On New Years Eve, 1972, Roberto Clemente said goodbye to his wife at the airport as he prepared to board a flight to Nicaragua in hopes of providing relief to those in need of help, following an earthquake that had devastated the region. That same year, Clemente — a revered Latino baseball star — achieved 3,000 hits in the majors, and had cemented his name in the history books as not only one of the greats in Major League Baseball, but as one of the trailblazers for Latino players everywhere. It would be the last time Clemente’s wife would converse with the legend — shortly after taking off, the plane crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico. Clemente’s body was never found.
In an unprecedented move, Clemente was voted into the MLB Hall of Fame within a few months of his passing, despite the standing rule that players could not be voted into its hallowed halls without having been removed from their professional career for at least five years. The Puerto Rican-born star was the first Latino player to be inducted into the Hall, having amassed 18 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates as one of the best defensive and offensive players to ever compete in the game.
Clemente wasn’t the first player to break through into the majors as a legitimate Latino threat, though. This month, Hennessy All-Stars is celebrating Erick Aybar of the Los Angeles Angels, a Dominican Republic star who has a Golden Glove and All-Star appearance to his name. Hennessy is honoring the history and culture of Latin athletes in the sport, athletes like Aybar and Clemente, who solidified the notion that Hispanic players were here to stay, a path later followed by David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and other stars who ingrained their heritage into the fabric of the sport.