Ahead of the 1960 MLB Season, Roberto Clemente asked the Pittsburgh Pirates for a salary of $23,000. Yes, a meager $23,000. I did the inflation calculation, and it comes to just over $185,000 in 2015 money terms. Still not that much, especially when you consider this is freaking Roberto Clemente we’re talking about! One of the best outfield arms to ever play the game of baseball, not to mention, a quite prodigious hitter in his own right. The man notched his 3000th hit in his very last plate appearance ever. Amazing.
But when Clemente received this fair critique of a letter from then Pirates GM Joe L. Brown that refused to grant him a raise, well, I’m inclined to believe it very well may have been the catalyst and motivation for the right fielder’s emergence to super-stardom from the 1960-61 season and beyond, until his untimely death in an aviation accident on December 31, 1972.
Pirates GM Joe L. Brown justified his reasoning with the use of statistics (some pre-Sabermetrics if you will) as to why he believed the first ballot Hall of Famer didn’t deserve the $3,000 raise he requested at the time.
And you know what? He was right. Clemente did have the tools to become a “great player,” and they first blossomed in the 1960-61 season when the man that would ultimately be called “The Great One” went on to make his first of 8 successive All-Star appearances through the 1967 season.
Yeah, Roberto Clemente’s slash line for that run is absolutely torrid any way you frame the stats. In 1968, Clemente failed to make his ninth straight All-Star game, but did however capture one of his 12 Gold Gloves for his efforts.
No. 21 went on to make four more All-Star games from 1969 until he passed away at the age of 38 in 1972, and was posthumously inducted into Cooperstown the following year as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
When you look at Roberto Clemente’s numbers before and after he received this letter prior to the 1960 season, it’s very clear that Brown’s correspondence is certainly a pivotal piece of contract negotiation in Major League Baseball history.
That letter, formally handed down with both confidence and positive outlook – among other things – became Roberto Clemente’s inspiration and driving impetus that made the Puerto Rico native become among the most heralded baseball players the game has ever witnessed. Chills.