Andrew McCutchen learned the Roberto Clemente story many years ago, long before being drafted by Clemente’s former team, the Pirates, in 2005. When he was 11 or 12, McCutchen went to a baseball camp in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the city where Clemente was born and raised.
There, McCutchen met Manny Sanguillen, the former Pirates catcher who played alongside Clemente, and heard the story of a Hall of Fame outfielder, the pride of Pittsburgh, who died in a New Year’s Eve plane crash in 1972 while on a mission to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
The Commissioner’s Award, given annually to the player who best represented the game of baseball on and off the field, was renamed in 1973 to honor Clemente. On Friday, McCutchen was named the 2015 Roberto Clemente Award winner in a ceremony at Citi Field prior to Game 3 of the World Series, joining Willie Stargell as just the second Pirates player to win the award...
I want to strive to be like he was,” McCutchen said, “a person who would give you the clothes off of his back just to make this world a better place.”
I saw Clemente play many times, mostly at Forbes Field in the late 50s and 60s. I shook his hand on the field once, on one of those pre-game events when kids could meet the players. His last regular season game was on September 30, 1972. I saw him last on September 21, in New York, in a game with the Mets. He got at least one hit that day, closing in on 3,000 hits for his career, a mark he hit with his last at-bat. He hit .325 in the NLCS, but the Pirates lost to the Reds in the fifth game.
Clemente was the most exciting player I ever saw play. Only Barry Bonds came close. I've never seen McCutchen play, which means I haven't seen a game in Pittsburgh since 2008. Horrors! But everything I know about him makes him a fitting heir to Clemente, on and off the field.
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