I’d been living in Logan Square for about 12 years before I knew anything of Roberto Clemente, the man for whom the Logan Square post office at 2339 N. California Ave. was named. While there is a stylish relief mural and a plaque in the main area, there was no obvious indication of who Clemente was or why the post office was named after him. Years later, I would find out that Clemente was Black and Puerto Rican and was beloved in the Latino community, a giant in the world of baseball to this day.
Roberto Clemente Walker was born on Aug. 18, 1934, in Barrio San Antón in Carolina, Puerto Rico.
Clemente played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955 to 1972. He returned to Puerto Rico to play “winter ball” in the offseason, but in the winter of 1958-59, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, spending his six-month active duty commitment at Parris Island, South Carolina; Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; and Washington, D.C. Clemente served as a private first class until 1964.
Commonly referred to as “The Great One,” Clemente had 3,000 hits and hit .300 or better in 13 seasons starring on Pittsburgh’s World Series-winning teams in 1960 and 1972. He earned 12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards. On New Year’s Eve, 1972, Clemente died in a plane crash off Puerto Rico as he set out on a trip to bring aid to Nicaragua after an earthquake. He was 38 years old.
The following year, in Cooperstown, New York, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted to waive the traditional five-year waiting period for induction, and Clemente was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
On Oct. 10, 2000, Congress renamed the Logan Square Post Office the ‘‘Roberto Clemente Post Office’’ in a bill presented by Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, former representative for Illinois’ Fourth District.
On the Congress floor, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez spoke passionately, saying, “I urge my colleagues to vote for this measure, and I ask, Mr. Speaker, that we recognize the fact that Roberto Clemente was not only a great baseball player, but he was a great role model and a great humanitarian.” (You can read Gutiérrez’s words in the Congressional Record.) Rep. Gutiérrez grew up cheering for Clemente even though the Pittsburgh Pirate played against Gutiérrez’s hometown Chicago Cubs.
In 2003, Clemente was inducted into the Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame, and in 2018, a memorial was created at the site of his plane’s crash, as his body was never found.
Clemente is a national baseball icon, with a statue at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, a bridge named in his honor (the adjoining Sixth Street Bridge), two stamp designs, and a second post office in his name in Puerto Rico (1000 Ave Sanchez Osorio, Carolina, Puerto Rico 00983 ). Including parks and schools like Roberto Clemente Community Academy in Chicago, the baseball legend has about 12 places named after him, matched only by Jackie Robinson‘s 13 posthumous namesakes.
“My greatest satisfaction comes from helping to erase the old opinion about Latin Americans and Black,” Clemente said.
Clemente’s friend, the Spanish-language sportscaster Luis Mayoral, said of the baseball legend, “Roberto Clemente was to Latinos what Jackie Robinson was to Black baseball players. He spoke up for Latinos. He was the first one to speak out.”
I love learning about Logan Square’s history. I was so inspired by Clemente’s story that I bought Roberto Clemente stamps for myself to hang on my wall and drew a page commemorating him in the “LoganSquarist Official Coloring Book.” There are so many sources of information on Clemente and other local histories, like the recently reopened City Lit Books and the book “Images in America (Logan Square),” written by Logan Square Preservation (3150 W, Logan Blvd.) President Andrew Schneider. Scroll through our History section to learn more about what’s come and gone in the neighborhood.
Featured photo and stamp photos: Erik Island
“The Great One” PNC Park Statue photo: tquist24, used by permission only, for noncommercial use. Copyright, all rights reserved.
Roberto Clemente Bridge photo is Creative Commons, by permission only, for noncommercial use.
Eric Beato on Flickr. CC BY 2.0 license.