While looking through Roberto Clemente’s home run log on Baseball-Reference, I noticed the names of a lot of Hall of Fame pitchers. In particular, he homered off of seven different future Hall of Famers during the 1966 season alone. I then decided to see how he did in his career against the best pitchers of his era. I also noticed an impressive pitching performance by someone I’ve only heard of because I collect old baseball cards.
Including the postseason, Clemente faced 17 Hall of Fame pitchers during his career. He also went 0-for-1 against Tommy Lasorda before he became a Hall of Fame manager. He matched up against Don Drysdale more than anyone on this list, with 172 plate appearances. Below is a summary of each pitcher vs Clemente.
Don Drysdale – Clemente had a lot of singles off of Drysdale to put it mildly. He batted .361 against him, well above his career .317 average. Despite that average, Drysdale was still slightly better than the average pitcher against him. Clemente had a career .834 OPS, four points higher than his mark against the Dodgers hurler. That’s because 52 of his 60 hits were singles, and he only drew four walks.
Warren Spahn – Clemente was unmerciful against the great lefty. He hit .425/.438/.637 in 154 plate appearances. You’ll notice the small difference between the average and OBP. Spahn walked him just five times, but on the flip side, Clemente struck out just five times against Spahn.
Juan Marichal – The Dominican Dandy did well against Clemente, relatively speaking. In 135 plate appearances, Marichal held him to a .287/.319/.481 slash line.
Bob Gibson – No one of this list dominated Clemente over a significant amount of plate appearances like Gibson. He held the Great One to a .208/.219/.344 slash line in 128 plate appearances, with two walks and 32 strikeouts.
Gaylord Perry – Perry had some success against Clemente. They faced off 123 times, with a .264/.341/.436 slash line resulting from their battes. Perry’s 13 walks are the highest total on this list.
Sandy Koufax – Clemente loved great lefties. He really touched up Spahn, but also did damage against Koufax, putting up a .297/.355/.550 slash line in 122 plate appearances, with six doubles, two triples and six homers.
Fergie Jenkins – Jenkins was basically the average pitcher against Clemente overall, but he got there a different way. In 102 match-ups, Clemente batted .264 and put up a .304 OBP. However, he also hit six homers, helping him to a .526 slugging percentage. The .830 OPS here is equal to Drysdale’s mark and just below Clemente’s career .834 OPS.
Robin Roberts – Roberts vs Roberto ended in a win for the Phillies hurler. Clemente had a nice .308 average, but it came with just one walk and one homer in 91 plate appearances, resulting in a .757 OPS. Considering that it came against a Hall of Fame pitcher, that’s not bad.
Don Sutton – Clemente got the best of Sutton in their 69 meetings early in the right-handers career. He hit .354/.391/.492, with three doubles and two homers.
Jim Bunning – Bunning was a teammate of Clemente’s for two years, which I’m sure Bunning was happy about. The two battled 65 times and Clemente put up a .355/.359/.565 slash line. I’ll note that Clemente had a career .359 OBP, so he was spot on there against Bunning, even though he hit 38 points higher against him than his career average.
Tom Seaver – Tom Terrific earned his nickname against Clemente. Just like with Bunning, they faced each other 65 times, but the results were much different. Seaver held him to a .242/.277/.355 slash line. Not quite Gibson territory, but still a win for the Mets starter.
Steve Carlton – With 64 plate appearances in their match-up, Carlton has the highest total without allowing a home run to Clemente. He didn’t dominate him though, just did better than the average pitcher. Clemente hit .333/.375/.433, with four doubles and a triple.
Phil Niekro – That last player on this list who saw Clemente a significant number of times. In 48 plate appearances, Clemente hit .289/.333/.422 against the knuckleballer. Not only was Niekro able to keep him in the park every time, Clemente failed to pick up an RBI against him. It appears that Clemente didn’t start often against Niekro, at least later in his career. He sat out five times against him during the 1970-72 seasons, resulting in the low PA total over nine seasons in the same league.
Nolan Ryan – Ryan had Clemente’s number, but the two barely faced each other. In 16 battles, Clemente compiled two singles and that’s it, for a .250 OPS. He also struck out six times.
Hoyt Wilhelm – Another knuckleball pitcher and the two barely faced each other, despite Wilhelm being active during Clemente’s entire career. That’s because 13 of those seasons were spent in separate leagues. Clemente went 3-for-12 with two walks and a .583 OPS.
Jim Palmer – Palmer only faced Clemente during the 1971 World Series, but that was enough for him. Over two games, Clemente hit for the cycle, going 4-for-9, with a 1.556 OPS.
Whitey Ford – In the 1960 World Series, Ford vs Clemente resulted in a .375 average (.3-for-8), though he also had a .375 OBP and .375 slugging. Small moral victory for Ford, but the Pirates won the series.
That’s all of the Hall of Fame pitchers, but I didn’t answer the question in the title yet. Who is Jackie Collum?
Out of all of the pitchers who faced Clemente, no one did it more times without Clemente getting on base at least once. He faced Collum 17 times and walked back to the dugout dejected 17 times. Not one walk, not HBP, no sacrifice bunt or sac fly. If it was a game, the Collums would be perfect through two outs in the sixth against the Clementes.
Collum pitched in the majors for nine seasons, but he did all of his damage against a young Clemente. In 1955, they faced each 15 times. Then the final two meetings were in May of 1956. Six ground outs, nine fly balls, one foul out and a strikeout. After seeing what Clemente did to Spahn and Koufax, it might be a little surprising to find out that Collum was also a southpaw. Hats off to him, he held the Great One in check like no one else.