Today, Wednesday, September 7 marks the 15th annual Roberto Clemente Day, which was established by Major League Baseball to honor Clemente's legacy and to officially acknowledge local Club nominees of the Roberto Clemente Award. Each Club nominates one current player to be considered for the Roberto Clemente Award in tribute to Clemente's achievements and character. As part of the league-wide celebration, the Roberto Clemente Day logo will appear on the bases and official dugout lineup cards and a special tribute video will be played in ballparks.
The Roberto Clemente Award is the annual recognition of a player from each MLB Club who best represents the game of Baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.
Lance McCullers is one of the 30 Club finalists for the annual award. Since his arrival in Houston in 2015, McCullers has been a vocal advocate for pet adoption and no-kill animal shelters. He recently launched the Lance McCullers Jr. Foundation, a non-profit organization which invests, brings awareness and creates programs aimed at advocates for stray and homeless animals across the country. Their goal is to support shelters and programs that promote pet adoptions and continue on the journey to make Houston a no-kill city. McCullers has also been an active spokesman and supporter of Houston Pets Alive!, which promotes and provides resources, education and programs in order to eliminate the killing of companion animals. McCullers and his wife Kara are both passionate animal advocates and have a rescue husky named Minka.
"Lance is an involved, committed advocate for pets and animal rights, causes that mean a great deal to him," said Twila Carter, Executive Director of the Astros Foundation and Community Relations. "He brings the same passion to his involvement in the community as he does on the mound, and we are very proud to have him as our nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award."
Beginning on Roberto Clemente Day, fans can participate in the process of selecting the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award on social media for the first time by posting voting hashtags to Twitter and Facebook. Astros fans can vote for McCullers by using #VoteMcCullers.
To enhance Roberto Clemente Day and celebrate Clemente's enduring legacy in 2016, Major League Baseball worked with the 30 Clubs to establish SEAT 21. SEAT 21 will be a designated seat in each ballpark on Roberto Clemente Day (or alternate home game for Clubs on the road) dedicated to a well-known or local hero originally from the community who will be recognized in addition to the Club Clemente Award nominee. Recognizing individuals who embody the humanitarian spirit of Roberto Clemente is a natural extension of the current honor bestowed upon players each year and gives MLB and the Clubs the opportunity to further extend the message of service and commitment.
Former Astros outfielder and current Community Outreach Executive Jose Cruz is the Astros Seat 21 honoree for his long-standing commitment to the Houston community, both on and off the field. His contributions as a player are historic, evidenced by the retiring of his No. 25 that joined an elite group of other franchise legends. But his legacy of community involvement has only grown since his playing and coaching days ended. Cruz is an ardent supporter of the Astros Foundation and their cornerstone programs for at-risk youth. He participates year-round in clinics, meet and greets, speaking engagements and community events on behalf of the Houston Astros and takes particular pride in his involvement with the Houston Latino community.
The concept of honoring Major League players for their philanthropic work was created in 1971 as the "Commissioner's Award," but was renamed to the "Roberto Clemente Award" in 1973 in honor of the Hall of Famer and 15-time All-Star who died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1972 while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Each September since 2002, Major League Baseball has commemorated Roberto Clemente Day.
Hall of Famer and Astros great Craig Biggio won the Roberto Clemente Award in 2007, becoming the first player to represent the Houston Astros when he won the national honor.
The distinguished list of past Roberto Clemente Award winners includes 16 members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame:
1971 Willie Mays+** 1983 Cecil Cooper 1995 Ozzie Smith+ 2007 Craig Biggio+
1972 Brooks Robinson+** 1984 Ron Guidry 1996 Kirby Puckett+ 2008 Albert Pujols
1973 Al Kaline+ 1985 Don Baylor 1997 Eric Davis 2009 Derek Jeter
1974 Willie Stargell+ 1986 Garry Maddox 1998 Sammy Sosa 2010 Tim Wakefield
1975 Lou Brock+ 1987 Rick Sutcliffe 1999 Tony Gwynn+ 2011 David Ortiz
1976 Pete Rose 1988 Dale Murphy 2000 Al Leiter 2012 Clayton Kershaw
1977 Rod Carew+ 1989 Gary Carter+ 2001 Curt Schilling 2013 Carlos Beltran
1978 Greg Luzinski 1990 Dave Stewart 2002 Jim Thome 2014 Paul Konerko *
1979 Andre Thornton 1991 Harold Reynolds 2003 Jamie Moyer 2014 Jimmy Rollins *
1980 Phil Niekro+ 1992 Cal Ripken, Jr.+ 2004 Edgar Martinez 2015 Andrew McCutchen
1981 Steve Garvey 1993 Barry Larkin+ 2005 John Smoltz+
1982 Ken Singleton 1994 Dave Winfield+ 2006 Carlos Delgado
+ Member of The National Baseball Hall of Fame
** Originally known as the Commissioner's Award (prior to 1973)