While looking through Roberto Clemente’s home run log on Baseball-Reference, I noticed the names of a lot of Hall of Fame pitchers. In particular, he homered off of seven different future Hall of Famers during the 1966 season alone. I then decided to see how he did in his career against the best pitchers of his era. I also noticed an impressive pitching performance by someone I’ve only heard of because I collect old baseball cards.
Including the postseason, Clemente faced 17 Hall of Fame pitchers during his career. He also went 0-for-1 against Tommy Lasorda before he became a Hall of Fame manager. He matched up against Don Drysdale more than anyone on this list, with 172 plate appearances. Below is a summary of each pitcher vs Clemente.
Don Drysdale – Clemente had a lot of singles off of Drysdale to put it mildly. He batted .361 against him, well above his career .317 average. Despite that average, Drysdale was still slightly better than the average pitcher against him. Clemente had a career .834 OPS, four points higher than his mark against the Dodgers hurler. That’s because 52 of his 60 hits were singles, and he only drew four walks.
Warren Spahn – Clemente was unmerciful against the great lefty. He hit .425/.438/.637 in 154 plate appearances. You’ll notice the small difference between the average and OBP. Spahn walked him just five times, but on the flip side, Clemente struck out just five times against Spahn.
Juan Marichal – The Dominican Dandy did well against Clemente, relatively speaking. In 135 plate appearances, Marichal held him to a .287/.319/.481 slash line.
Bob Gibson – No one of this list dominated Clemente over a significant amount of plate appearances like Gibson. He held the Great One to a .208/.219/.344 slash line in 128 plate appearances, with two walks and 32 strikeouts.
Gaylord Perry – Perry had some success against Clemente. They faced off 123 times, with a .264/.341/.436 slash line resulting from their battes. Perry’s 13 walks are the highest total on this list.
Sandy Koufax – Clemente loved great lefties. He really touched up Spahn, but also did damage against Koufax, putting up a .297/.355/.550 slash line in 122 plate appearances, with six doubles, two triples and six homers.
Fergie Jenkins – Jenkins was basically the average pitcher against Clemente overall, but he got there a different way. In 102 match-ups, Clemente batted .264 and put up a .304 OBP. However, he also hit six homers, helping him to a .526 slugging percentage. The .830 OPS here is equal to Drysdale’s mark and just below Clemente’s career .834 OPS.
Robin Roberts – Roberts vs Roberto ended in a win for the Phillies hurler. Clemente had a nice .308 average, but it came with just one walk and one homer in 91 plate appearances, resulting in a .757 OPS. Considering that it came against a Hall of Fame pitcher, that’s not bad.
Don Sutton – Clemente got the best of Sutton in their 69 meetings early in the right-handers career. He hit .354/.391/.492, with three doubles and two homers.
Jim Bunning – Bunning was a teammate of Clemente’s for two years, which I’m sure Bunning was happy about. The two battled 65 times and Clemente put up a .355/.359/.565 slash line. I’ll note that Clemente had a career .359 OBP, so he was spot on there against Bunning, even though he hit 38 points higher against him than his career average.
Tom Seaver – Tom Terrific earned his nickname against Clemente. Just like with Bunning, they faced each other 65 times, but the results were much different. Seaver held him to a .242/.277/.355 slash line. Not quite Gibson territory, but still a win for the Mets starter.
Steve Carlton – With 64 plate appearances in their match-up, Carlton has the highest total without allowing a home run to Clemente. He didn’t dominate him though, just did better than the average pitcher. Clemente hit .333/.375/.433, with four doubles and a triple.
Phil Niekro – That last player on this list who saw Clemente a significant number of times. In 48 plate appearances, Clemente hit .289/.333/.422 against the knuckleballer. Not only was Niekro able to keep him in the park every time, Clemente failed to pick up an RBI against him. It appears that Clemente didn’t start often against Niekro, at least later in his career. He sat out five times against him during the 1970-72 seasons, resulting in the low PA total over nine seasons in the same league.
Nolan Ryan – Ryan had Clemente’s number, but the two barely faced each other. In 16 battles, Clemente compiled two singles and that’s it, for a .250 OPS. He also struck out six times.
Hoyt Wilhelm – Another knuckleball pitcher and the two barely faced each other, despite Wilhelm being active during Clemente’s entire career. That’s because 13 of those seasons were spent in separate leagues. Clemente went 3-for-12 with two walks and a .583 OPS.
Jim Palmer – Palmer only faced Clemente during the 1971 World Series, but that was enough for him. Over two games, Clemente hit for the cycle, going 4-for-9, with a 1.556 OPS.
Whitey Ford – In the 1960 World Series, Ford vs Clemente resulted in a .375 average (.3-for-8), though he also had a .375 OBP and .375 slugging. Small moral victory for Ford, but the Pirates won the series.
That’s all of the Hall of Fame pitchers, but I didn’t answer the question in the title yet. Who is Jackie Collum?
Out of all of the pitchers who faced Clemente, no one did it more times without Clemente getting on base at least once. He faced Collum 17 times and walked back to the dugout dejected 17 times. Not one walk, not HBP, no sacrifice bunt or sac fly. If it was a game, the Collums would be perfect through two outs in the sixth against the Clementes.
