A Drive into the Gap

On September 30, 1972, Roberto Clemente became only the eleventh player in Major League Baseball history to get 3,000 career hits. Three months later, he died in a plane crash delivering humanitarian aid from his home country of Puerto Rico to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua. He was 38 years old at the time of his death.

Clemente is a baseball legend, winning numerous awards throughout his 18-season career with the Pittsburgh Pirates: batting champion, Golden Glove, All-Star, Most Valuable Player, and of course his induction into the 3,000-hit club. The bat he used to get that 3,000th hit has been on display in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, for years.

Or has it?

Bob Guilfoile was the Pirates’ Public Relations Director when Clemente got the legendary hit on that September day in 1972. After the game, Guilfoile went down to the clubhouse and asked Clemente for the bat he used for the 3000th hit, so that he could send it to Cooperstown. Clemente handed over the bat – a Louisville Slugger – and Guilfoile sent it to the Hall of Fame.

Several years later, Guilfoile left his job with the Pirates and moved his family to Cooperstown to work for the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Clemente bat he forwarded there years earlier was now on display just outside his office. In 1993 Tony Bartirome – an old friend from Guilfoile’s days with the Pirates – stopped by Cooperstown for a visit. Bartirome had once played first base for the Pirates. During the Clemente years he served as the team’s trainer.

During his visit, Bartirome noticed a Clemente Adirondack bat hanging on the wall in the bedroom that had belonged to Guilfoile’s now-grown son Kevin. Bartirome asked Bob where and how he had come into possession of the bat. Tony then dropped a bomb by telling Bob that this was the bat Clemente had used to get his 3,000th hit. He was certain of it. Bartirome proceeded to explain the story behind Clemente using the Adirondack bat hanging on Guilfoile’s wall – rather than the Louisville Slugger on display in the Hall of Fame – to get the historic hit.

When Kevin Guilfoile heard the Bartirome story – that the real 3,000th-hit bat had been hanging on his bedroom wall throughout his childhood and teen years – he became intrigued, and set out to discover and carefully document the truth about which bat was actually “the” bat. As he meticulously followed every lead and uncovered numerous clues, two additional bats came into the picture that were also purported to be “the” bat! Would it even be possible, more than twenty years later and with Roberto Clemente no longer alive, to learn the truth about which bat Clemente had actually used?

A Drive into the GapKevin Guilfoile recounts the amazing story of his ensuing adventure in the book A Drive into the Gap. In this short, fascinating read, Guilfoile masterfully weaves together numerous story lines in his quest for the truth. Along the way he shares his memories of growing up around professional baseball and meeting many of the game’s greatest legends; of playing high school baseball on Cooperstown’s iconic Doubleday Field; and of the sadness of watching his father’s vivid memories fade into the jumbled world of Alzheimer’s disease.

A Drive into the Gap is a true story about fathers and sons, baseball and memory, and the improbable journey of a bat from one of the most iconic moments in the history of the game to the bedroom of a 12-year-old boy.

The name of the book, A Drive into the Gap, is taken from legendary Pirates announcer Bob Prince’s game commentary of the 3,000th-hit, as heard in the video clip below (beginning at 0:19).

Bobby hits a drive into the gap in left center field. There she is!

Paul O'Rear Signature

 

What is your favorite baseball memory, as a participant or spectator at any level (e.g. T-ball, Little League, school team, pro, etc.)? Share your answer in the Comments below.

 

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4 thoughts on “A Drive into the Gap

  1. As a sentimental mom, I have to say my favorite baseball memories are of my son playing. I can still remember the excitement and breeze of the evenings. Those were special days. I love going to the Hooks games here in CC for that reason — those games transport me back in time. A time where things were simple and less chaotic.

    • I’m right there with you, Alene! I have lots of wonderful memories of Justin (who is now 24) playing baseball when he was a little boy. The time we spent at practices and games – so often seeming like mundane, insignificant experiences at the time – are now priceless memories. Things really did seem much simpler back then, didn’t they?

  2. Great article about a great man! As a Pittsburgh native, baseball and Clemente went hand and hand. I was 15 when this happened and I remember it as if it were yesterday. As many stated, he was more than a ball player, he was a hero!

    • Clemente was obviously larger than life. I became enthralled with Kevin Guilfoile’s story, and with Clemente in general as I researched his life in preparation to write this article. I got so wrapped up in it that I bid on (and won!) several Roberto Clemente baseball cards on eBay after reading the book. Thank you, Frank, for sharing your personal memory of the legend of Roberto Clemente. It’s good to connect with you.