Now a New York congressman wants to take that memorabilia national, celebrating Clemente with a specially minted U.S. commemorative coin. As reported by the New York Times, Rep. Adriano Espaillat introduced a bill last month — the Roberto Clemente Commemorative Coin Act — that would authorize the Treasury Department to design gold, copper-nickel, and silver dollar Clemente coins.
As part of the U.S. Mint’s commemorative coin program, Clemente would join the ranks of Harriet Tubman, women’s suffragettes, the Apollo 11 astronauts, and Negro Leagues Baseball players — all of whom recently appeared on commemorative coins.
According to the Mint, the limited-edition coins “commemorat[e] important aspects of American history” and fund select causes. Part of the coins’ sale would benefit the Roberto Clemente Foundation. Clemente’s sons, Roberto Jr. and Luis, who are co-founders and co-chairmen of the Foundation, also issued a statement of support for the proposed coin.
Rep. Espaillat, who represents New York’s 13th district spanning Manhattan and the Bronx, told the Times that even though he’s now in Yankee territory, as a kid, he fondly remembers watching Clemente play at Forbes Field. The playing field was deeper, Espaillat recalled — 457 feet to center field — so that “when you get a guy throwing somebody out from that far back in the ballpark on a fly, that’s a tremendous throw.”
Further, Espaillat said, Clemente, who was born in Puerto Rico, was a “pioneer,” the first of many Latino players who have hugely impacted major league baseball. Clemente confronted discrimination by the MLB and sportswriters, and protested segregation in the Jim Crow South while on the road with the Pirates. In 1973, he became the first Latin-American and Caribbean player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Clemente was also a champion for social causes, often doing charity work in Latin American and Caribbean countries during baseball off-seasons. He died in a plane crash at 38 while carrying relief supplies after the 1972 Nicaragua earthquake.
The push for the Clemente coin needs two-thirds of the U.S. House’s approval, but Rep. Espaillat believes he can get everyone required on board, including the entire Pa. delegation, “because of Pittsburgh.”
As far as Pittsburgh’s love for Clemente memorabilia goes, this isn't even our first commemorative coin. In 2007, Giant Eagle released 12 Pirates Hall of Fame commemorative coins, with Clemente as #8 in the collection. While we eagerly await a nationally minted version, you can still head over to the Clemente Museum in Lawrenceville to pick up vintage posters, museum prints, or a limited-edition gold-embossed baseball celebrating 3,000 hits.