
But because naming it Clemente Field was so right, something had to be done, and the Sixth Street Bridge was renamed for this childhood hero and citizen of a better world.
And maybe a bridge, while not enough, sends the right message.
Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (SabinoMistick@aol.com).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Garden Q&A: Firecracker vine OK for trellis?
- Starkey: Penguins’ arrogance astounding
- Matt Calvert’s goal in double OT evens series for Blue Jackets
- Penguins’ Gibbons scores twice but leaves with apparent injury
- North Versailles, Murrysville families still waiting for report on 2011 chopper crash that killed couple
- Film tax credits bill would bump up state budget
- Draftees’ longevity key for NFL success
- Pair of Braun homers spells defeat for Pirates
- NFL notebook: Pryor will be cut if he’s not traded
- One dead, one wounded in shooting at Chartiers party
- Real estate notes: Work on expansion to Pediatric Specialty Hospital to begin