The Roberto Clemente award recognizes professional baseball players who not only represent the game, but exemplify sportsmanship, a commitment to community and the value of helping others.
Every season, one player from each of the 30 MLB clubs is nominated by their teammates. The honoree would normally be chosen by a panel of dignitaries and announced at the World Series. But, this year, sports fans are being asked to help decide the winner by voting on a website until Oct. 8. Participating fans in the voting will be automatically registered for a chance to win a trip to the 2010 World Series, where the award will be presented.
The award is named for the 12-time All-Star and Hall of Famer who died in a plane crash in 1972, while delivering aid supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. MLB celebrates Roberto Clemente Day as part of the broader “MLB Going Beyond” platform, which strives to integrate community service and the importance of giving back.
For the fourth year in a row, Chevrolet will provide the prize money for the Roberto Clemente Award, which is donated to the charities represented by each of the nominees.
Derek Jeter of the Yankees won the award last year, and he is on the ballot again as the Yankees’ nominee. No player ever has won the award more than once, and veterans historically win, with Craig Biggio receiving it in his 2007 farewell season. Willie Mays won the first one in 1971, one of 13 future Hall of Famers who have been so honored. A few examples of this year’s nominees are below:
- Adrian Gonzalez has been a stalwart this season, leading the Padres to a long run as NL West leaders while also leading in the community. He and his wife created the Adrian & Betsy Gonzalez Foundation, which is focused on empowering underprivileged youth in areas of athletics, education and health. On Sunday, they held their fifth annual Celebrity Staff Night, with Gonzalez and Padres teammates moonlighting as chefs, waiters and bartenders to benefit Rady Children’s Hospital MRSA research and awareness programs.
- Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie is a great example of what you can become as an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America. He attained that rank as a youth in Ashland, Ore., went to Stanford to study sociology, made his mark in the Majors, continues to be active in Boy Scouts.
- Royals first baseman Billy Butler and his wife, Katie, fit right into that mission. They are very active in feeding the hungry in the Kansas City area through the Bishop Sullivan Center’s St. James Place, a food kitchen where families are able to pick up groceries. Two years ago, Butler started the “Hit It A Ton” campaign, which donates $250 per each of his homers to buy a ton of food for the hungry. He also has five corporate sponsors who match that, so for every home run, six tons of food go into the program.
- Pirates nominee Andy LaRoche “had a couple of friends from high school that had Down Syndrome.” For the last two seasons and once per homestand, he has been host to children from The Down Syndrome Association of Pittsburgh and the Miracle League program to visit PNC Park as his guests. Laroche purchases Pirates game tickets and concession coupons for the children and their families, hosts a private meet & greet in the Pirates dugout prior to batting practice, teaches baseball fundamentals and signs autographs.
- Ryan Rowland-Smith, a 27-year-old Australian who pitches for the Mariners, has been an active member in the Seattle community since his MLB debut in 2007. He has supported the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in their efforts to find a cure for CF, a fatal disease afflicting children and young adults. In 2010, he served as the chairman of the Cystic Fibrosis Mariners Care Golf Tournament for the second consecutive year and helped to build awareness and raise valuable funds for research.
- Indians pitcher Jensen Lewis called his nomination “a great honor.” He does school visits, talks to classrooms and has also been involved with the Nashville RBI program for several years, among other impact in the Cleveland area.
“This is one of the greatest jobs in the world, if not the best, and to be able to give back is something that I really appreciate,” Lewis said. On being mentioned in the same breath as Clemente, he added: “It’s extremely humbling.
See the full list of nominees and vote at MLB.com (no registration required).
Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez, the first Puerto Rican-born MLB manager, said: “Every player in the big leagues knows what Roberto Clemente means, not only for the game, but for humanity. The award means a lot. It’s how you’re seen from other players and other people.”
The winner of the fan poll will receive one vote among those cast by the selection panel, which includes Vera Clemente, wife of the late Hall of Famer; Commissioner Selig; MLB Network analyst and 1991 Clemente Award winner Harold Reynolds; MLB Network analyst, TBS broadcaster and former Clemente Award winner John Smoltz; Hall of Famer and ESPN broadcaster Joe Morgan; former All-Star catcher and FOX broadcaster Tim McCarver; and MLB.com senior correspondent Hal Bodley.