You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we'll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1973, the Pirates retired No. 21.
Curt Gowdy, a Hall of Fame broadcaster, called Roberto Clemente "The Great One.'' I believe he was the greatest defensive right fielder of all time. I believe he had the greatest throwing arm of any outfielder who ever played the game and he was one of the greatest hitters ever. And, in this age of hyperbole, this is indisputable: He was a great man, a true hero.
When I was 13, in 1970, I saw Clemente play an exhibition game against the Washington Senators at RFK Stadium. I went there to see two things and got both. He hit a searing line drive to right field as I had hoped because I'd seen only briefly but always heard how hard he hit the ball the opposite way.
"He hit the ball harder than anyone I ever played against,'' said Larry Bowa, a big league shortstop from 1970 to 1985. "You could hear it whiz by your ear.''
And that day at RFK, Clemente made a throw from deep right field to third base, just what I was wishing for. He made two breathtaking throws in the 1971 World Series. One was a strike from the warning track in right field to the plate, keeping Mark Belanger from scoring from first. The other was down the right-field line, where he spun and made a remarkable throw to third.
"Everyone thinks I was out on that play -- I was safe at third!'' said Merv Rettenmund, who had tagged up from second. "I didn't think it would even be close. But when I got close to third, I saw [Richie] Hebner getting ready to make a play. I thought, 'There can't be a close play here.' But never forget, it was Roberto Clemente throwing.''
We remember where we were when we hear of a tragedy. I was walking downstairs on New Year's morning 1973. My dad, who loved the game so much, delivered the news that Clemente had died in a plane crash delivering supplies to Nicaragua. My dad cried. I cried.
Many years later, I would meet Pirates second baseman Neil Walker, whose dad, Tom, was supposed to go on that flight to Nicaragua. But Clemente told him not to go, he had a family, he should stay home. And then on Opening Day 2011, Neil Walker hit a grand slam, the first Pirate to hit one on Opening Day since The Great One, Roberto Clemente, 49 years earlier.
"Every time I think about it,'' Neil Walker said, "I get chills.''
Other baseball notes from April 6
In 2013, the Upton brothers, Justin and Melvin, homered in the same inning for the same team, the first brothers to do that since Billy and Cal Ripken in 1996. We are sad that Rex Brothers, who was active this spring, never got to face the Upton brothers in the same game.
In 2002, in his major league debut, the Royals' Miguel Asencio faced four batters, walked them all, and didn't throw a strike: 16 pitches, 16 balls.
In 2006, the Orioles' Mark Hendrickson threw a shutout. He joined Ron Reed, Dave DeBusschere and Gene Conley as the only players to play in the NBA and throw a shutout in the major leagues.
In 2004, pitcher David Aardsma replaced Hank Aaron for the first spot on the all-time baseball alphabetical list. Aardsma smiled and said, "Hank was a better player than me.''
In 1975, Joe Niekro was traded to the Astros. A year later, he would hit the only home run of his career. It came off his brother, Phil.