- 1972 - The day that baseball still mourns: Roberto Clemente, 38, was killed when his plane, on a humanitarian trip to Managua, crashed in the Atlantic while on a rescue mission. (Click for the NY Times story.) Clemente had quietly spent much of his time during his off-seasons involved in charity work. When Managua was affected by a massive earthquake, he put together relief flights to aid in its recovery and was aboard on the fourth trip he had personally organized, on an overloaded and mechanically cranky DC-7. In an eerie trivial bit, pitcher Tom Walker, Neil’s dad, helped The Great One load the plane and was going to take the flight with him, but Clemente insisted he stay in San Juan and enjoy New Year’s Eve. Roberto went because he thought the situation called for his presence as some supplies were being hijacked by government officials, but it wasn't to be. The plane crashed into the ocean, and Clemente's body was never recovered. In fact, Manny Sanguillen missed Roberto's memorial service; he was diving in a search for the body. Posthumously, Clemente was elected to the Hall of Fame, not only as the first Latino player, but the first to have the five-year wait waived. The Roberto Clemente Award was established to provide a charitable grant to the player who was the most committed to community service. His number was retired by the Pirates and his statue is prominent near the Roberto Clemente bridge leading to PNC Park. So while he's gone, his memory and legacy remain.
Other 12/31 Events:
- 1884 - 3B Bobby Byrne was born in St. Louis. The pint sized (5-7, 145) scrapper played five seasons for the Pirates (1909-13) and hit .277 with 97 stolen bases in Pittsburgh. He was acquired late in 1909 and helped the Bucs to their World Series title against the Tigers. A leadoff hitter, Bobby had 176 stolen bases in his career and walked more often than he whiffed. Byrne was also a very good soccer player, making the All-St. Louis team as a youth and playing in the area until Barney Dreyfuss made him stick to one sport.
- 1971 - RHP Esteban Loaiza was born in Tijuana. He began his 14 year career in Pittsburgh from 1995-98, where he showed maddening promise, but no consistency, going 27-28/4.61 over that span. He did put it together once, in 2003 for the White Sox, going 21-9/2.90 and earning his first of two All-Star berths. He was also considered for the Cy Young that year, finishing second behind Roy Halladay but ahead of Pedro Martínez and Tim Hudson.
- 1991 - RHP Bob Walk inked his final contract, signing up for two more years with the Bucs. He earned $4.2M over the two campaigns, cashing in on bonus money included in the package. He went 23-20 over the life of the deal.