10/25/08 9:38 PM EST
Pujols wins Clemente Award
Cardinals first baseman honored for play, off-field efforts
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
The Cardinals' star first baseman received the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevy before the scheduled start of Game 3 of the World Series in recognition of the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team. As part of this year's presentation, Chevy is donating $30,000 and a 2009 Chevy Traverse to the Pujols Family Foundation.
As is customary before every Game 3 of the Fall Classic, Commissioner Bud Selig made the announcement on Saturday at a news conference that included the recipient as well as Vera Clemente, the widow of the great Roberto Clemente, who died in a 1972 plane crash while attempting to transport relief supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua. This award was first bestowed by MLB in 1971, and it was renamed in Clemente's honor in '73 and bestowed each year since.
"As a national pastime and as a social institution, we in baseball have important social responsibilities that we gladly welcome," Selig said. "Roberto Clemente is the symbol of our social awareness, and our effort to give back to all the communities in which we play the game.
"Albert Pujols has had another stellar year with the St. Louis Cardinals. However, it is his extensive and dedicated off-field efforts that have earned him this year's Roberto Clemente Award. Through the Pujols Family Foundation, Albert has been able to improve the lives of children and young adults with Down syndrome in the greater St. Louis area, as well as provide much-needed support to underprivileged children in his home of the Dominican Republic. He also sets time aside to support other organizations and causes, including the Boys & Girls Club of America and the Ronald McDonald House. I would also like to thank our partner Chevy, whose generous financial support of this award is instrumental in continuing the legacy of Roberto Clemente."
Pujols, 28, had been the Cardinals' nominee for the fourth year in a row. He was selected from a list of 30 nominees, one from each MLB club. A panel of dignitaries, including Selig and Vera Clemente, selected the overall award recipient. Additionally, fans were able to log on to MLB.com and cast a vote for one of the 30 nominees. The winner of the fan vote was tallied as one vote among those cast by the selection panel.
In addition to Chevy's aforementioned donation, Chevy will donate $30,000 to Roberto Clemente Sports City, a not-for-profit organization in Carolina, Puerto Rico, designed to provide recreational sports activities for children regardless of economic circumstances.
Pujols joins a distinguished list of past recipients that includes 13 Hall of Famers, including: Lou Brock, Rod Carew, Gary Carter, Tony Gwynn, Al Kaline, Willie Mays, Phil Niekro, Kirby Puckett, Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith, Willie Stargell and Dave Winfield.
In giving his acceptance speech, Pujols became very emotional, and at times, he seemed on the verge of joyous tears. To see this reaction after observing such an even-keel, consistent demeanor on a game-to-game basis was quite powerful.
"[This is] a blessing, and I'm really honored," Pujols said. "First of all, I want to thank God to give me the opportunity to be here tonight and receive this award. I want to thank Major League Baseball and Chevy to be a part of this great award of Roberto Clemente. I want to thank my teammates, obviously, for the support that they give me during the year -- every event that we do for Down syndrome or golf tournament -- the fans in St. Louis and all over the United States and the Dominican Republic for the support that they give to the Pujols Family Foundation. I want to thank the Roberto Clemente family. I'm truly honored to receive this award. It's an honor to be here.
|"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, it's what you do off the field and the lives that you touch off the field. And I try to do that through our foundation. I try to do that when I go back to the Dominican Republic. I try to do that when I'm on the field because those kids, they look at us as a role model and we want to be a role model to those kids, because you never know."|
|-- Albert Pujols|
"It takes a lot of hard work for the Pujols Family Foundation, but it comes from our heart. I thank God every day for the opportunity he gives me to be in the big leagues and just take advantage of every little opportunity. I remember as a little boy in the Dominican Republic, all I want is to be in the big leagues. All I wanted was just to be a professional baseball player. I never thought this dream was going to come true and so quick in eight years.
"[Clemente] was not only a great baseball player -- everybody on this day remembers Roberto Clemente as a great baseball player, but we today remember him as a great man that loved other people and gave back to the community, whether in Pittsburgh or Nicaragua or Latin America or Puerto Rico. And I feel that's my responsibility, too, not just to be a baseball player, but to give back to others, whether in St. Louis or the United States or back in the Dominican Republic every year with our trip through the Pujols Family Foundation."
For more than three years, that foundation has been a driving force, with monetary gifts and humanitarian missions resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars being donated on his behalf. Founded in May 2005, the Pujols Family Foundation's mission is to reflect Albert and Deidre Pujols' love and compassion for children with Down syndrome -- something especially near and dear to their hearts; they have a 10-year-old daughter, Isabella, who has Down syndrome.
The Pujols Family Foundation has served more than 500 families affected by Down syndrome in the greater St. Louis area, with programs and events that celebrate the lives of these special children and young adults.
These events have included: The Mother/Daughter Tea; "Hitters & Splitters" Father/Son Bowling; Hummer Off-Road Experience, Lose the Training Wheels Bike Camp; Albert's Home Run Derby; Albert's All-Star Game; "Batter-Up" Cooking Experience; the Autumn Prom; and many other programs and events benefiting the Down syndrome community. All together, the Pujols Family Foundation hosted 33 different programs and events in 2007 and planned to exceed that number this year.
