Column: Baseball’s most prestigious award

The MLB released their list of the 30 nominees for the Roberto Clemente Award on Tuesday. (Eric Beato/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Roberto Clemente may be the single most influential player in the history of Major League Baseball. His legacy continues to inspire those who have come after him to live kindly and generously. MLB began awarding the Roberto Clemente Award in 1971, although it was then called the Commissioner’s Award. The primary goal of this award is to reward players for their philanthropic work off the field. After his death, the award was renamed as a tribute to the sacrifice Clemente made trying to help others.

Clemente debuted with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955. At the time, he was wearing number 13. Immediately, he experienced the prejudice that came as a result of his skin color and ethnic background. Famously, when asked about this racism, Clemente responded “I don’t believe in color.”

After the 1958 season, Clemente enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve. He spent that off-season completing his six months of active service, returning to the game the next season. Clemente remained in the Marine Corps Reserve until 1964.

In his career, Clemente would be an All-Star player every season beginning in 1960 (except for 1967) and would win a Gold Glove every year beginning in 1961. He won the National League batting title four times and was selected MVP for the 1966 season. On the last day of September, 1972, Clemente earned his 3000th hit in what would inevitably be his final regular season at-bat.

December 31, 1972: Following a devastating earthquake in Nicaragua, Clemente tried to send supplies several times but the planes were being diverted by corrupt government agents. Finally, he decided to accompany the plane himself, hoping it would deter the agents from intervening. The plane had a bad service record and was severely over capacity. Shortly after takeoff, the engine failed and plunged the plane into the water. Clemente’s body was never recovered.

The following March, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) held a special election. In light of Clemente’s tragic passing, the writers waived the waiting period that is required before an athlete can be voted into the Hall of Fame. With 92 percent of the vote, Clemente was enshrined forever.

Today, we honor his memory with the Roberto Clemente Award. Every year, each MLB team nominates a player who best encapsulates the spirit of Clemente: compassion, character and philanthropy. An MLB Blue Ribbon panel is assembled to make the final decision, made up of Rob Manfred, baseball writers, MLB-affiliated networks and Vera Clemente, Roberto’s wife.

Los Angeles Dodgers' Curtis Granderson (6) won the Roberto Clemente Award in the 2016 season. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Fans also get the opportunity to vote for the recipient. Whichever player receives the most votes in the fan poll is awarded one vote to the votes cast by the Blue Ribbon panel.

On Tuesday, all 30 MLB teams revealed their nominees in a lead-up to ceremonies that were held on Wednesday, the 16th annual Roberto Clemente Day.

For American League teams, listed alphabetically by city, the nominees are: Baltimore’s Chris Davis, Boston’s Rick Porcello, Chicago’s Jose Abreu, Cleveland’s Carlos Carrasco, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, Houston’s Jose Altuve, Kansas City’s Drew Butera, Los Angeles’ Cameron Maybin, Minnesota’s Joe Mauer, New York’s Brett Gardner, Oakland’s Liam Hendriks, Seattle’s Robinson Cano, Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria, Texas’ Cole Hamels and Toronto’s Marcus Stroman.

For National League teams: Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, Atlanta’s Jason Motte, Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo, Cincinnati’s Scooter Gennett, Colorado’s Ian Desmond, Los Angeles’ Justin Turner, Miami’s Dee Gordon, Milwaukee’s Matt Garza, New York’s T.J. Rivera, Philadelphia’s Cameron Rupp, Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison, St. Louis’s Adam Wainwright, San Diego’s Hunter Renfroe, San Francisco’s Buster Posey, and Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman.

For those of you wondering, yes, the Angels have since traded Cameron Maybin to Houston, but they still intend to honor the work he’s done and are providing him the nomination. Coincidentally, Houston will play in Los Angeles (AL) when Maybin was intended to be honored, so it all works out.

Last year, former Met and current Dodger Curtis Granderson won this prestigious award. "This is all part of just trying to do the legacy, like Ms. Clemente said, trying to do better each day, making it better for the next group to come up behind you,” Granderson said on the honor.

"This award represents everything Roberto stood for as a 'good Samaritan,'" said Vera Clemente. "Through the Roberto Clemente Award, today's players are recognized for these same qualities."

It’s been a hot button issue, particularly lately, on whether or not MLB should consider retiring Clemente’s number throughout the sport, an honor that has only been given to Jackie Robinson. Whichever side you come down on, nobody can ignore the long-lasting impact that number 21 has had on the sport of baseball. For that, and for so many other things, we are eternally grateful.


Rachel Schaefer is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rachel.schaefer@uconn.edu.