This Date In Baseball History- November 22, 1954- Pittsburgh Pirates draft Roberto Clemente from the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in Rule 5 draft. In a move that wouldn’t have made headlines when it happened but was destined to change the course of the National League for the next couple decades- the Pirates with the first pick in the Rule 5 minor league draft took the 20 year old right fielder. Clemente had signed with the Dodgers organization in February of 1954. The Dodgers knew they had something special- but they didn’t let him play much that season at AAA Montreal because they didn’t want to risk losing him in the draft. But the Pirates knew all about him- due to a trip Pirates pitching coach Clyde Sukeforth made on June 1, 1954. Sukeforth was in Richmond to see Montreal pitcher Joe Black pitch- he was the player the Pirates were interested in. That quickly changed to Clemente when Sukeforth witnessed Clemente in pre-game batting practice and when he saw his throwing arm. When he learned that Clemente was an unprotected bonus baby- that pretty much sealed the deal. Montreal’s manager was ordered to use Clemente sparingly- so he would sneak through the season unnoticed but it was too late. Before leaving Richmond that weekend- Sukeforth told Montreal’s manager Max Macon to ‘take care of our boy and see that he doesn’t get hurt.’ The Pirates finished with the worst record in 1954 and had the first pick in the Rule 5 Draft- and they kept their word- drafting Roberto Clemente.
Clemente would break in with the Pirates in April 1955. He was only 20 years old- he wasn’t an immediate star- it took a few years. He made his first All-Star team in 1960 and would be one of bright stars of that decade. How would baseball history had been changed- if Clemente had remained in the Dodgers organization? I question if the Pirates would have won the World Series in 1960 [or would have been in it without Roberto] and certainly it would be in question if they would have won in 1971. The Dodgers- with Clemente- in the 1960’s. The Dodgers had all the pitching in the world but seriously lacked hitting- add Clemente and I think it is possible that they may have won at least another championship or two. As a Pirate fan -I think it worked out for the best.