Many people around St. Louis can tell you an especially wonderful story about the nationwide Down syndrome "Buddy Walk" when it comes to Busch Stadium each year. In the last eight years on that day, the slugger is an incomprehensible 11-for-28 with six home runs -- including a walk-off homer in 2003 and a three-homer game in '06. It's almost like those handed-down accounts of Babe Ruth homering for sick children -- except it plays out every year in front of thousands and thousands who believe.
"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, it's what you do off the field and the lives that you touch off the field. And I try to do that through our foundation. I try to do that when I go back to the Dominican Republic. I try to do that when I'm on the field because those kids, they look at us as a role model and we want to be a role model to those kids, because you never know.
"Like I was 15 years ago, a poor little boy in the Dominican Republic, my dream was just to be a professional baseball player. They might be somebody that day that you touch. And that person may become the best baseball player ever in the future. And probably in the future will thank me or any of us that touched their life."
Where did the desire to give come from?
"It's something that comes from my family," he said. "They always have that great heart to give back to the community. I remember my dad, [he would] stop eating and just give his food to feed other people. And me as a little boy growing up watching that, obviously, those are the good examples that you want to take with you."
On the field, Pujols continues to be one of the most accomplished and well-rounded players in MLB -- and a certain Hall of Famer if he can sustain health further into his career. Pujols not only was the Cardinals' Robert Clemente Award nominee for the fourth straight year, but he also earned the team's Triple Crown for the fourth straight year. It was the seventh time in the past eight years he has done that, this time leading the Cardinals with a .357 batting average, 37 home runs (tied with Ryan Ludwick) and 116 RBIs. The seven-time National League All-Star posted a career-best .462 on-base percentage, a career-high 104 walks and a .653 slugging percentage.
The 2005 NL Most Valuable Player also has collected more than 100 RBIs in each of his eight seasons, joining Hall of Famers Al Simmons (11 times) and Ted Williams (eight) as the only players in history to accomplish that feat. Pujols, who earned a Rawlings Gold Glove in '06, led NL first basemen in fielding percentage (.996) in '08. He has a .334 career batting average (highest among active players), 342 doubles, 319 home runs, 977 RBIs, a .425 on-base percentage, a .624 slugging percentage and 1,531 hits.
Don't be surprised if this is not the only major piece of hardware Pujols receives during this World Series. He is considered a strong candidate as the NL recipient of the Hank Aaron Award, which is scheduled to be presented at a similar news conference and ceremony just before Game 4 on Sunday. And he will be in the running for the NL MVP again, along with Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Pujols did not want to broach the subject of any other awards. At all.
"Obviously, right now, I don't want to talk about that award," he said when asked about the NL MVP possibility. "I'll let that come next month. Right now, I want to enjoy this great award that I won tonight. I don't want to lose the focus of this award tonight talking about other awards. ... It's a great honor, and when that time comes, hopefully, we can talk about that."
Pujols recently underwent successful ulnar nerve transposition surgery (not Tommy John surgery) on his right elbow, and he already has begun working out again. He said he hopes to be ready for Spring Training, and doctors told him 75 percent of his pain and swelling had been due to the nerve problem.
Pujols is a native of the Dominican Republic, and his annual trips back to his homeland to help underprivileged children are simply amazing -- especially considering his year-long commitment to training and performance as a ballplayer.
The foundation took a major step forward in 2007, when Pujols led a group of doctors to the Dominican to tend to roughly 1,000 poor children in need of medical assistance. The Cardinals had won the World Series the previous October, but Pujols missed the team's trip to the White House in order to participate in the mission.
"It's a little bit of everything," Pujols said at the time of the trip. "Just giving love to those kids, cleaning teeth, seeing what kind of surgery they need. ... Taking clothes, food, whatever we can do to help those kids out. You're talking about kids that lost their mom and dad when they were six months old, a year old. They haven't gotten love from their parents. We want to give that."
He said there are risks attached that are worth it, such as forcing your way into "tough" neighborhoods back in the Dominican where few "helpers" rarely dare to go.
"You're talking about places that people don't have TV," he said. "You're talking about a place the police, nobody wants to go in, because they're so afraid. And the doctor, they were praying and being faithful to our foundation, saying we're going to go and we're going to those places because we know there's a need there.
"You're talking about people if they wouldn't have the opportunity to see that doctor, maybe in two or three weeks they would have died with an infection in their teeth. We're really blessed to have that kind of team that's willing to support the foundation going down there."
In September, Pujols hosted his sixth annual golf tournament to raise money to send those dentists to the Dominican. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said at that event: "Albert, his foundation and the cause have become a part of our fabric."
This is what the Roberto Clemente Award means. It was probably a long time coming for the familiar No. 5 of the Gateway City.
"On behalf of the Clemente Family, I would like to congratulate Albert for his great success on the field, but more importantly, for his work off the field," Vera Clemente said. "I know Roberto is looking down at the work all of these players are doing to help others, and I know he is very proud that people like Albert are creating your own legacy as a great humanitarian."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.