It’s been nearly 46 years since Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash delivering earthquake aid to Nicaragua.
Fellow countryman Yadier Molina, the St. Louis Cardinals Platinum Glove catcher and native of Puerto Rico, is the winner of the annual award that bears Clemente’s name.
Major League Baseball presents the Roberto Clemente Award annually during World Series week to “who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.”
Molina is being recognized for his efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which left more than 3,000 dead and caused $91 billion in damage throughout the northeastern Caribbean, including Puerto Rico. Through his charity arm, Foundation 4, Molina provided more than $800,000 in aid through a Go Fund Me page and a charity softball game and home run derby that drew a crowd of more than 20,000.
“Yadier has been one of baseball’s greatest representatives as a perennial All-Star while also devoting himself, often without fanfare, to communities and families in St. Louis and Puerto Rico,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “Most notably, the results of Yadier’s personal efforts this past year to support Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Maria have been both meaningful and inspiring.”
According to the team’s nomination of Molina, the nine-time All-Star established a safe house for battered children and purchased an anesthesia machine for the oncology ward of a pediatric hospital in Dorado, Puerto Rico. He’s paid to refurbish baseball fields and awarded scholarships to youth in his home country.
He also visited Venezuela at the request of teammate Jose Martinez.
Molina manages the Puerto Rican 23-and-under national team, which currently is playing in Colombia was unable to receive the award in person. Wanda Molina accepted the award on her husband’s behalf Wednesday night in Boston, prior to World Series Game 2.
“One of the things closest to Roberto’s heart was his beloved island of Puerto Rico, and Yadi’s commitment to help the Puerto Rican community heal after such a catastrophic event embodies Roberto’s philanthropic spirit,” Vera Clemente said in a statement.
“There are many houses without roofs,” he said. “There are many people who lost their homes, there are many people without water. We still need a lot of help. ...”
Clemente was a 15-time All-Star for the Pittsburgh Pirates and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame shortly after his death, suspending the usual five-year waiting requirement. He was the first player from Puerto Rico enshrined in Cooperstown. The award originally was called the Commissioner’s Award, but was later renamed in Clemente’s honor.
Each major league team nominates a player for the award. The winner is chosen by a committee that includes Clemente’s widow, Vera Clemente, with the additional input from a fan vote.
Molina is the fifth Cardinals’ player to receive the award. The others were Lou Brock (1976), Ozzie Smith (1995), Albert Pujols (2008) and Carlos Beltran (2013).