Family tours facility, records segment for MLB Central
By David Venn
SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Roberto Clemente's impact on baseball has lived on in countless ways since his tragic death in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972. At MLB Network, he is honored with Studio 21, inaugurated on Opening Day 2015, and host to MLB Now, MLB Central and Quick Pitch.
Adorned with Clemente images and memorabilia, Studio 21 has followed Studio 3 (Babe Ruth) and Studio 42 (Jackie Robinson) at MLB Network as tributes to players who have made a lasting impact on the game.
Built in a newly renovated building adjacent to MLB Network's main building, Studio 21 is an 8,000-square-foot facility with jerseys, photos, awards and an entire wall with a running loop of video of the Pittsburgh Pirates legend, in addition to a seven-foot bronze medallion donning his number, 21.
The studio also includes a courtyard area surrounded by fencing with the number 21 encircled on each door.
Clemente's widow, Vera, and sons, Roberto Jr. and Luis, were special guests at Studio 21 on Thursday. The family saw the studio for the first time, and they taped an MLB Central segment with Matt Yallof and Carlos Pena.
"I don't have words to express the feeling I had when I came in the front door, and then to all the different parts," Vera Clemente said in Spanish. "They really put all the details in there. With all of Roberto's material, and the way they presented it, it's a thing of beauty."
Roberto Jr. added, "It's truly awesome. I watch the shows, and being here today, it's overwhelming. It's a beautiful work of art."
Vera, Roberto Jr. and Luis discussed Roberto's legacy as a pioneer among Latin American players. As a native of Puerto Rico breaking into the Major Leagues in the 1950s, Clemente encountered racial and cultural prejudice. He had to adjust to new surroundings, a new language and the challenge of thriving at the big league level.
"His character always came through," Luis said. "He said, 'I'm not looking to be treated better, I'm looking to be treated equal.' And he would not put up with a lot of the things that were going on at the time. He was very aware that he had to do things the right way to open up those doors for the rest that were following."
On the field, Clemente helped the Pirates win two World Series titles -- in 1960 and '71. In an 18-year career, Clemente hit .317, and he was selected to the All-Star Games in 12 seasons (15 games total, due to a period in which two games were played per year in the 1960s).
Additionally, Clemente won four batting titles, won the 1966 National League Most Valuable Player Award and was named MVP of the 1971 Fall Classic. He became the first Latin American player to reach 3,000 hits on Sept. 30, 1972.
Off the field, Clemente was known for his altruism and charity. He paved the way for Latin American players who came after him.
"He was the trailblazer," said Pena, a native of the Dominican Republic who played 14 years in the big leagues. "To all of us, even at a young age, Roberto was an inspiration and helped us understand that it is possible for our dreams to come true. Roberto Clemente was at the top of the list."
Clemente died on New Year's Eve 1972. The airplane he had charted to carry provisions for victims of the 1972 earthquake in Nicaragua crashed in the Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff from Puerto Rico.
The following spring, the Baseball Writers' Association of America voted to waive the mandatory five-year period after a player's last MLB game to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot. Clemente was elected posthumously.
David Venn is executive editor of MLB.com's Spanish-language site, LasMayores.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.