Baseball's Last Hero: 21 Clemente Stories

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Baseball's Last Hero: 21 Clemente Stories
Directed by Richard Rossi
Written by Richard Rossi
Starring Jamie Nieto
Marilinda Rivera
Country United States

Baseball's Last Hero: 21 Clemente Stories is a 2013 American biographical sports film. The movie is an independent film about the life of Major League Baseball player Roberto Clemente who wore jersey number 21. It is the first feature dramatic film on Clemente's life and was written and directed by California filmmaker and Pittsburgh native Richard Rossi and stars two-time Olympian high-jumper Jamie Nieto in the title role of Roberto Clemente and Project Runway Winner Marilinda Rivera as his wife Vera Clemente. Rossi searched for some time and had difficulty casting the lead. "I'd find someone who looked like him and had those aspects, but they wouldn't be a good athlete," said Rossi. "I'd play catch with them, have them swing the bat. I didn't think we'd find all of those components."[1] Richard Rossi appears in a supporting role playing the part of the agent "Birddog," who persuaded Clemente to leave the Brooklyn Dodgers to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Clemente made his Pittsburgh debut in 1955 and went on to be named to 12 all-star teams while leading the National League in batting four times, winning one most valuable player award and two World Series rings.[2][3]

Theme and structure[edit]

The film dramatizes how the Hall of Famer faced racism, dedicated himself to humanitarian work, and died in a plane crash en route to Nicaragua to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in 1972. The “21 Clemente Stories” are 21 vignettes, each from a letter in his complete name using the 21 letters in Roberto Walker Clemente.[4] "The first “R” stands for Rookie and the last “E” for earthquake, referring to the Nicaraguan quake that led to Clemente's death on an aid mission," Rossi said.[5] "I want people to learn about Clemente, to feel the emotion of the true love he felt for his family, his fans, his team, and the disadvantaged poor he died helping".[5] One of the scenes in the movie features a conversation Clemente has with a nun.

The scene spurred several people to pitch the Pope for Clemente's canonization as a saint. Rossi, a former evangelical minister, received several messages of support, including a letter showing papal support from Pope Francis in starting the process [6][7][8][9][10][11] from the Vatican through the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C. and from Archbishop José Horacio Gómez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.[12][13][14][15][16][17] "I've never thought of him in terms of being a saint", said Neil Walker, whose father was a teammate of Clemente. "But he's somebody who lived his life serving others, really. So if it would happen, I wouldn't be terribly surprised by it." [12][18]

Some claim the canonization requirement of a miracle was met on July 22, 2017, when Jaime Nieto, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a backflip accident three years after the Clemente film was released, walked 130 steps at his own wedding to fellow Olympian Shevon Stoddart. The miracle was predicted by Rossi as a demonstration of the power of God. [19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28]


Rossi worked on the writing of the screenplay for five years, but his stories originated in childhood. When he was growing up in the West View section of Pittsburgh, he sat in Three Rivers Stadium and watched Clemente advance the Pittsburgh Pirates to the 1971 World Series. Clemente's attitude towards his fans made an impression on Rossi. “He used to say it is most important to spend the greatest amount of time doing things you love,” Rossi said. “He would talk about people in mills spending money on tickets for games, and how impressed he was at that. It was before free agency, but I don't think it would have mattered.” [29] As Rossi recalls, he wrote about Clemente for so many assignments in elementary school (starting in third grade) that one of the teachers finally chastised him for it.

Rossi believes that Clemente is just as important to the sport of baseball as Jackie Robinson and thinks that his number should be universally retired like the color-barrier breaking Dodger. He originally planned to make the film with a budget like that of "42: The Jackie Robinson Story," but health problems prompted him to jumpstart production and stop waiting for an elusive check from a wealthy investor. “My doc said ‘these kind of moments are wake up calls…if there’s anything you want to do,’” Rossi said. “I said ‘I want to make my Clemente movie’ which is an odd response. Most people want to go on vacation or tour Europe or something. I wanted to make this film.”[30][31] The actors and technicians volunteered their time and donated their services to the project. The film is a blend of news and game footage along with scripted and acted scenes.


Richard Rossi (center) at screening of his Clemente film at Vogue Theater in San Francisco. Pictured with him are two fans of the film from Nicaragua whose families were saved by Clemente's relief efforts.

Rossi returned to Pittsburgh to premiere his film to two sold-out screenings [32] at the Strand Theater on Roberto Clemente's birthday, August 18, 2013. Ron Carter, owner of the century-old Strand, hosted the premiere. “We have done any number of shows here, but this is our very first film premiere,” Carter said.[33] After Pittsburgh's premiere, Rossi exhibited the film in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, other cities, small art theaters, Roberto Clemente High School in Chicago, the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina, and on DVD.[34][35][32]


