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Roberto Clemente Newsbeat

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Transaction Retrospection: The Pirates Take Roberto Clemente From The Dodgers In The Rule 5 Draft

In a 2019 piece for The Athletic, Stephen J. Nesbitt unraveled some of the mythology surrounding Clemente’s brief Dodgers tenure.  The popular version of the story is that Montreal tried to shield Clemente from rival scouts by limiting his playing time and benching him whenever he had a good game, or removing him from the lineup if he had a big hit early in a game.  However, SABR researcher Stew Thornley noted that the right-handed hitting Clemente was almost never deployed against right-handed pitching, so a strict platoon could have been more to blame for Clemente’s lack of playing time than any attempt from the Dodgers to try and “hide” him.

Besides, while Clemente hit only .257/.286/.372 in his 155 plate appearances with Montreal, his raw ability was hard to miss.  (Clemente was also on fire while playing winter ball in Puerto Rico around the time of the R5.)  The Pirates took clear notice, and since they had the first pick of the 1954 Rule 5 Draft, Clemente was quickly Pittsburgh-bound that offseason.  If the Dodgers’ strategy was indeed to just hope that other teams would ignore such a prominent prospect, the bet didn’t pay off.

As Nesbitt notes, longtime Dodgers GM Buzzie Bavasi has told a few different stories in regard to why or how Brooklyn lost Clemente, such as Pirates GM Branch Rickey backing out of a gentleman’s agreement to not take Clemente in the Rule 5 Draft.  In another version, Bavasi claimed the Dodgers signed Clemente solely to keep him away from the arch-rival Giants, and eventually direct him via the R5 to an also-ran team.  Bavasi also said in an e-mail to Thornley in 2005 that Jackie Robinson personally told the front office that adding Clemente to the team and removing a white player from the roster “would be setting our program back five years.”

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 01, 2022 at 05:21 PM | 12 comment(s)
  Beats: dodgers, roberto clemente



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