On August 18, Roberto Clemente will be 35 years old. Last night, Roberto Clemente became the No. 3 man on the all-time Pirate hit parade. A single off the Braves’ Pat Jarvis in Atlanta was Clemente’s 2,417th hit, pushing him ahead of Max Carey and Pie Traynor. Clemente is more than 400 hits from the No. 2 man, Paul Waner, and more than 500 away from Honus Wagner, who banged 2,970 hits during his great Pirate career.
If Clemente played until his was 38, he could become the first 3,000 hit man in Pittsburgh history. Paul Waner, of course, didn’t reach his 3,000 level with the Pirates. He made it as a Boston Brave hitter. Roberto doesn’t think he will make it. “Once I thought I’d reach 3,000 hits,” Clemente said. “Now I don’t see how I can make it. I don’t expect to play that long. If I did, I could make it, but I just don’t expect to play four more years.” Clemente would have to average about 150 hits per season through 1972 to reach the 3,000 mark.
Other baseball stars have played right into their 40th birthday. Willie Mays is still swinging a potent bat at the age of 38. Why not Clemente? “I don’t think my body is geared to play for several more seasons,” the 100-Grand Pirate right fielder said. Last September, Clemente said he might not report for the 1969 season unless the pain in his right shoulder disappeared. Nobody took Clemente’s threat to retire seriously. “I really meant it,” Clemente said. “I don’t want to go through another year like the last one. I began to lose my desire to play because of the pain in my shoulder.”
Clemente fell below .300 for the first time since 1959 when he wound up the ’68 campaign at .261. Clemente first hurt his shoulder in a fall in his come in Carolina, Puerto Rico in February, 1968. The pain lingered throughout 1968. Now he reports that his shoulder feels “pretty good”. But he has reservations when he discusses his future in a Pirate uniform. “I’d like to be home to see my kids grow up,” he said. “Baseball has given me what I have today. It has given my family a good life – something we might not have had without baseball.”