Roberto Clemente was a truly iconic player, and one of the first Latino superstars in baseball history. His .317 lifetime average, 3,000 hits, and 12 Gold Glove awards, and two World Series rings were more than enough to ensure him a first ballot Hall of Fame entry, but it was his contributions off the field that cemented him as one of the greatest people to ever play the game.
Clemente spent much of his off-seasons performing charity work in Latin America and the Caribbean. It was on one of these charity missions, providing aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, that Clemente tragically passed away at the age of 38 when his plane crashed shortly after takeoff. So great were his achievements off the field that the BBWAA waived the five-year waiting period, electing Clemente as the first player from Latin America and the Caribbean to be elected into the Hall of Fame.
Also in honor of his accomplishments in the community, the Commissioner’s Award was renamed to the Roberto Clemente Award, which acknowledges the player that “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Like the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, the Roberto Clemente Award is arguably as prestigious as an MVP or Cy Young.
Last week I wrote about the ways recent Yankees have given back to their communities. Many of those players, in addition to others, have been recognized for their work by MLB. Here are the Yankees who have won or been nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award
Ron Guidry became the first Yankee to win the award in 1984 for his work with the Special Olympics. Guidry had a personal connection with the organization, as his younger brother Travis suffered from a mental disability. Guidry shared a close bond with Travis, which was poignantly detailed in a Washington Post article.
Don Baylor made it back-to-back Yankees to win the award with his selection in 1985. Baylor received the award in acknowledgement of his contributions to cystic fibrosis research, both with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and 65 Roses Club.
Derek Jeter is the most recent Yankee to win the award, being selected in 2009. He was recognized for the work of his charity, the Turn 2 Foundation, which he created in 1996. The foundation focuses on educating children and teenagers about drug and alcohol addiction, and extends rewards for high academic achievement and healthy lifestyles.
Curtis Granderson was the Yankees nominee in 2010 for the work of his charity the Grand Kids Foundation. His foundation focuses on teaching kids about the importance of education, physical fitness, and nutrition. The programs run by his foundation have impacted over two million children, and have also donated over 37 million meals.
CC Sabathia has been nominated the most of any Yankee this century, with four nominations in 2011, 2014, 2018, and 2019, all for the work of his PitCCh In Foundation. The foundation provides academic and athletic support to inner city kids in the form of baseball clinics, donated backpacks filled with school supplies, and baseball field and youth center renovations.
Mark Teixeira was nominated in 2012 and 2015 for his numerous philanthropic efforts. He created the Mark Teixeira Charitable Fund, which provides scholarships to Dallas/Fort Worth high school students. He also is a spokesman for the National Foundation for Cancer Research, as well as a supporter of the Harlem RBI Organization, which provides academic and athletic support to 1,200 East Harlem Children. In 2011 he made a $1 million donation to the organization.
Former reliever David Robertson received a nomination in 2013 for the efforts of his charity High Socks for Hope. His foundation provides housing relief for natural disaster victims as well as economic and housing assistance for veterans who are transitioning from military to civilian life.
Brett Gardner is also a two-time nominee, with his coming in 2016 and 2017. Gardner was recognized for his work with the Taylor Hooten Foundation, which raises awareness about the dangers of PED use among teenagers. He also was and is heavily involved with the Ronald McDonald House, which was originally founded to provide nearby housing for family members of hospital patients, and has since expanded its mission to improve the health of children.
Roberto Clemente is perhaps the only player who approaches the societal and cultural impact of Jackie Robinson. His exploits on the field, even as impressive as they were, were still dwarfed by the enormous contributions he made off it. It is fitting that the award commemorating community service bears his name, and why his number 21 should be retired like Robinson’s 42. Many Yankees have continued his legacy of giving back, and one can only hope this tradition grows in the future.