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History, past winners and importance

Of all baseball’s postseason awards, the Roberto Clemente Award for players is perhaps the most significant. For some players, it’s more meaningful than winning a Cy Young, MVP, or even a World Series trophy. The Roberto Clemente Award is presented each year to the player who “best embodies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to their team.” In other words, the significance of the Roberto Clemente Award goes well beyond what happens on the pitch.

Robert Clemente Prize

Of course there is a long and colorful history behind the Roberto Clemente Award, which has been presented for over 50 years since 1971. Unfortunately, not all fans know the story behind the Roberto Clemente Award or why it is so coveted by MLB players.

That’s why we wanted to take a look back at past Roberto Clemente Award winners and share more about this award that all MLB fans should know.

Who was Roberto Clemente?

A Puerto Rican native, Roberto Clemente played 18 seasons in the major leagues, all with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was one of the best players of his time and was named an All-Star every year except between 1960 and 1972. Clemente was also a four-time batting champion, winning once three times in a four-year period and achieving a 12-time Gold Glove Winner. He also won National League MVP honors in 1966, ironically the only season in four years that he didn’t win the batting title. Clemente was a key figure for the Pirates during the team’s golden generation, helping them win the World Series in both 1960 and 1971 and earning the honors of World Series MVP in 1971.

Unfortunately, Clemente passed away while he was still an active player. After the 1972 season, he boarded a plane from Puerto Rico to Nicaragua with the intention of providing aid and supplies to victims of an earthquake. However, an engine failure shortly after takeoff caused the plane to crash, killing all five people on board, including Clemente. At this point in his career, Clemente had exactly 3,000 hits, 240 home runs, and 1,305 RBIs, and was a .317 career hitter.

After Clemente’s death, the Baseball Hall of Fame changed its policy on deceased players. Instead of having to wait the required five years, deceased players can be inducted into the Hall of Fame six months after their death. As a result, Clemente was elected to the Hall of Fame a year after his death, making him a Hall of Famer on the first ballot with 92.7% of the vote. More importantly, Clemente was the first Latino player and the first baseball player from the Caribbean to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Even before his ill-fated flight on December 31, 1972, Clemente was no stranger to charitable work. During baseball’s offseason, he worked with charities each year, primarily focusing on Caribbean and Latin American countries.

Before his death, Clemente had organized three flights with relief supplies to be flown to the earthquake victims in Nicaragua. However, these flights were diverted by corrupt leaders and never reached those affected by the earthquake. Clemente decided to accompany the fourth flight, hoping to actually bring help to the victims this time.

How is the Roberto Clemente Award winner selected?

The Roberto Clemente Award was originally called the Commissioner’s Award and was first presented in 1971. After Clemente’s death, however, it was renamed after him in 1973. Each year, all 30 MLB teams nominate a player for the award. A panel of baseball dignitaries reviews these 30 nominees and selects a player to receive the Roberto Clemente Award. The winner of the award will be announced each year during the World Series.

What does the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award get?

The current sponsor of the Roberto Clemente Award is Chevy, which donates money and a vehicle to a charity chosen by the awardee. Chevy also donates to the Roberto Clemente Sports City, a Puerto Rico-based non-profit organization focused on giving children the opportunity to play sports and enjoy other recreational activities.

Former winners of the Roberto Clemente Award

Here is a list of previous Roberto Clemente Award winners, including the years it was designated a Commissioner’s Award:

  • Willie Mays, 1971
  • Brooks Robinson, 1972
  • Al Kaline, 1973
  • Willie Stargell, 1974
  • Lou Brock, 1975
  • Pete Rose, 1976
  • Rod Carew, 1977
  • Greg Luzinski, 1978
  • Andre Thornton, 1979
  • Phil Niekro, 1980
  • Steve Garvey, 1981
  • Ken Singleton, 1982
  • Cecil Cooper, 1983
  • Ron Guidery, 1984
  • Don Baylor, 1985
  • Garry Maddox, 1986
  • Rick Sutcliffe, 1987
  • Dale Murphy, 1988
  • Gary Carter, 1989
  • David Stewart, 1990
  • Harold Reynolds, 1991
  • Cal Ripken Jr., 1992
  • Barry Larkin, 1993
  • Dave Winfield, 1994
  • Ozzie Smith, 1995
  • Kirby Puckett, 1996
  • Eric Davis, 1997
  • Sammy Sosa, 1998
  • Tony Gwynn, 1999
  • Al leader, 2000
  • Curt Schilling, 2001
  • Jim Thome, 2002
  • Jamie Moyer, 2003
  • Edgar Martinez, 2004
  • John Smoltz, 2005
  • Carlos Delgado, 2006
  • Craig Biggio, 2007
  • Albert Pujols, 2008
  • Derek Jeter, 2009
  • Tim Wakefield, 2010
  • David Ortiz, 2011
  • Clayton Kershaw, 2012
  • Carlos Beltran, 2013
  • Paul Konerko and Jimmy Rollins, 2014
  • Andrew McCutchen, 2015
  • Curtis Granderson, 2016
  • Anthony Rizzo, 2017
  • Yadier Molina, 2018
  • Carlos Carrasco, 2019
  • Adam Wainwright, 2020
  • Nelson Cruz, 2021
  • Justin Turner, 2022

What have previous winners said about winning the award?

Many Roberto Clemente Award winners have spoken openly about what an honor it is to win an award that has nothing to do with their play on the field. Here are some quotes from previous recipients that summarize their feelings:

Harold Reynolds: “This is by no means the greatest award a baseball player can receive. You can’t look at it any other way. … [I started] When I heard this man’s story and then, years later, accepted this honor on his behalf, I really understood how profound it is.”

Curtis Granderson: “We didn’t come here by accident. There is a community and a family that has helped raise and build us and guide us on our journey. I am honored to be recognized in this position as I am not here when the community is not at stake. And now I am able to give back to the community.”

Jim Thomas: “We started this great fraternity because [Clemente]. And he left this lasting legacy for all of us to enjoy.”

Carlos Delgado: “I’ve always said that to avoid recognition you do the right thing, but if you want to be recognized, it’s with the Roberto Clemente Award. Growing up in Puerto Rico, you start to understand from a young age how great he was.”

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