Thursday marks the 10th annual Roberto Clemente Day, established by MLB to honor Clemente's legacy and to officially recognize local club recipients of the award presented annually in the late Hall of Famer's honor. All clubs playing at home on that day will acknowledge their local nominees as part of Roberto Clemente Day ceremonies, while visiting clubs will honor their nominees before another September home game.
"On behalf of Major League Baseball, I thank this year's nominees of the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet for their exceptional dedication to giving back to their communities," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Roberto Clemente was a legendary baseball player, but what he accomplished off the field made him a true hero in his extraordinary life. Major League Baseball is proud that our players continue to follow in his footsteps, and we are honored to preserve his legacy of making a difference in our world through the game's most prestigious off-field award."
The award is named for the 12-time All-Star from Puerto Rico who died in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972, while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. The award pays tribute to Clemente's achievements and character by recognizing current players who understand the value of helping others. Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield was presented with the award before last year's World Series Game 2, as that day's theme was community service.
"During our centennial year, we at Chevrolet join MLB in celebrating the life and legacy of Roberto Clemente," said Chris Perry, Chevrolet vice president of marketing. "Through our sponsorship of the Roberto Clemente Award, we pay tribute to those who choose to follow in his footsteps by serving as role models for fans of all ages."
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.com columnist Hal Bodley; TBS personalities and former Clemente Award winners Cal Ripken Jr. and John Smoltz; MLB Network analysts and former Clemente Award winners Al Leiter and Harold Reynolds; ESPN analyst and former Clemente Award winner Barry Larkin; and ESPN analyst and former All-Star Nomar Garciaparra.
"Receiving the Roberto Clemente Award was one of the greatest honors of my career because of what it represented," Ripken said. "It is all about how we use the platform that baseball has provided to try and make a difference. There are a lot of guys doing great work in the community and this is a good way to put the focus on them."
Fans who submit ballots will be automatically registered for a chance to win a trip to next month's World Series, where the award will be presented to one of the 30 nominees.
"It really doesn't matter what you do on the field," Wakefield said last year. "What matters most is making a difference in someone else's life. ... This is an award for character, which ultimately is the highest accomplishment I can attain, or the highest compliment you can get from somebody."
Albert Pujols, the 2008 recipient, is the Cardinals' Clemente Award winner again and is vying to become the first player to win the overall award more than once.
"At the end of the day, when all is said and done playing this game ... it doesn't matter what you did in the field," Pujols said in 2008, "it's what you do off the field and the lives that you touch off the field."
Willie Mays won the first of these awards in 1971, one of 13 future Hall of Famers on the distinguished list of recipients.
Scan the list of 2011 individual club honorees and just imagine all 30 of them joining forces together with the common goal of making a difference in life. The list includes a dozen 2011 All-Stars: David Ortiz of the Red Sox, Jay Bruce of the Reds, Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies, Justin Verlander of the Tigers, Gaby Sanchez of the Marlins, Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, Michael Cuddyer of the Twins, CC Sabathia of the Yankees, Felix Hernandez of the Mariners, James Shields of the Rays, Michael Young of the Rangers and Ricky Romero of the Blue Jays.
Various individual season-performance hardware is probably destined for some members of that group, but ask any past recipient and he will tell you that the Clemente Award is as important or more important than any other possible MLB recognition.
"It's nice to get an opportunity to focus on something that really has to do with something more than baseball," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said in accepting his 2009 award. "It has to do with community work and giving back to the community. I think people in our position should take advantage of it. They should try to give back as much as possible. ... There's a lot of players that give back to the community, and I think everyone should be commended for that."
As part of the league-wide celebration, the Roberto Clemente Day logo will appear on the bases and the official dugout lineup cards.