Black Players Celebrate Roberto Clemente Day & Continue His Community Service

 

Black baseball players Tony Kemp and Jason Heyward were nominated by their Major League Baseball teams for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award.

They join the long list of African-American players who have won the award, given annually to the MLB player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team”, as voted on by baseball fans and members of the media. 

Latin lord Roberto Clemente played all 18 of his Major League seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates. During that time he won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1966. He’s considered the premier right fielder in the history of baseball, winning 12 consecutive Gold Gloves. 

 

A True American Hero

Clemente led the National League in batting for four seasons and collected over 3,000 hits during his career. The epitome of a five-tool player, his impact off the field is what’s kept his legacy alive and immortalized him in the history books of Puerto Rico and MLB. 

Clemente was known for his charity work, particularly helping Latin American and Caribbean countries with food and baseball equipment during the offseason.

In 1972, a plane crash tragically took the Hall of Famer’s life. The 38-year-old icon was on his way to bring supplies and aid to the country of Nicaragua after it had been devastated by an earthquake.

Roberto Clemente Day All-Inclusive 

Today (September 15) is the 20th annual Roberto Clemente Day in MLB, which honors Clemente’s legacy both on and off the field. 

MLB has honored the late Hall of Famer’s philanthropic efforts in mid-September every year for the past two decades, and according to ESPN’s Marly Rivera, the league has expanded the list of personnel who can wear No. 21 in Clemente’s honor.

Last season MLB allowed all Puerto Rican players to wear No. 21 on Roberto Clemente Day. All players, coaches, and managers wore a Roberto Clemente Day patch.

This year, it will also be possible for any player, regardless of heritage or place of birth, to request to wear No. 21, as long as the club is given enough notice to create the uniform.

Black Players Nominated For Roberto Clemente Award

MLB players and coaches who choose to keep their numbers will still wear a “21” patch on their jerseys. On Tuesday, each Major League team announced their nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award.

Tony Kemp

The Vanderbilt University alum is only in his second year with Oakland and has already stamped his name as a key leader in their locker room and community. 

In 2020 Kemp established his “+1 Campaign” which encourages constructive conversations about race, systematic racism and his own life experiences along with his wife.  

In addition to the hundreds of conversations he has hosted, Kemp also joined Players For the Planet, through which he’ll plant 100 trees in urban neighborhoods for every stolen base and extra base hit he records this season. 

Jason Heyward

The “J-Hey” kid has been doing work for his community since he broke into the Bigs at the age of 17 with a homer in his first at bat and the full support of Hank Aaron as the next Black superstar in MLB. Twelve MLB seasons later and he’s being nominated for his work on the North Side of Chicago.  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Heyward was active. The Gold Glove outfielder helped several nonprofits and underserved communities with basic necessities.

Heyward also provided $100,00 to M.A.S.K. “Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings,” $100,000 to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, $100,000 to the University of Chicago Medical Center, and $75,000 to convert a liquor store into a food mart in a Chicago neighborhood. Additionally, he’s been an advocate for LeBron James’ “More Than A Vote” campaign and contributed over $116,000 to Chicago’s RBI program.

There’s a list of Black baseball players — from Hall of Famers to game-changers to characters of the game — who have won the award in the past. 

Other Black Roberto Clemente Award winners include: Curtis Granderson, Andrew McCutchen, Jimmy Rollins, Tony Gwynn, Eric Davis, Kirby Puckett, Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield, Barry Larkin, Harold Reynolds, Dave Stewart, Don Baylor, Cecil Cooper, Ken Singleton, Andre Thornton, Willie Stargell and Willie Mays.

The fact that so many African-Americans have won an award that reflects one’s character first and foremost is further evidence of their all-around contributions to the culture of baseball. And why increasing the numbers of Black baseball players is mandatory for the survival of the sport.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.