Who Were Roberto Clemente’s Favorite Opponents, and Where Did He Prefer to Hit?

Two weeks ago we posted an article looking at how Roberto Clemente did against Hall of Fame pitchers during his career. In an early Card of the Day article we posted here, I mentioned that I might make the 21st of every month a Clemente card in that feature. With those two things in mind, I decided to make this morning all about the Great One. This is the first of three articles on Roberto Clemente today. We start off with a look at where Clemente did his best hitting during his career.

When looking for his favorite place to hit, the obvious starting place would be against the worst teams of his era. From 1955 until 1972, seven NL teams won at least one pennant. The Dodgers won six times, the Reds and Cardinals won three times each. The Phillies, Astros and Cubs failed to win a single time. The Padres and Expos were expansion teams in 1969, so they weren’t close to winning during Clemente’s time, but he barely played against them. The Astros were an expansion team in 1962, so they seem like the most obvious choice, though the question then remains, did he like to face them better at home or on the road? I wrote this all up before looking into the actual stats, so as I’m typing this I don’t know how it plays out.

Clemente faced just 11 teams during his career, not including World Series games. We have those postseason stats, but the sample size would be too small for a comparison. The games against the Expos and Padres are also a small sample size, especially when we are looking at a specific venue that he liked for hitting, since half of the Pirates games against them were at home. Just for reference, Clemente had an .865 OPS in 48 games against Montreal and an .817 OPS against San Diego in 35 games.

The Great One had a career .834 OPS and he was surprisingly consistent against the league. His best team to face was the Astros with an .873 mark, just 39 points above his career average. His least favorite was the St Louis Cardinals with a .769 mark. Even his toughest opponent could only knock 65 points off of his career OPS. The second worst was a wide margin away from the Cardinals (relatively speaking). The Reds held him to a .796 mark in 280 games. The most average team for Clemente to face was the Mets, with an .839 OPS, just five points ahead of his career mark.

Clemente played in 23 parks during his career. Some were just a handful of times, but he batted 150+ times at 15 different places. Looking at just those places, we see that his favorite place to hit was Three Rivers Stadium, with a .906 OPS in 136 games. His favorite road spot was just behind that mark. He had a .905 OPS at Wrigley Field in 159 games, with 26 homers. That’s the highest home run total anywhere except Forbes Field.

Clemente’s least favorite spot has to be a little surprising, especially with the information we already know. He had an .839 career OPS against the Mets, but it was just .716 in 70 games at Shea Stadium. The closest to his career OPS was County Stadium in Milwaukee, where he posted an .827 mark. For the record, Clemente had an .855 OPS at Forbes Field, so he saw a nice uptick with the move to Three Rivers.

So there you have it. Clemente liked hitting at Three Rivers and Wrigley Field the most, while his favorite opponent regardless of location was the Houston Astros. Despite getting those answers, the career numbers show that he was fairly consistent no matter who he was playing. The Cardinals were the toughest opponent, partially due to Bob Gibson, who held him to a .563 OPS in 128 plate appearances. He surprisingly had trouble at Shea Stadium, despite the fact that the Mets were an expansion team, though two of their worst years happened at the Polo Grounds before they moved to Shea.