  1. ^ "How an Olympic high jumper became Clemente in indie film - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette". 2012-08-04. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  2. ^ "Completed Roberto Clemente Biopic, Filmed in Long Beach, Set for First Public Screening". lbpost. Retrieved 5 July 2016. 
  3. ^ Fenno, Nathan (June 4, 2017). "Olympic high jumper paralyzed by freak injury now hopes to walk down aisle at wedding" (Sunday Front Page Sports Section). Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 June 2017. 
  4. ^ Mellen, Greg (August 8, 2014). "Film about baseball Hall of Fame's Roberto Clemente to play in Long Beach". Orange County Register. Retrieved December 31, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Carrie Chantler (2013-08-29). "Capturing Clemente: Film about Pittsburgh Pirates legend makes NY premiere in Auburn". Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  6. ^ Snyder, Matt. "Saint Roberto? There's a canonization movement for Clemente". Retrieved 5 July 2016. 
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  8. ^ "Saint Roberto Clemente? - Puerto Rico Report". PuertoricoReport. 17 January 2015. Retrieved 5 July 2016. 
  9. ^ "Canonisation bid for star baseballer Roberto Clemente tragically killed in 1972 plane crash | Christian News on Christian Today". 
  10. ^ Editor, ChurchPOP (18 January 2015). "Saint Roberto Clemente? Pope Blesses Movement for Canonizing Baseball Star". ChurchPOP. Retrieved 5 July 2016. 
  11. ^ "Effort To Make Roberto Clemente A Saint Gets Papal Show Of Support - Pittsburgh". SunTimes. Retrieved 5 July 2016. 
  12. ^ a b Biertempfel, Rob. "Biertempfel: One man's cause to canonize Roberto Clemente". Retrieved 5 July 2016. 
  13. ^ Adams, Heather. "Roberto Clemente, the next saint?". Washington Post. 
  14. ^ Stack, Peggy Fletcher. "Next up for sainthood: baseball icon Roberto Clemente?". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 5 July 2016. 
  15. ^ Somers, Meredith. "Off base? Effort underway to make Roberto Clemente a saint". The Washington Times. Retrieved 5 July 2016. 
  16. ^ Pattison, Mark. "CDOM :: Catholic filmmaker gets to make movie about Clemente, his boyhood idol". Retrieved 5 July 2016. 
  17. ^ Jones, Diana Nelson. "Saint Roberto Clemente?: Former Pittsburgh pastor seeks sainthood for the Pirates great". Post-Gazette. Retrieved 5 July 2016. 
  18. ^ McCleary, Mary (April 1, 2016). "Remembering selfless baseball great Roberto Clemente". New Boston Post. Retrieved April 1, 2016. 
  19. ^ Payne, Marissa (August 17, 2017). "After July ‘miracle,’ Pope Francis reportedly moves Roberto Clemente closer to sainthood". Washington Post. Retrieved 17 August 2017. 
  20. ^ Graham, Pat (July 22, 2017). "Injured Olympian Walks at Wedding Despite Odds of Never Walking Again". NBC. Retrieved 22 July 2017. 
  21. ^ Chavez, Chris (July 22, 2017). "Paralyzed Olympian Jamie Nieto Walks at Wedding". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 22 July 2017. 
  22. ^ Garske, Monica (July 22, 2017). "Injured Olympian Makes Good on Vow to Walk at Wedding". NECN. Retrieved 22 July 2017. 
  23. ^ Wilson, Bernie (July 22, 2017). "Step by halting step, Nieto walks down aisle with his wife". News 12 Westchester. Retrieved 22 July 2017. 
  24. ^ Graham, Pat (July 5, 2017). "Injured US Olympian defies doctors to walk for his wedding". New Haven Register. Associated Press. Retrieved 23 July 2017. 
  25. ^ Wright, Matthew (July 22, 2017). "US Olympian who was paralyzed in a backflip accident defies doctor's predictions he would never walk again by standing at the alter and marrying his Jamaican sprinter sweetheart". Daily Mail. Retrieved 23 July 2017. 
  26. ^ Ramos, Father Jose (July 25, 2017). "Pope Approves Clemente Canonization Cause, Miracle Mandate Met". Standard Newswire. Catholic Newswire, ROME. Retrieved 24 July 2017. 
  27. ^ Dixon, Michael (August 16, 2017). "Could MLB great Roberto Clemente be given Sainthood?". Sports Illustrated. Sports Naut. Retrieved 16 August 2017. 
  28. ^ Hille, Bob (August 17, 2017). "Roberto Clemente is one miracle from sainthood". MLB. Sporting News. Retrieved 17 August 2017. 
  29. ^ "Filmmaker's Clemente movie a testament to grace, power". TribLIVE. 2013-08-14. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  30. ^ Ruiz, Jason (August 13, 2014). "Completed Roberto Clemente Biopic, Filmed in Long Beach, Set for First Public Screening". Long Beach Post. Retrieved December 31, 2015. 
  31. ^ ZumMallen, Ryan (August 15, 2014). "Roberto Clemente Biopic a Dream Come True". Gazettes Inc. Gazettes Sports. Retrieved December 31, 2015. 
  32. ^ a b "Clemente movie available for short time on DVD". TribLIVE. 2013-09-13. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  33. ^ "Filmmaker's Clemente movie a testament to grace, power". TribLIVE. 2013-08-14. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  34. ^ Mellen, Greg (August 8, 2014). "Film about baseball Hall of Fame's Roberto Clemente to play in Long Beach". Orange County Register. Freedom Communications, Inc. Retrieved December 31, 2015. 
  35. ^

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