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How Roberto Clemente Became a Pirate?
While his entire major league career was spent playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Roberto Clemente was not originally signed by the Bucs.
Clemente was originally signed as a free agent in 1954 by the Brooklyn Dodgers, reportedly for a $5,000 signing bonus. At that time, any team signing a player for a bonus and salary of more than $4,000 had the choice of keeping him on the major league roster for two years or risk losing him in the off-season draft. Rather than let the 19-year-old Clemente (still a raw talent) languish on the Dodgers’ bench, the club assigned him to its top minor league affiliate in Montreal.
In his first three months for the Montreal Royals, Clemente was strictly platooned and in fact played rarely. Part of the reason that Clemente played so sparingly was that the Montreal roster was loaded with talented future major leaguers. In addition, the Dodgers no doubt preferred to hide their new talent rather than showcase him just to be taken in the winter draft.
But a talent like Clemente’s is hard to hide, and he was playing every day by the end of the season, his only year in the minors.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, who had the first selection in the draft, used it to take Clemente. He made the big league club that year, hitting .255 as a rookie, and spent the next 17 years in a Pirate uniform, collecting 3,000 hits, 4 batting titles and 12 Gold Gloves along the way.
What if the Dodgers had protected Clemente and kept him on their major league roster? Imagine a Dodger team throughout the 1960s with Clemente in right field instead of Ron Fairly or Lou Johnson. (Both were good, solid ballplayers who made valuable contributions to the Dodgers' success in the 1960s. But there was only one Clemente.)
As good as they were, imagine how many more games Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale might have won with Clemente spraying hits all over Chavez Ravine, and with his Gold Glove-caliber fielding behind them?