THIS DAY IN BÉISBOL May 6: Roberto Clemente ruins Willie Mays’ birthdays
By Robert Dominguez
As young star outfielders who could do it all, Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays were friendly rivals who were often compared to each other because of the five-tool skills and dynamic style of play they brought to the game as it became more integrated in the 1950s.
But they were linked in another way: Like the mischievous cousin who blows out the candles on your birthday cake, Clemente had a habit of ruining his pal’s big day through the years.
On this day in béisbol, May 6, 1955 — Mays’ 24th birthday — Clemente was a 20-year-old Pirates rookie when he smashed a 430-foot triple in the Polo Grounds straight over May’s head that the fleet Giants centerfielder didn’t come close to catching. The hit sparked a rally that helped give the Pirates a 3-2 win.
Three years later on May 6, 1958, Clemente put a damper on Mays’ 28th birthday celebration when he made an unbelievable circus catch of a bases-loaded, 400-foot drive that robbed the birthday boy of a gift three RBIs.
Then in 1960, Clemente effectively sat on Mays’ birthday cake, never mind blew out his candles. The Giants superstar marked his big day with a big blast out of the park that clinched the win.
Unfortunately for Mays, all anyone could talk about was the soaring 450-foot homer that Clemente absolutely crushed at the newly-opened Candlestick Park in San Francisco, a ball likely headed across the bay and destined to land somewhere in Oakland were it not for the wind blowing in.
Robert Dominguez is co-author of “Bronx Bummers: The Unofficial History of the New York Yankees’ Bad Boys, Blunders and Brawls” and writer of the upcoming “El Salón: The Trials and Triumphs of Baseball’s Latino Hall of Famers.”
Photo of Roberto Clemente: Unknown author, Jay Publishing via tradingcardddb.com
Photo of Willie Mays: – Unknown author – Baseball Digest, front cover, September 1954 issue. , Public Domain