New Year’s Eve, 1972: Happiness and tears, forever

Let me tell you a little story about how my life has been shaped by my love of, and devotion to, the Pirates.

In 1972, fresh off graduation from UCLA, I worked as sports editor for the Ridgecrest Daily Independent, a newspaper in a small town in the Mojave Desert, about 120 miles from Los Angeles. We didn’t cover much national news but, knowing my background, our publisher, Cliff Urseth, signed off on letting me cover the World Series if the defending champion Bucs were in it.

Then Johnny Bench hit a game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth of NLCS Game 5, and Bob Moose threw that wild pitch — and there was no World Series for the Pirates or for me.

So, with plans screwed, I instead went to L.A. to hang out for a week in my old haunts. While there, I met a cute girl, Malvina.

I was always good under a deadline. Forget speed dating. This was speed love. I proposed, she said “Yes.”

We had our formal engagement party, dozens of friends and relatives, a couple months later. I was on top of the world. After the party, she and I retreated to my apartment for a little “alone time,” with the radio serenading us in the background.

It was Dec. 31. At some point, a news bulletin interrupted the music. “A plane has crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico. Authorities don’t believe there were any survivors. Those on board included baseball star Roberto Clemente.”

Shock. Welled tears. I had to excuse myself from my fiance, went into another room, lowered myself to the floor, leaned against the wall. Just sat like that until the sun came up.

If not for Bob Moose, we would have never met. In a few months, we will be observing our 40th anniversary. It’s been a Great Forty. And a big piece of it will always be The Great One.


Talk about fate. It’s absolutely astounding to think how much of an affect one wild pitch can have on so many lives. The epitome of a bittersweet moment. Great piece, Tom.

Like many I just hope ( dread really ) we never have to associate the sacred # with losing seasons…Mentioning Ca I believe( according to Wikipedia ) that Earl Smith still lives there, and was I believe the last Pirate to wear the # 21,only playing 5 games in the Majors in 1955,and being on the field at the same time on one occasion with the Great One before Roberto got the #21 after being allocated the #13.It’s on Baseball Reference

rip roberto, i cried at 5 am that day and i’m still tearing up.

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