Roberto Clemente Finally Gets the Biopic Treatment He Deserves

The Hall of Famer's career will be showcased, as well as his humanitarian efforts and "fight for Latin American equality and social justice.”

Roberto Clemente talks with kid ballplayers at his home field
The baseball legend is rightfully recognized as much for his humanitarian efforts as he is for his play on the diamond
Bettmann Archive

For as much as Roberto Clemente is recognized by MLB and the media for his contributions to professional baseball and humanity — having drawn comparisons to even Jackie Robinson — he’s never received the biopic treatment that other all-time greats of the diamond — including Robinson — have. But it appears that’s about to change. 

Yesterday, Deadline reported that producers Jonah Hirsch and AJ Muñoz will work with the Clemente family to create an as-yet-untitled film based on a best-selling book about the Puerto Rican-born Hall of Famer. “The film will showcase Clemente’s rise to greatness against all odds and tell his inspirational life story inclusive of both his baseball career as well as his fight for Latin American equality and social justice,” wrote Deadline. “By acquiring the life rights to Clemente as well as the family-authored book, Hirsch and Muñoz alongside the legend’s sons Roberto Clemente Jr. and Luis Roberto Clemente will serve as executive producers on the project.”

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Clemente was quite simply one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Fifteen times he was voted to the National League All Star team as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the only MLB team he donned a uniform for. He helped the Bucs win two World Series championships across his 18-year career, winning the series MVP on one occasion. He also won the league’s MVP, 12 Gold Glove awards and four batting titles on his way to tallying exactly 3,000 career hits — a milestone of legendary stature. 

But his life was tragically cut short. On December 31, 1972, at age 38, he was killed in a plane crash while attempting to deliver aid packages to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. It was his last act of kindness after many years of charitable endeavors. Upon his death, in recognition of his humanitarianism, MLB dedicated a new yearly award to the league player who was voted to have contributed the most to their community. Initially called the Commissioner’s Award, since 1973 it’s been distributed as the Roberto Clemente Award and held in extremely high regard. 

As a Black Latino, Clemente also endured profound racism during his time in MLB, which began just eight years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. An admirer of Martin Luther King, however, Clemente spoke out against inequality and the racist culture of the time.

“When Clemente reported to Pirates spring training in Florida for the first time, Black players usually had to wait on the bus for their white teammates to bring them back food from restaurants after games,” said a Los Angeles Times article. “Clemente despised the routine. He threatened to fight any Black player who took the food, according to David Maraniss’ biography of Clemente. He requested separate transportation and the Pirates eventually provided a station wagon for the Black players.” It was far from the last time Clemente would protest American racism while playing in the MLB.

The announcement of the film comes a couple months after the 50th anniversary of Clemente’s death, which inspired many tributes to him, and news that a biography about his life was “under review” for public school use in a Florida county district. Under a 2022 law signed by state governor Ron DeSantis, “Books must align with state standards such as not teaching K-3 students about gender identity and sexual orientation, not teaching critical race theory — which examines systemic racism in American society — in public grade schools and not including references to pornography and discrimination as defined by the state,” NBC News reported. But the book was re-approved for students last month by county-hired “certified media specialists.”

While the pending biopic is, in its own way, another deserving honor to be bestowed upon Clemente, MLB has yet to recognize him with a league-wide jersey number retirement, which some have called for, though others say would be unnecessary. Robinson is the only former player to have his jersey number off limits to all MLB players, though many Latinos in the league refuse to wear Clemente’s 21 to honor him, even without such legislation in place. 

We’ll see if MLB changes course there. In the meantime, perhaps the only other remaining question is: who gets to play Clemente in the movie? 

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