Collum pitched in the majors for nine seasons, but he did all of his damage against a young Clemente. In 1955, they faced each 15 times. Then the final two meetings were in May of 1956. Six ground outs, nine fly balls, one foul out and a strikeout. After seeing what Clemente did to Spahn and Koufax, it might be a little surprising to find out that Collum was also a southpaw. Hats off to him, he held the Great One in check like no one else.
SONG OF THE DAY
RANDOM STUFF OF THE DAY
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
By John Dreker
Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, plus one trade of note.
Tommy Helms, infielder for the 1976-77 Pirates. He already had 12 seasons in at the Major League level before joining the Pirates for the 1976 season. Helms was the 1966 NL Rookie of the Year, a two-time All-Star and a two-time Gold Glove winner. Pittsburgh acquired him from the Houston Astros for a player to be named later in December of 1975. That player turned out to be Art Howe. In 1976, Helms was used as a pinch-hitter and the backup at both second base and third base. He hit .276 with 13 RBIs in 102 plate appearances. The Pirates sold him to the A’s on November 5, 1976, only to reacquire him on March 15, 1977 before he played with his new team. He was with the Pirates through the middle of June in 1977 and was used strictly as a pinch-hitter, getting 14 plate appearances, going 0-for-12 with two sacrifice hits. He was released by Pittsburgh on June 14th and signed quickly with the Red Sox. Helms went to Spring Training with Boston in 1978, but was released in late March, ending his career.
Jose Pagan, third baseman for the Pirates from 1965 until 1972. The Pirates acquired him in a one-for-one deal with the Giants in exchange for Dick Schofield during the 1965 season. Prior to joining Pittsburgh, Pagan had played four full seasons and three partial seasons with the Giants. He was a .242 hitter in 655 games, spending most of his playing time at shortstop. He didn’t see much playing time his first year in Pittsburgh, getting only 41 plate appearances in 42 games. His playing time increased greatly his first full year with the team, playing 109 games, with most of his time spent at third base. He hit .264 with 54 RBIs and 44 runs scored that season. His runs, RBIs and games played were all season highs during his eight seasons with the Pirates.
In 1967, Pagan started 15+ games at third base, shortstop and left field. Before 1967, he had made just five starts in the outfield during his career. He ended up hitting a career high .289 that season, albeit in just 211 at-bats. After hitting .221 and seeing limited time in 1968, Pagan bounced back with a strong season in the utility role the next year. He hit .285 with 42 RBIs and a career high nine homers. He hit .265 in 95 games, mostly at third base in 1970, helping the Pirates to their first playoff appearance since 1960. The Pirates would win it all in 1971, and while Pagan saw limited time during the regular season (158 at-bats), and then just one at-bat during the NLCS, he got four starts during the World Series. That included a game seven start in which he drove in what ended up being the game/series winning run. Pagan played one more season in Pittsburgh before being released in October of 1972. He played one season for the Phillies before his playing career ended. While with the Pirates, he hit .263 in 625 games with 189 RBIs and 168 runs scored.
Gene Curtis, left fielder for the 1903 Pirates. The 1903 Pirates clinched their third straight National League pennant on September 19th, which was then followed by an off-day. With just six games left before the first World Series was to take place, the Pirates rested some regulars. One of those regulars rested was left fielder/manager Fred Clarke, who injured his leg late in the year. Gene Curtis was a 20-year-old recruit up from the minors, playing his first season of pro ball. He went into left field for Clarke and played the last five games of the season. He batted .421 in 19 at-bats, with two runs scored and three RBIs. When the season ended, so did his Major League career. Curtis played six more years in the minors, then managed for two seasons without ever getting another big league call. The local paper was impressed with his play on the first day, although they said he has “some superfluous flesh” which was a nice way of saying he needed to lose some weight. That first game he went 2-for-2 with a walk, batting sixth in a lineup that was also missing Honus Wagner, who was out with a badly hurt thumb.
On this date in 1956, the Pirates traded pitcher Max Surkont to the St Louis Cardinals in exchange for pitcher Luis Arroyo. The Pirates had acquired Surkont two years earlier in a six-for-one deal with the Milwaukee Braves. He went 16-32, 4.92 in 69 games, 51 as a starter while with the Pirates, playing for some really bad teams. Arroyo was 11-8, 4.19 in 1955 for the Cardinals as a 28-year-old rookie. He also made the All-Star team that season.
After the trade, the Pirates got two mediocre seasons out of Arroyo, using him mostly in relief. He pitched a total of 159.1 innings between 1956-57, going 6-14, 4.69 with 11 of those losses coming in 1957 when he had an 0-6 record as a starter. Arroyo spent all of 1958 in the minors before the Pirates traded him to the Reds that December. He ended up pitching against the Pirates, while with the Yankees, during the 1960 World Series.
Surkont didn’t last long in St Louis. He pitched poorly in five relief outings before being sold to the Boston Red Sox less than a month after the Pirates trade. Before the end of the year, he would be sold again, this time to the New York Giants. He pitched briefly for NY in 1957 and made a total of just 18 Major League appearances after leaving Pittsburgh.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.