There is hope.

If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog since my Burgh Blog days, you know that I have obsessions.


Bryan Adams is one because his voice does something to me.

For a while, inexplicably, Blake Shelton was one. I think ’cause he’s real tall. [shrug] Like I said before, I don’t pick my obsessions; they pick me. Amen.

The movie Strictly Ballroom is one. Because it’s kickass.

Andy Van Slyke was one.

David Cook. Zima. Nutella.

My latest obsession is Roberto Clemente.

I’m reading everything I can about him. Watching videos of him in action on YouTube.

At :24 of this video, he runs almost exactly like Phoebe does in Friends.

YouTube Preview Image

With abandon.

I’ve written my July column about him already and I’m only halfway through this book about his life.

I’ve become an annoying sponge of the squarepants variety. I soak in what I can and then I squish it back out by talking my husband’s or father’s ear off about whatever amazing thing I learned about Roberto.

And now that I’ve said all that, this post isn’t actually about Roberto Clemente.

I’m weird like that. Messing with you all, “Monkeys. Monkeys. Monkeys. Monkeys. RAINBOWS ARE WHAT I REALLY WANT TO TALK ABOUT!”

This post is about this excerpt from the Maraniss book:

Ridiculing the Pittsburgh Pirates was one of the simple pleasures of the national pastime in the first half of the 1950s. The Boy Buffoons of Baseball, Life magazine called them. “The atrocities they committed under the guise of major league baseball were monstrous,” wrote Marshall Smith. “Pirate pitchers threw the ball in the general direction of home plate and ducked. Pirate batters missed signs as blithely as they missed baseballs … Sporswriters accused Pirates of running the bases with their heads tucked under their arms.”

… The Pirates were bound for the cellar every year, the only tension came with guessing how many games back they might finish. In 1952 when they were accused of fielding a TEAM OF MIDGETS (emphasis mine), infielders so short that balls bounded over them for doubles, they ended up fifty-four and a half games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers.”


That’s not all, you can read the article from Life and also see some awesome old advertisements from the 1950s here.

Another great line:

The principle elements of the Pirates recent strategy seems to be to score a run early in the game and then pray for rain. When there was no rain, the team kept looking for a large hole to open up in the earth in the vicinity of second base.

So, you see, the point of my post is not monkeys. It’s that the Pirates were once laughingstocks praying for the earth to open up and swallow them, and then one day they were world champions. RAINBOWS.

Right now, they’re riding the Laughing Stock roller coaster like they’re trying to break the Guinness record for riding it the longest. But eventually they’re going to hit one dip too low or one corkscrew too tight and they’re going to puke and beg for the ride to stop.

Who knows when it will happen or under which ownership it will happen, but history tells us that it happened before and it can happen again.

At least that’s what my Kool-aid tastes like this morning.



  1. ClumberKim
    April 25, 2011 8:54 am

    This is further proof you and my son need to hang, or go to a game together. Oliver started getting Clemente biographies out of the library when he was in pre-K and he regularly chugs the same kool-aid you do.

  2. Lesley
    April 25, 2011 8:57 am

    With Heinz being on DWTS, can we have a post just about Strictly Ballroom??? That movie is awesome!! Ne

  3. bucdaddy
    April 25, 2011 9:23 am

    I set the bar low. I’ll defend to the last drop of my grog the path the current management is taking, but I don’t expect to see another winning team in my lifetime, and the actuarial tables tell me I have about 25 years to go.

    Anything better than that, well, that would be a nice surprise.

  4. Monty
    April 25, 2011 9:27 am

    O Righteous Lesley, we have brought you your shrubbery.

  5. ScareHouse Scott
    April 25, 2011 9:28 am

    The central message of Strictly Ballroom (don’t live your life in fear) was largely responsible for much of the risky but ultimately rewarding and life-changing decisions I’ve made over the last 10 years or so. Truth.

  6. Erin
    April 25, 2011 9:44 am

    Odd choice of background music for that video.

  7. Ry Co 40
    April 25, 2011 10:00 am

    could you please never compare Clemente to a fake character on a lame sitcom ever again? kthanx

  8. Virginia
    April 25, 2011 10:14 am

    Ry Co 40,

    When I link to videos of things I REALLY REALLY REALLY want my readers to actually click on and watch, I don’t just say, “Hey, this guy can sing!” or “Watch this video of [fill in the blank].”

    If it’s something I truly truly care about, I will find a way to almost FORCE my readers to click on it out of curiosity and hopefully go beyond that one little thing I pointed out and really watch the entire thing.

