Roberto Clemente (1973)
We now get to the second-best Hall of Famer in Pittsburgh Pirates’ history, “The Great One,” Roberto Clemente. Clemente is by far the best Rule 5 draft pick of all time, as Branch Rickey stole him from his former team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1954. Clemente played all 19 of his MLB seasons with the Pirates, and not only did he become one of the greatest Pirates players ever, but he went down as one of the best outfielders of all time.
Clemente was a very good hitter, batting .317/.359/.475 with a career OPS+ of 130. Clemente’s very last hit in the Major Leagues was his 3000th. From 1960 through 1971, his last season before his tragic passing, Clemente reached double-digit home runs every season, finishing his career with 240. He also earned MVP votes in 12 seasons. The only year from ‘60 to ‘71 he didn’t get at least one vote was in 1968, but in all honesty, he should have been a finalist as he led all position players in bWAR. He took the award home in 1966.
Clemente is the best defensive right fielder of all time, no question about it. At the very least, he is a top-five defensive outfielder of all time, including center field and left field. He had +205 total zone runs in his career, making him one of just five players to reach that milestone. Clemente was famous for his .50 caliber arm in right field, making some unbelievable throws. He racked up 266 outfield assists, which is only the 17th most of all-time. But if you look at the all-time outfield assist leaderboard on Baseball Reference, he is the only one who doesn’t have a black-and-white photograph. Clemente’s efforts with the glove earned him a dozen Gold Gloves, the most by any National League right fielder.
Clemente could have 100% played into his early 40s. In his final season, he batted .317/.356/.479 with a 138 OPS+; all four stats matched or exceeded his career norms. It’s a tragedy we never go to see a true decline. There’s definitely a chance he would reach 3500 hits, +100 bWAR, get 250+ homers, and 1500 runs batted in had he not passed so early in a plane crash in an attempt to bring supplies to Nicaragua. Because of his tragic passing, Clemente was on the ballot the very next voting season, where he received 92.8% of votes and made it in first try.