MLB’s Clemente Award should continue to have its own moment

More from:

COVID baseball brought us a runner on second base to start extra innings, seven-inning doubleheaders and the universal designated hitter.

The pandemic also imposed many changes off the field, and one of them, I think, will be quite nice and should stick:

The great Roberto Clemente now gets his own day.

The Clemente Award, given annually to a player who demonstrates the Hall of Famer’s commitment to helping others, will be announced Monday at 2 p.m. Eastern time on the MLB Network. It’ll get a whole show to itself, with commissioner Rob Manfred participating in the festivities. Each team submits one nominee; the Mets’ is Steven Matz and the Yankees’ is Giancarlo Stanton. The prestigious honor kicks off three days of such programming, with the Hank Aaron Award presented on Tuesday and the Ford Frick Award and all-MLB team on Wednesday. 

In the pre-COVID days, the Clemente Award would be presented before a World Series Game (typically Game 2 or Game 3) on site, and that was nice, with the recipient either interrupting his offseason to get the honor or, as in the case of Derek Jeter in 2009, attending the ceremony in uniform and then returning to play in the Fall Classic. But the moment got relegated to sidebar status once the game began. It won’t be a sidebar now, which is apropos because it sure as heck isn’t a sidebar to the people who have won it.

“It’s as high as you get,” said MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds, who won the honor in 1991. “I’ve had some great awards given to me but it’s the top.”

“Oh my gosh,” said Hall of Famer Jim Thome, Reynolds’ Network teammate, who received the award in 2002. “It’s in my office (in his Chicago-area home). It’s really an award that I think when you ask players, what’s so great about that award is it’s so meaningful to more than just the players. It’s truly an award that you do not win alone.”

Reynolds, 60 years old even though he looks closer to 20, grew up following Clemente’s career, and he said his first glove was a hand-me-down Clemente model from his brother Larry (who is an agent in the baseball world). When Clemente died in a plane crash in 1972 as he tried to deliver relief supplies to Nicaragua (which had been struck by an earthquake), 

“I remember the impact that had and how confused I was as a kid,” he said. “Through my middle school and high school years, I studied the humanitarian things he did. ‘What do you mean he was taking goods for others?’ That meant even more.”

Thome, nearly 10 years younger than Reynolds, possesses no such first-hand memories of Clemente, yet he has done his homework. “What really stands out to me is the whole general package that he had — he could run, he could throw, he could hit — and then you add the human being,” Thome said.

As time passes, Reynolds said, “For guys who win it in 2020 (and beyond), they’ve got to study (Clemente).” Here’s hoping, and betting, that the honorees will do just that.

Since I had Reynolds and Thome on the phone, I asked them what they thought of the on-field changes prompted by the novel coronavirus and whether they should stick. I’d like to see all of them stick; actually, I’d like to see all games go to seven innings, doubleheader or not. All of these changes must be collectively bargained, with the universal DH (because of the economic impact) the hairiest.

The runner on second in extra innings:

Reynolds: “I was not a fan originally of the runner on second, but I like it now. I think it’s forcing strategy, although I’d like to see even more strategy there. I would not have a problem with that staying around.”

Thome: “ I would like to see them go through 10 innings of normal play and then start in the 11th with the guy on second base.”

The seven-inning doubleheaders:

Thome: “The seven-inning doubleheaders is an interesting one because strategically, the manager is thinking about his bullpen earlier in the game. What I did see is the quickness of the game.”

Reynolds: “I love the 7-inning doubleheader. I think we’re at a point that our statistics and records have changed so much _ we may not see another 300-win pitcher, we may not see a starting pitcher finish 10 games in a season _ that a couple of more at-bats (that you’d get from a nine-inning game, or extra innings) don’t matter.”

The universal DH:

Thome (who started 813 games at DH): “I like offense. Playing in the National League when I was with Philadelphia, I liked the strategy around the pitcher having to hit. But I’m an offense guy. Putting the DH in both leagues will give a guy like Nelson Cruz a (bigger) opportunity to extend his career like it did for Big Papi (David Ortiz) and Harold Baines.”

Reynolds: “I think it’s gonna stick around. I like the strategy of the National League game. I do miss that double-switch, how you use your rosters. We will miss those things, but i think it’s here to stay. If we keep the DH in both leagues, I hope its full purpose returns, and that being you have a David Ortiz, a Reggie Jackson, a Nellie Cruz (as the full-time DH). Not ‘I’ll take my number two hitter and give him a day (at DH). If ever there’s a time we needed more offense, now’s the time.”

Let’s catch up on Pop Quiz questions:

From Garry Apgar of Bridgeport, Conn.; Robin Brecker of Philadelphia; Jeff Graubard of Englewood, NJ; Patrick Kennedy of Chicago; Dan Mahoney of Porter Corners, NY; Tom Morgan of Santa Fe; and Baseball Writers Association of America secretary-treasurer Jack O’Connell: Name the pitcher for the Red Sox, Tigers and Padres who shared a name with a legendary Post columnist who covered New York’s social scene.

From the late Jan Bottone of Wellesley, Mass.: In the 1975 film “Farewell, My Lovely,” which takes place in 1941, protagonist Philip Marlowe closely follows an historic baseball accomplishment. Name the accomplishment, which remains an all-time record.

Yes, you read that correctly. It’s the late Jan Bottome. Jan, a voracious reader of The Post’s sports coverage, died recently of cancer; her battle was documented beautifully by my Post teammate Mike Vaccaro. You’ll be seeing plenty of Jan’s Pop Quiz questions in the months to come. She enjoyed the overlap between baseball and popular culture as much as I do.

And here are your Pop Quiz answers:

If you have a Pop Quiz question, please send it to me at [email protected]

Share this article:

Source: Read Full Article