Results tagged ‘ National League East ’
By Thomas Lawrence
Thirty-seven years ago Wednesday, Roberto Clemente recorded a career milestone.
On Sept. 30, 1972, Clemente and the defending world champion Pirates were taking on Yogi Berra‘s Mets at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Clemente, a native of Puerto Rico, was hitting an impressive .311 heading into the season finale against New York.
Batting third against Mets starter Jon Matlack, the eventual National League Rookie of the Year, Clemente looked to push his career hit total of 2,999 into an historic category. At the time, only 10 other players were members of the 3,000-hit club, and only three — Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Stan Musial — had done so in the latter half of the 20th century.
Clemente, aside from being a world-renowned humanitarian, had a chance to become the first Latin ballplayer to reach 3,000 hits.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Clemente led off against Matlack after striking out in his first at-bat. Clemente promptly roped a double to the Three Rivers outfield — the 3,000th and last regular-season hit of his exceptional career.
But it wouldn’t be his last impact on Major League Baseball. The Pirates won the National League East and were set to take on Sparky Anderson‘s Reds in the league’s championship series. Clemente only had four hits in the five-game series loss, which officially unseated the 1971 world champions, but a double and a home run were among the four hits.
After 18 magical seasons of watching Clemente control the diamond as few ever did, the world was dealt a huge blow when Clemente was killed on Dec. 31. Flying to Nicaragua to deliver goods to earthquake victims, Clemente was the victim of a plane crash that took his life at the young age of 38.
But to dwell on Clemente’s tragic passing is a disservice to the incredible life he led — one which began on Aug. 18, 1934, in Carolina, Puerto Rico. One of more than 200 Puerto Rican players to play in the big leagues, Clemente remains the commonwealth’s all-time hits leader, 276 in front of runner-up Roberto Alomar.
Clemente became the first Latin American player to be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973, and dozens of artifacts from Clemente’s life are housed at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. In the brand-new °Viva Baseball! exhibit, which celebrates the Latin influence on the game, Clemente is recognized alongside other Latin American stars.
A No. 21 Pirates jersey retired on Opening Day 1973, a scrapbook of newspaper clippings covering his untimely passing and the “Roberto Clemente Memorial Album” vinyl record are all on display in °Viva Baseball!.
“Roberto Clemente touched us all,” Pirates pitcher Steve Blass once said. “We’re all better players and people for having known him.”
Thomas Lawrence was the 2009 publications intern at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
By Freddy Berowski
Ryan Howard is one of those players who always seems to save his best work for late in the season.
In 2007 and ’08, the man Phillies manager Charlie Manuel calls his “Big Piece” was just that in the Phillies’ late-season surges to overtake the Mets and win the National League East. In total, Howard posted 36 home runs and 101 RBIs in just over 400 at-bats during August and September in those two seasons. And this year, the 2006 NL Most Valuable Player has already posted numbers along the same lines, hitting 16 home runs while knocking in 52 in August and September, through Wednesday. The only difference this year is that the Phillies are in cruise-control right now, 6 1/2 games up on the Braves, with the Mets not even in the rear-view mirror, already having been eliminated from postseason contention.
One of the most dominant sluggers of this era, Howard didn’t become a regular in the Phillies lineup until age 25, midway through the 2005 season, because he was blocked at first base by slugger Jim Thome. This season, however, Howard has matched many Hall of Famer milestones.
A month ago, he joined Hall of Famer Chuck Klein as the only Phillies to top the 30-home run and 100-RBI marks in four consecutive seasons. Two weeks ago, Howard became the fastest player to reach the 600-RBI plateau since Hall of Famer Ted Williams more than a half century ago. The 2009 campaign also marks Howard’s fourth straight season with at least 40 home runs and 120 RBIs, something only Ken Griffey Jr., Sammy Sosa and Hall of Famer Babe Ruth have done before.
Freddy Berowski is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.