Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Roberto or Bob?

 In my last post I made a 1962 All Star card for Roberto Clemente.  I went back and forth on whether to use the name that Topps used for Clemente back in that era or his chosen name of Roberto.  I opted for the one that was more historically accurate. This caused some discussion in the comments.  Was this a micro-aggression? Was Topps trying to anglicize his name to appeal to a broader audience? Or was this "Just Topps being Topps"?  Perhaps a little of each? 

When he came into the league his first two Topps cards had his name as Roberto Clemente (1955, 1956).  In 1957 they changed it to Bob.  A name that he did not like.  The kept this practice through 1969, and a few insert cards of 1970.

Occasionally Topps would accidentally refer to him as Roberto in the bio on the back of the card (Topps being Topps).  This was understandable as most people in the media and otherwise, called him by his given name of Roberto. Here are the backs of a 1959 Topps card featuring Clemente, Bob Skinner, and Bill Virdon:

Here is the back of his 1962 Topps card:

Also whenever his facsimile autograph appeared on a card it was a beautifully written "Roberto Clemente". 

In an odd twist the 1967 Topps card abbreviated his facsimile signature to "Rob" Clemente.  Possibly to justify referring to him as Bob all along?

The other card makers during that time almost exclusively referred to him as Roberto.  These were mostly food issues or local team issues. The only exceptions I found was the 1961 Post cereal card.  He was referred to as Bob in 1961 but Roberto in subsequent issues. And the 1966 East Hills Shopping Center card.  Here are some food issue cards from that era; 1962 Post, 1963 Jello, 1966 Kahn's and 1969 Nabisco:

Here's a couple more oddballs from that era:  1962 Salada Tea coins and a 1968 Atlantic Oil card:

Even the 1963 Fleer set had a "Roberto" Clemente card:

Here is an interesting article on the subject. Click Here. In it the author states that he searched newspapers.com for the year 1956 looking for uses of the name "Bob Clemente".  He then searched the same for "Roberto Clemente".  "Bob" had 706 hits, "Roberto" had 5,156 hits. While it was not unheard of, Bob was used approximately 12% of the time when referring to Clemente in 1956, the year Topps changed his name to "Bob".  I have no data to back this up, but would wager that as Clemente became more famous (ie: the sixties) that 12% usage of "Bob" in the media diminished. By 1970 Topps (with the exception of a couple 1970 insert cards) finally used his given name on the front of their card.

I recently saw a 1966 Clemente card on twitter drawn by Gummy Arts (@gummyarts).  In his own inimitable style he recreated the card accurately but instead used Clemente's given name.  I loved it, and told him so.  There is no real need for card creators to be historically accurate at the cost of simple dignity.   He was fiercely proud of his heritage and preferred to be called Roberto. 

Even Topps in their Project 70 series of cards reimagined the 1969 card with Clemente's given name:

Does that make me part of the "woke" politically correct crowd?  I honestly don't care.  Those type of labels mean nothing to me personally.  I think we should treat all people with dignity and respect.  If they are offended by something you say, do your best not to offend them.  Especially something small like a name.  Whether we're talking about "Bob" Clemente, "Richie" Allen, the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Indians.  Most times it costs you nothing.  Other times it could be a marketing bonanza.  Just think how many new jerseys, t-shirts, hats, etc. the Guardians will sell this year. 

I have been collecting cards since 1974.  By then Clemente was gone, but I had never heard him referred to as "Bob".  It was odd when I found older cards that had that name.  By 1970 even Topps was calling him Roberto.  For me to refer to him as "Bob" in an effort to be historically accurate to what Topps would have done, is counter to what I put at the very top of this blog.  "What cards would look like if I had my way".  So with my apologies to Roberto Enrique Clemente Walker, here is the card I should have made:

I think it looks just as good as my previous "Bob" Clemente card. And it cost me nothing to show simple respect.


  1. Very extensive and thorough post. I really enjoy your blog and the great looking cards you create. I was very satisfied with the historically correct card of Bob Clemente, but I like the Roberto Clemente card as well. I continue to believe there was no intentional disrepect shown to Clemente by Topps. If Clemente was dissatisfied as the article you linked states, I would have supported his right to object, but I would have seen no need in objecting on his behalf. That would have been his business. In today's world there is entirely too much manufactured outrage by outside parties who want to object on behalf of individuals, groups or causes that do not concern them. I know what you mean by labels. Because I believe in personal responsibility, not focusing on our differences and being proud of our country, I am labeled by some as a right wing extremist. However, like you, I don't care.

    1. I don't think I'm manufacturing outrage on things that took place before I started kindergarten. First of all, I'm not outraged, I'm simply changing my fake card to reflect his preferred name and remain true to my blog's heading: "What cards would look like if I had my way". Nor am I making any assumption on Topps' motives. (As you can tell by my All Star card thread, I have no idea what Topps is thinking most of the time!)I'm just saying that if you prefer to be called X, I will call you X.

      As I said, this is mostly before my time, and Clemente is no longer around to ask. But there are multiple reports of him objecting to the anglicized version of his name. They are easy to find. Plus he clearly referred to himself as Roberto as can be seen in his autographs. Also easy to look up.

      This is mostly a case of me finding something card related interesting enough to follow way down the rabbit hole. I think I found some interesting tidbits about his cards along the way. I though this blog was the proper place to share them.

      This is a sports card blog with no aspirations to become a political blog. I'm sorry if it came across that way.

    2. Understood. Again, I enjoy your blog. Looking forward to the continued thread of All-Star cards. Thanks

  2. As the person who set off this little brouhaha, I appreciate this post and your fair handling of the subject. I didn't mean to make it too big a deal, but as you say it's all about treating people with dignity and respect. Thanks.