    In picking out one small thing that I could relate to pop-culture, Roberto running like Phoebe, I’m hopefully getting more people to click on it and then watch it and then do what I did, which is go, “Whoa. Roberto Clemente was AWESOME and I need to learn more about him.”

    I’m not comparing Roberto Clemente the person to Phoebe Buffay the fake person. That’s just ridiculous.

    Maybe when you read my July column you’ll see I do have an incredible amount of respect for him as a person and as a player and my only desire is to bring more people to the altar of Roberto Clemente.

  9. Joel
    April 25, 2011 10:25 am

    I was in a bar/restaurant with my family on Saturday night and the Pirates were playing. Now I happened to be facing the TV for that first inning and watched as the Pirates scored run after run, each time catapulting my fist into the air and proclaiming: “THIS. IS. THE. YEAR!”

    Needless to say, I had to explain to my family that I have donned the Rose-Colored glasses and drank the Bandwagon Kool-aid.

  10. bluzdude
    April 25, 2011 10:32 am

    Thank you for helping to keep the legacy of The Great One alive.

    Roberto was my (and my brother’s) childhood hero, whose exploits we learned of at our father’s knee.

    Watching his clips on YouTube is chill-inducing. No one throws the ball like that any more. In fact, they should have created an award for outfield assists and named it after him. Call it the Roberto “Don’t even THINK of taking that base on me” Clemente Award.

  11. Lisa
    April 25, 2011 10:45 am

    I am also a huge Clemente fan. If you haven’t already, you should read “Remember Roberto” from Pittsburgh author Jim O’Brien. It’s a great read about a great man!

  12. Ry Co 40
    April 25, 2011 10:49 am

    oops! i didn’t mean to question your respect for clemente… just the comparison was “yuk” LMAO! that was my fault, sorry bout that ;-)

    and a simple “shut up ry” would have been just fine. hahaha

  13. PG Wodehouse
    April 25, 2011 10:55 am

    The end of that book is going to make you scream in frustration at the senselessness of it all. I still remember waking up New Year’s morning the day before my ninth birthday and hearing the news. I couldn’t fathom it. For the next week, I kept dreaming and praying that they would find him safe on some island somewhere.

  14. MattDC
    April 25, 2011 12:01 pm

    Thanks for the memories. Men of a certain age have all experienced the irate reactions of little league coaches to our basket catch mimicry of the great Roberto. Many of us raced to the right field seats in Forbes Field just to watch him end his warm-up between innings with a mind-boggling peg to the plate. I’m even more stupidly optimistic than bucdaddy, and expect to see them win again in my lifetime. But I will never see another Clemente.

  15. MizzPenz
    April 25, 2011 12:32 pm

    I’m so completely obsessed with all the drinking and smoking in the advertisements from LIFE. Ahhh….those were the good ol’ days!

  16. Kathy
    April 25, 2011 12:34 pm

    they ended up fifty-four and a half games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers.”

    Wow, and in a season that was 152 games. I will never suggest my A’s are on the same roller coaster with the Pirates again.

  17. MizzPenz
    April 25, 2011 12:50 pm

    ……oh and I saw Roberto’s last home run at Three Rivers. I was with my Pap Pap (God rest his Archie Bunker soul). He used to wait until after the 1st inning and one of the ushers he knew would get us in, right down to behind the Pirate’s dugout. I totally thought I was the shit. Pap Pap was a racist and it was difficult for me and my Mom to keep our disappointment from showing. I made him promise he wouldn’t embarass me when we were in public. But something happened to my Pap Pap when we got Roberto on our team. The way he walked, talked, smiled, caught the ball, hit the ball….what a class act this guy was. I swear my Pap Pap loved that man so much as a player that it didn’t matter what the color of his skin was or that he didn’t speak English. Loving Roberto, the player, made my Pap Pap a better man.

  18. Butcher's Dog
    April 25, 2011 12:59 pm

    I’m with MattDC. There’ll never be another Roberto. He had the most incredible arm ever. For Bob Smizik to state, as he did when he was still writing his column for the newspaper that still delivered up here in Mercer County, that Barry Bonds was the greatest player ever to wear a Pirates uniform…well, that probably qualifies Bob for the “non-functional human being” designation. The throw that didn’t get Sid “I don’t care how heavy it is, I’m carrying this freezer across the plate” Bream was the anti-Roberto. Bonds’ behavior even when he was with the Bucs was even moreso.

