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Friday, March 23, 2018

‘Roberto was our brother’: Dave Parker recalls first Pirates spring training after Clemente’s death

Roberto Clemente was more than a humanitarian, more than our spiritual team leader, more than a baseball angel. Roberto was our brother, and I never experienced a life shock this close to me. I started getting phone calls from friends and family, asking whether I heard what happened. Sometimes people want to connect with you over a tragedy, be there for you, and it’s genuine and all, but sometimes you just need to sit down by yourself and process what happened.

.....

They had me playing center all last year in the minors so I would get more balls hit to me and improve my fundamentals. My manager was Timmy Murtaugh (Danny’s kid) and he took great care of turning me into a quality defender (the Pirates signed me as a catcher, but that’s a story for another day). Could I play center for Pittsburgh? Not with Al Oliver there. We all called him “Scoop,” and he was, without a doubt, the most competitive dude I ever played with. Hardest worker on the team, 25 years old, hit .312 in 600 plate appearances the year before; he wasn’t going anywhere. And I haven’t gotten to Gene Clines yet — he led the team with a .334 batting average in ’72, 20th place in the NL MVP voting, and they weren’t even sure he had a starting spot because left field was being left open.

The organization wasn’t sure who would play there. Willie Stargell, another one of our team leaders, moved to first base when Bob Robertson, the Pirates’ postseason star home run hitter in ‘71, fell into a slump. Virdon told all the beat guys that Willie would be the starting first baseman, and with a good spring Bob Robertson would be the everyday left fielder, where he played a total of 25 times in five years. Oh yeah, and then we had a rookie named Richie Zisk, who only batted .308 and hit 26 homers at Triple-A Charleston. He hit for average, for power, and management let the reporters assume Richie was definitely making the team.


 

 

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