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Roberto Clemente (True) Rookie Card

What some may find shocking is that Roberto Clemente started his pro career by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers on February 19, 1954, and by April of the following year, he was traded to the Pittsburg Pirates. He has one official rookie card.

Why I Collect Roberto Clemente

As a collector, Roberto Clemente is one that I personally collect. As we would say in the collecting community, “I PC Roberto.” For that reason this post may seem a bit biased, but with good reason.

When you consider all that he accomplished on and off the field one can clearly see why he’s considered one of the All-Time Greats of the game.

The reason I PC Roberto is because he hits close to home because my parents are from Puerto Rico as was Roberto. They had much admiration for Roberto and I remember oftentimes having long discussions about him.

I remember as a kid going to my cousin Eddie’s house and looking at, seems for hours, his 1972 & 1973 Topps Clemente cards. Today, within the hobby he’s held in high regard too, with collectibility similar to Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and/or Hank Aaron.

Roberto Clemente Struggles

He struggled early on and much of that can be attributed to differences of opinion when it came to Latin American players in major league baseball.

When first arriving at Pittsburg there was so much racial tension with the local media and even some of his own teammates, and this caused much frustration to the young ballplayer.

He began with tremendous disadvantages, not only was he considered black but Clemente knew very little English and had to adapt to an entirely new culture.

In many ways, he is like a Latin American version of Jackie Robinson who crossed the color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Roberto Clemente – a Trailblazing Humanitarian

Equally impressive are his trailblazing statistics. He was the first Latin American baseball player to:

  • Win a World Series
  • Receive an NL MVP Award
  • Receive a World Series MVP Award
  • Be enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Roberto was a humanitarian at heart, during the offseason he spent most of his time helping to improve the welfare and happiness of people, specifically in Latin American countries.

The Tragedy that Grieved the MLB

However, tragedy struck on December 23, 1972. Roberto heading to Nicaragua to help those affected by a horrific earthquake went missing in a plane crash into the Atlantic ocean just moments after takeoff. They declared his death on December 31, 1972.

Baseball fans and the entire MLB were heavy-hearted by the news and soon after the Baseball Writers Association of America voted and waived the five-year waiting period for induction into the Hall of Fame.

Due to the circumstances of his death, his outstanding skill on the field, and his humanitarian efforts off the field, he was enshrined in 1973 by Special Election.

Major League Baseball in an effort to show honor to Roberto’s memory changed the name of the Commissioner’s Award to the Roberto Clemente Award and every year a player who shows great playing skills and who is actively involved in community work is selected at the World Series.

They are given an award and a check to the charity of their choice, and this, one can say is Roberto Clemente’s legacy. Decades after his death his name and memory are still synonymous with helping others.

Career Stats and Accomplishments

According to Roberto Clemente career stats are:

WAR 94.8 | Batting Average .317 | Hits 3,000 | Home Runs 240 | RBI 1,305


  • 15x All-Star
  • 12x Gold Glove
  • 4x Batting Title (1961, 64, 65, 67)
  • 2x World Series Champion (1960, 1971)
  • 1971 World Series MVP
  • 1966 NL MVP
  • 1973 Hall of Fame Induction

Roberto Clemente True Rookie Card:

 1955 Topps, #164 (RC)

55 topps clemente rc
55 topps clemente back

Roberto Clemente’s rookie card was printed in 1955 as a Pittsburgh Pirate. I guess the scouts over at Topps saw something in him the Brooklyn Dodgers didn’t.

The 1955 Topps set was the smallest ever printed by Topps, only 206 cards made up the complete set. The odd number was caused by four cards that were never issued for the set: #’s 175, 186, 203 & 209. It’s believed this was caused by contractual issues with certain players.

Still, only a 210 card set is rather small, perhaps Topps had their hands full and were struggling to meet deadlines since they recently had purchased long-time rival Bowman.

The card design is unique because it is the first time Topps designed an all horizontal set. However, the overall design of the card front resembles the 1954 Topps offering quite a bit.

The photos and team emblems were rearranged but the card photos were repeats of the 54′ set – not cool Topps!

The card back I absolutely love. Notice the card number inside the baseball this is classic Topps vintage! And one can really appreciate those “Daffy-Nitions” cartoons teaching young collectors about the terminology of the game.

This rookie card of Roberto Clemente is a work of art and offers collectors a painted portrait, action pose, facsimile autograph. Put it all together and what you have is one of the greatest cards in baseball card collecting history. Of one of the greatest baseball players in history.

1956 Topps, #33 (PRT)

A trend in the hobby today is second-year cards. They offer collectors a more affordable option if and when collectors get priced out of the more expensive rookie cards. Now, this is not a Roberto Clemente rookie card but it’s the next best thing.

1956 Topps baseball product mimicked the 1955 set. It too featured an all horizontal set measuring at 2-5/8″ x 3-3/4″ which is slightly bigger than today’s standard size. The same portrait photo was used in 1955 except now it’s to the right side of the card.

The card front also gives us facsimile autographs and an action pose with a stadium game day backdrop. Okay. This will work! This is a very attractive set and typically ranks in the Top 10 favorite list among vintage collectors.

The card back offers collectors a large cartoon illustrating the career of Roberto, player bio, and stats. Cards #1-180 can be found with white or gray backs. According to PSA Population Reports it appears that the white backs are more common and the gray back variant a bit more scarce.

Happy Collecting Collectors,

Learn. Collect. Enjoy.