The first time I can recall hearing about and seeing highlights of the man was around 1977 in the midst of a long Cubs game rain delay broadcast. This was before cable TV and 10,000 available channels. WGN passed the time by showing old baseball films. The sight of his cannon arm shooting lasers from right field was incredible. I can recall, even as an 11 year old kid, the almost overwhelming feeling of sadness and loss when I learned how and why this great ballplayer had died.
Less than a month after his death, The Great Clemente was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in a special election. He is one of three players (Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig being the others) to be inducted without the mandatory five year wait. On May 13, 1973 he would receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the first baseball player so honored. The very next day, he became the first individual of any description to receive the Presidential Citizens Medal, an award newly minted in his honor. The citation read:
All who saw Roberto Clemente in action, whether on the diamond or on the front lines of charitable endeavor, are richer for the experience. He stands with that handful of men whose brilliance has transformed the game of baseball into a showcase of skill and spirit, giving universal delight and inspiration. More than that, his selfless dedication to helping those with two strikes against them in life blessed thousands and set an example for millions. As long as athletes and humanitarians are honored, Roberto Clemente’s memory will live; as long as Citizens Medals are presented, each will mean a little more because this first one went to him.There are two frames that have hung in my son's bedroom since the day we brought him home from the hospital. One holds one of my long departed grandmother's bank deposit slip signed by Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Dave Cash, Larry Bowa, and Garry Maddox during a 1976 event at a Hershey area mall. The other is a majestic portrait of Roberto Clemente with his head bowed and his black Pirates hat over his heart.