COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Roberto Clemente's bat, arm and legs left their mark throughout baseball's rich history.
But Clemente, the all-round Pittsburgh great, reached the peak of his game 45 years ago this week when he was named the 1966 National League Most Valuable Player.
Clemente, the only player mentioned on all 20 ballots cast by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, tallied eight first place votes and racked up a total of 218 points. Dodger's pitcher Sandy Koufax finished in second place for the second consecutive year.
Clemente's .317 lifetime average as a hitter was one of the best in modern baseball, and his speed and throwing ability in the outfield made him one of the game's top all-around players.
"Clemente is the most complete ball player to wear a baseball uniform. He can do everything to beat you. He can hit for power, he can steal a base, he can field, and his arm alone should take him to Cooperstown," praised Cardinals manager – and future Hall of Famer – Red Schoendienst.
Clemente, a four-time batting champion and back-to-back winner in 1964-65, drove in 100 runs for the first time in his career in 1966. His 119 runs batted in were second to only Hank Aaron's 127.
Many marveled at his skill set, including MVP runner-up Sandy Koufax, who had nothing but awed commentary: "Roberto can hit any pitch, any where, at any time. He will hit pitchouts, he will hit brush-back pitches. He will hit high, inside pitches deep to the opposite field, which would be ridiculous even if he didn't do it with both feet off the ground."
Clemente considered the MVP award his biggest thrill in baseball, aside from 1960 when the Pirates won the pennant and the World Series, to that point in his career.
"This is a big moment for me," said Clemente upon being informed that he won the award. "If the Pirates had won the pennant, this would have made my dream come true. But I'm happy for the Pittsburgh fans."
Known as a pure gap hitter, Clemente later became only the 11th man in baseball history to record 3,000 hits. His line-drive approach resulted in 440 doubles and 166 triples while playing his home games at Forbes Field, known as a pitcher's park.
"Clemente and greatness are one and the same word," proclaimed then-Expos Gene Mauch. "The Pirates will never find another Clemente. Players like him come along once in a lifetime."
Clemente died on Dec. 31, 1972, in a plane crash while delivering earthquake relief supplies to Nicaragua. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973.
Jonathan Coe is the Fall 2011 Public Relations department intern at the Hall of Fame