Iconic Pirates card: Clemente in '72

April 7th, 2021

As part of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of Topps baseball cards, we've asked fans (as well as our staff) to submit their all-time favorite baseball cards, and we've broken them down by team. We'll be revealing submissions regularly throughout the season, ranging from the famous to the weird, and everything in between.

To begin the series we'll be looking at one iconic card from each team.

Iconic Pirates card: Roberto Clemente, 1972 Topps

"This is one of Clemente's last baseball cards. It was issued in 1972. It was same year of his passing, which devastated the hearts of baseball fans all over the world. In this card you can almost see Roberto reflecting on his amazing career. You can also see how much he's going to miss that white sphere -- like a premonition -- when departing the game. I was 6 years old when I acquired his card. I still can smell the chunk of hard gum that was stuck to the back of it. I miss Clemente the player, the man, and the humanitarian."

As Franklin R. of Cutler Bay, Fla., so eloquently put it in his response to our survey, Roberto Clemente will forever be remembered as not only one of the greatest baseball players of all time, but also one of the great humanitarians. It was on New Year's Eve in 1972 that Clemente's plane crashed at sea on the way to deliver relief supplies to the victims of a severe earthquake in Nicaragua. Just a few months before, he collected the 3,000th and final hit of his Hall of Fame career.

The Clemente card Franklin and also Stephan L. submitted is an incredible snapshot of both the ballplayer and the man. As Franklin noted, he has a very pensive aura about him, almost as if he's reflecting on his career and life right there on the field at Three Rivers Stadium with the crowd in the seats behind him. It's very fitting and even surreal to look at it now, knowing what happened to Clemente and the legacy he left behind both on and off the field.

For Stephan, this card meant so much to him that he bought it both as a kid and later as an adult when it was stolen.

"I first bought this card in 1987 or 1988 when I was 9 or 10 years old for $3," Stephan wrote. "It was creased but I didn't care because I wanted it. I always had a love for Clemente since I was in second grade and read a story about him in school. Maybe I fell in love with this certain card because of 1987 Topps #313 Turn Back the Clock Roberto Clemente. The year 1987 is when I really started collecting cards. Sadly, the card was stolen when I was 15. I finally replaced it just a few years ago."

The design of the 1972 Topps set is complementary, rather than possibly detracting -- or more likely distracting -- from the photo itself. It's understated but bold, yet not so bold as to overpower the powerful image it bears.

This is a gem, and one of the great submissions in our survey.