Clemente’s Save

When a 6.2 earthquake hit Managua, Nicaragua, on December 23, 1972, Tom Walker was playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. Walker, a journeyman pitcher with a six-year career had an 18-23 won-lost record with an ERA of 3.87. One of his teammates was the great Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Clemente was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, which was a little less than a thousand miles from the earthquake epicenter.

When the quake struck, many countries sent relief planes loaded with supplies. The corrupt Samoza regime in Nicaragua intercepted the supplies and hoarded them for its own use. In response, Clemente organized his own relief project and went along to ensure proper delivery of supplies.

On December 31, Clemente and some of his teammates, including Tom Walker, loaded supplies onto a plane bound for Nicaragua. Walker asked to go along to help unload. Clemente, knowing that Walker had plans for a New Year’s Eve party, excused him. Walker pleaded with him, but Clemente insisted that he stay and enjoy himself, so Walker stayed behind.

Shortly after take-off, Clemente’s plane crashed into the sea and sank, killing everyone on board.

Clemente did more than save lives in Nicaragua during that December in 1972. If not for his insisting that Tom Walker stay behind that New Year’s Eve, Walker would not have sired a son in 1985. The son’s name is Neil Walker. He plays second base for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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