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Campanella, Paige, Mays, Aaron, Koufax, Clemente, Cepeda, Gibson, Bench, Schmidt, Boggs, Ripken, Mattingly, Gwynn—all of these marquee Major Leaguers, and so many more, honed their skills in the Liga de Baseball Profesional de Puerto Rico (LBPPR). America's national pastime first arrived in the Puerto Rican capital city of San Juan in 1896 after migrating across the Caribbean Sea from Cuba. By 1938, six teams had formed the full-fledged Puerto Rican League, which has remained in continuous operation ever since. As Thomas E. Van Hyning recounts in his 1995 book Puerto Rico's Winter League: A History of Major League Baseball's Launching Pad, "The Puerto Rican experience ... enabled numerous players to get over the 'AAA hump' or get their big league careers back on track. From the early 1950s through the mid-1990s, Puerto Rican baseball was superior to AAA ball in the States. Former Negro Leaguers, top major league prospects and a smattering of current big leaguers on Puerto Rican rosters made this a competitive league."
The final three months of Roberto Clemente's life were marked by four key events: 1) On September 30, 1972, he collects his 3,000th hit in front of the hometown crowd at Three Rivers Stadium. 2) In a nail-biter of an N.L.C.S. against Cincinnati, the Pirates come one shutout frame short of a World Series berth and their shot at a repeat championship. 3) Clemente returns to his native Puerto Rico and manages the national team to a sixth-place finish at the 1972 Amateur World Series, held in Managua, Nicaragua. 4) A devastating earthquake in Managua two weeks later spurs Clemente to organize a relief effort and then personally transport humanitarian aid there on New Year's Eve—the fateful night when his plane faltered soon after takeoff, crashing into the Atlantic Ocean.
Therefore, at the time when Manager Clemente and his entire Puerto Rico roster signed this official 20th Amateur World Series baseball, no one could have known that it would be the last surviving team-signed sphere ever graced by "The Great One." Clemente's distinctive script appears just to the left of the "XX SERIE MUNDIAL MANAGUA NICARAGUA" stamping and showcases stellar "10" strength. In fact, all of the 24 vintage blue-ballpoint signatures grade "9-10", and they feature notable names Victor Pellot (a.k.a. Vic Power, the first Puerto Rican ever to play in the American League); Juan Pachot (longtime P.R. player and International Softball Federation Hall of Fame inductee); Luis Renovales; Jose Gonzalez and Jose Garay. Other team members include Negron, Mercado, Carradero, Roldan, Curet, Martinez, Mangual, Valentin, Ramos, Torres, Garcia, Alicea, Roubert, Andujar and Vachier. The highly displayable MacGregor ball is light cream in surface tone and retains its original manufacturer's box (whose quite weathered condition reflects the consummate protection it has provided over the past four decades).
An accompanying handwritten LOA from Puerto Rican collector Yuyo Ruiz reads, in full, "In 1972, after the american baseball season, Roberto Clemente returned to Puerto Rico to coach the PR National Team. The team traveled to Nicaragua to play in the World National Series, which concluded just three weeks prior to Clemente's death. Offered is a 1972 Puerto Rican national team signed ball including Roberto Clemente. Yuyo purchased the baseball directly from the family of a Nicaraguan customs officer. When Roberto entered Nicaragua, he promised the officer he would give him a signed ball when he traveled back after the series. This would likely be the last team signed ball he would sign."
In this 40th anniversary year of Roberto Clemente's tragic death, it is difficult to overstate the importance of a Nicaragua-related, baseball-relevant Clemente autograph dating to mere weeks prior to his doomed flight to Managua—let alone the very final team-signed ball of his all-too-brief diamond career. LOA from Yuyo Ruiz. LOA from JSA. LOA from PSA DNA.