In his 2006 biography "Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero," author David Maraniss wrote that his subject "remains vivid in the sporting consciousness while other athletes come and go." Indeed, it is happening right now, as the general public helps decide which of 30 Major League Baseball players best represents Roberto Clemente's revered legacy.
Voting is under way through Oct. 8 to help decide which of 30 club nominees will win the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet -- given to the player who best combines outstanding skills on the baseball field with devoted work in the community. Wednesday marks the ninth annual Roberto Clemente Day, which was established by MLB to honor Clemente's legacy and to officially recognize local club recipients of the Roberto Clemente Award.
The award is named for the 12-time All-Star and Hall of Famer who died in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972, while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. It was originally named the Commissioners Award but was retitled to perpetuate Clemente's achievements and character. The award recognizes current-day players who best represent the game of baseball through sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions to their clubs. It is about helping others, and every year this honor gains in importance, its message reaching farther and farther.
"Major League Baseball is honored to pay tribute to the legacy of Roberto Clemente through this prestigious award," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "The clubs and their players have a great deal of pride in their efforts of reaching out to their local communities, and I commend them for the impact they have made. I thank Chevrolet for their continued support of the Roberto Clemente Award, and congratulate all of this year's club nominees."
2010 Roberto Clemente Award nominees
Click on the players' names below to read about the work they do in their communities.
"Chevrolet celebrates the commitment these nominees have made to giving back to their communities and continuing the legacy of Clemente," said Chris Perry, U.S. vice president, Chevrolet Marketing. "Through Chevrolet dealers' work across the country on Chevy Youth Baseball we hope to create the next generation of players and community leaders."
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. Anyone who receives that award should be very honored, because the award means a lot. It's not only for your performance on the field. It's how you're seen from other players and other people. Anybody who receives that award should be very proud."
Participating fans in the voting will be automatically registered for a chance to win a trip to the 2010 World Series, where the national winner of the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet will be announced.
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.
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.
Each club determined its nominee, and if you are one of those 30 nominees, then your credentials cannot be summarized in a brief way. Read the individual articles about each nominee on their respective club sites here, and then help decide this important honor.
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.
"Our responsibility as ballplayers is to be out in the community," said Gonzalez, who lived a dozen years of his youth in Mexico. "I understand a lot of people don't play for the city they grew up in, so it makes it a little bit tougher, but for me, in my situation, it's a no-brainer. I always want to give back and do whatever I can to help the community.
"The most rewarding part is seeing the kids when they're given something or the charities are given this money and are able to do some good deeds with it. Basically, that's what it boils down to."
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, and he is the Orioles' Clemente Award nominee.
"Everything we do is an opportunity to give back," Guthrie said. "So I think it's important to take advantage of it. As a baseball player both financially as well as with time. With your time, with your service, make yourself available because a small, small sacrifice on your part goes a long way for somebody else.
"The name it holds is really important," Guthrie said. "I think understanding what Roberto did and the legacy he left as he passed away on a trip he was motivated to do by himself ... that's the point of the award each year, to remind people of what he did and continue his legacy. I think that's the reason for the award and for a lot of awards that bear someone's name -- to keep their memory as fresh as possible because of the important impact they had on people during their time."
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. 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.
"Katie and I love watching the Hit It a Ton campaign grow and how much St. James Place has grown and expanded," Butler said. "We are working toward building another one in the future. The more that can be raised, the better and we continue to raise more each year."
Many times, players are impacted by their own environment and use their pro-athlete stature to make a difference. Consider Pirates nominee Andy LaRoche, who "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.
"It's obviously an honor. I don't feel like I've done anything to deserve it," said LaRoche, who also has become the team's spokesman for the Miracle League effort in the community. "Bringing kids out, I enjoy it just as much as they do. It is an honor. It's something that I hope I'll be able to do with kids as long as we keep finding kids that want to keep coming out and hang with us. If so, I'm more than happy to hang for a little while."
Clemente nominees come from all over the globe. Take Ryan Rowland-Smith, the 27-year-old Australian who pitches for the Mariners and 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.
Could Rowland-Smith become the fourth Mariners player to win this award, following in the footsteps of Reynolds, Jamie Moyer (2003) and Edgar Martinez (2004)? He is known to many online fans for his popular @hyphen18 Twitter account, and the online vote may favor him to some extent.
"It's a great honor to even be nominated," Rowland-Smith said. "I am aware that other players from the Mariners organization have won the award and that means a lot to all of us. A big part of being a Major League player is to use that platform to help others."
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.
"He was a humanitarian for his time. And especially where he came from and the personality he had -- how people gravitated toward him. You could see it in how he played. It was very unselfish, but nonetheless, it was 100 percent every play. If you can pattern yourself after what he did and his life on and off the field, that's something you should definitely aspire to."
Torii Hunter was an active ambassador in the community for Major League Baseball during the All-Star Week festivities this July around Anaheim, then he was the Angels' representative in the Pepsi Refresh project on which many fans voted recently at MLB.com. He has been a shining light for a lot of people, encouraging so many to take up the game "regardless of race, ethnicity, height, weight, age and even ability level."
This is another opportunity on a fan ballot, representing a cause close to his heart.
"Roberto Clemente was a great player and a great man, so this is a huge honor," Hunter said. "This selection by the organization means a great deal to me.
"I have always believed my responsibilities extend well beyond what is expected of me on the field. My family and I have made a commitment to make a difference in the lives of others, not just with some of the resources we have available to us, but with our time as well."
All clubs playing at home on Sept. 8 will acknowledge their local nominees as part of Roberto Clemente Day ceremonies, while away clubs will honor their nominees during a September homestand. As part of the league-wide celebration, the Roberto Clemente Day logo will appear on the bases and the official dugout lineup cards.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Follow @MLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.