Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Happy Roberto Clemente Day!

In honor of this special Baseball day, Roberto Clemente Day, I made the above two fantasy Baseball cards.  As you can see, they feature Clemente in 1954 Montreal Royals garb.  As the story goes, the Dodgers had signed up Clemente as a free agent that year, and due to league rules regarding roster limits decided to try to stash him in Montreal - away from the prying eyes of the rest of the league.

Unfortunately, the ruse did not work. 

Former Dodger President Branch Rickey (the man who signed Jackie Robinson) had joined the Pirates ballclub in 1950, and was apparently very aware of his abilities.  So much so, that when the "Rule 5" draft came along he quickly plucked him off the Dodgers.  The rest, as they say, is history.

BTW, in that lone season in Montreal in 1954 Clemente slashed .257/.286/.372/.657 in 148 at-bats.  He recorded two home runs, 12 RBI's and scored 27 times.  From what I understand, the Dodgers purposely had him ride the pine for a majority of the season - primarily coming in as a defensive replacement.

Also, I thought I would share a snippet about the Clemente situation that I read in the book "Mover & Shaker: Walter O'Malley, the Dodgers, & Baseball's Westward Expansion" by Andy McCue. 
This is one of the more detailed accounts of the O'Malley ownership of the team I have ever read, and I highly recommend it.  Below is what he wrote about Roberto Clemente and the Dodgers:
The other player was another Hall of Famer, Roberto Clemente, and, again, roster limits played a role.  Clemente signed in February 1954 for $15,000.  Because that was over $4,000, the bonus rule mandated the Dodgers put him on their roster or risk having him drafted by another team the next winter.  Bavasi felt the Dodger roster was full and decided to take the risk.  It did not work.  That December (Branch) Rickey and the Pirates drafted Clemente.

In more than three decades of talent evaluation, Buzzie Bavasi made few mistakes.  Clemente was clearly one of them, and an unnecessarily defensive Bavasi told many stories over the years about how it happened, some involving Walter O'Malley.

In the earliest rendering Bavasi gave the loss the "irrelevant" label by saying the Dodgers had signed the Puerto Rican outfielder only to keep him away from the Giants.  A few years later he was resigned.  "That was probably my biggest mistake," he told Charles Maher of the Los Angeles Times.  "We can blame the rules for part of it, but part of it was our judgment."

Later still, his version began to have scapegoats.  The first was O'Malley.  Bavasi said he was fully aware of Clemente's talent and knew Branch Rickey and the Pirates were convinced of it, too.  Bavasi said he went to Rickey, his old mentor, and called on his friendship.  Rickey agreed not to take Clemente.  But, Bavasi said, Rickey and O'Malley got into a shouting match over some unrelated issue at an owners meeting.  O'Malley cursed Rickey and Rickey changed his mind.

In later renderings a racial issue was added.  Bavasi told author Thomas Oliphant both the O'Malley cursing tale and that O'Malley ordered him to limit the number of blacks on the team because he was fearful of fan and team reaction.  Clemente was a very dark-skinned Latino, and in Bavasi's final version it was now O'Malley's partners who had vetoed the idea of more blacks, an angle he also told Oliphant.  He cited the partners as Jim Mulvey and John Smith.  Mulvey was back on the board of directors in 1954, but O'Malley had full control.  Bavasi evidently forgot Smith had been dead neary four years by the time the Dodgers even signed Clemente.

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