by Dave Connelly
On New Year's Eve 1972, baseball lost one of its greatest players and greatest humanitarians. Larger than life anywhere the game is loved, Roberto Clemente remains almost a deity in parts of Latin America. Collectors of Clemente memorabilia are everywhere and the anniversary of his death will again bring the Hall of Fame outfielder to the forefront.
Signed and unsigned items regularly go for hundreds or thousands of dollars. Why is Clemente so popular and why does his memorabilia continue to sell for so much money? Part of the reason is his play on the field though this doesn't fully explain Clemente's appeal. The manner of his tragic death, the way he played the game and the way he lived his life off of the field combine to make him such an iconic figure.
The cost of Clemente memorabilia
Clemente baseball cards and other memorabilia have continue to sell for huge prices on the open market. Former Major League player Dmitri Young sold his baseball card collection for $2.5 million last year. The star of the collection was the only PSA 10 Clemente rookie card ever graded, which sold for just more than $432,000. A PSA 8 usually costs around $6,000.
The value of Clemente memorabilia can also be seen in current auctions. Autographed baseballs, bats, cards and other gear will routinely sell for anywhere between $5,000 and $50,000 depending upon the item and its condition. A high grade Roberto Clemente single-signed baseball sold for $24,000 in a recent auction. A Clemente signed check sold on eBay last week for $7,500.
Explaining Clemente's popularity - his life
One of the reasons why so many baseball fans around the globe value Clemente's items has to do with his life. Clemente played baseball with tremendous flair. In addition to his 3,000 hits, he was known for great base running and an incredible arm. Some plays, like his whirling throws to third base, captivated a generation of baseball fans. In addition to that, Clemente is immensely popular because of his work with the less fortunate. He routinely organized efforts to provide aid to places like Nicaragua and Puerto Rico. He was a friend to the poor in areas around the world. This is part of the reason why he is so beloved in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Explaining Clemente's popularity - his death
The manner of Clemente's death also makes him very popular. Clemente was killed when the plane full of relief supplies that he had chartered crashed en route to Nicaragua where an earthquake had struck. His tragic death came while the Pittsburgh Pirates were a perennial contender and Clemente was at the height of his fame.
He died with exactly 3,000 hits and was posthumously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
While many players are still around to fill the memorabilia market with more autographs and more items, Clemente was taken from the world too early. This adds to his appeal and creates a bit of a supply problem as well. Fans as well as collectors compete for special Clemente items and cards, keeping prices strong.