    OK. I’m breathing again.

  19. bluzdude
    April 25, 2011 2:20 pm

    I was 11 when that plane went down. That New Years Day was the day that I learned that heros are mortal and can actually die.

    And like MattDC, we totally learned and used the Basket Catch, to the chagrin of every little league coach we ever had.

  20. Amber
    April 25, 2011 2:24 pm

    THANKS for posting the Phoebe clip!!! That’s one of my all-time favorites!! I’m posting that on my FB page, and I’m going secret krazee running tonight!!

  21. Ex-Pat Pittsburgh Girl
    April 25, 2011 3:27 pm

    I have to agree with @PG Wodehouse. I read the Maraniss book when it came out in 2006 on a cross-country trip. It takes you through the whole range of emotions — joy, sorrow and anger. Anger especially at the end. I met the author at book event in Portland, OR where I was living at the time and the store was packed. You could tell he put his heart and soul into this book.

    In 2004, I saw the Pirates play in Puerto Rico and we went to old San Juan. There is a stillness in the air on the beach where the plane disappeared that gives you chills.

  22. KGC
    April 25, 2011 5:51 pm

    No one can ever compare to Roberto Clemente. Never Ever. What an arm. What a special person.

    I grew up in WV in the 60’s listening to Pirates games on a small transistor radio. Clemente was my hero. Only got to see him play once, a doubleheader against the Dodgers at Forbes Field, since it wasn’t easy to get to Pittsburgh those days.

    I will say I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Roberto, Jr. and Luis, his two sons, when they were in Pittsburgh one summer (early 80’s). They came over to Chatham Park Apartments (now Carriage Park) and played basketball with us on many occasions. Class individuals.. just like their Father was.

  23. bucdaddy
    April 25, 2011 10:59 pm

    That was a terrible weekend all around. First, my aunt drove me to another aunt and uncle’s home in Cleveland to watch the Stillers play the Dolphins in the playoffs. (Because games were blacked out on local TV in those days. And IIRC, this was a week after the Immaculate Reception, no?) Larry Seiple faked a punt and ran about 286 yards with it to seal the Steelers’ defeat. Then on the drive home the next day, the news on the radio about Clemente. That was a pretty sucky time for my 14-year-old self.

    Talk about your wild weeks in sports.

  24. cmd_45
    April 26, 2011 8:26 am

    Roberto was my dad’s childhood hero. I actually thought the song was a great touch. It really brought home how much Roberto was to his family, to Pittsburgh and to his home. All that and still a classy, humble gentleman. Hope he is resting in peace.

  25. bucdaddy
    April 26, 2011 11:04 am

    Classy, sure, but humble? I dunno. He had the arrogance of royalty, and I do not mean that in a bad way. I mean he was intensely proud of himself and his heritage.

    Everybody claims they always loved Roberto now, but IIRC his pride came through to some white folks of the time as uppityness*, cause believe it or not, it wasn’t all sweetness and light and hippiehappiness in the ’60s, for those of you who weren’t there.

    Roberto had the reputation of being somewhat a hypochondriac (look it up, he missed a lot of games with various injuries), and there was one incident when he bunted in the ninth inning of a game the Pirates trailed and later said, “I no feel like a home run,” which helped to get him labeled by some critics as being, amazingly, if you ever saw him play, lazy. Because, amazingly, there was a time when many white people thought most black people were.

    I certainly don’t side with those people, I’m just saying I think there’s a little bit of selective memory involved when people get all “everybody loved Roberto” misty-eyed.

    *–Or maybe that was just my coal miner grandfather talking.

  26. Ex-Pat Pittsburgh Girl
    April 26, 2011 12:57 pm

    @bucdaddy — I believe your depiction is pretty accurate. Clemente was a very proud individual. He would usually comment in Spanish in interview (directed to his parents, family and countrymen in Puerto Rico) and felt he did not get the recognition he deserved. This is reflected in many articles and books about him. One instance came about when Dick Groat was named baseball’s MVP in 1960. Clemente felt he should have won the award that season. I think he did win it the next year.

    It is important to remember that the era in which he broke into the league was oftentimes even less welcoming to those who were black and hispanic it was to blacks. Context is very important.

    My Grandparents were friends with the Clementes and to this day, my 91 year old Grandmother still speaks about how strikingly handsome she found Roberto to be. In many of the photos I’ve seen with the four of them, her school girl crush seems to shine through the picture.