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World Series 2001
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10/29/2001 01:44 AM ET
Bauman: Schilling a deserving award winner
Curt Schilling's son Gehrig points out the Roberto Clemente Award after it was presented to his father before Game 2 of the World Series.
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Schilling receives Clemente award:
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Schilling receives Roberto Clemente Award

PHOENIX -- When the Commissioner of Baseball said "I don't think baseball has ever had a more deserving winner of this great award" the comment, in this case, seemed more like literal truth than polite rhetoric.

Bud Selig was speaking of Curt Schilling winning the 2001 Roberto Clemente Award. There have undoubtedly been community-minded, altruistic, genuinely charitable men among the previous 28 who won this award. But it would be hard to find someone who understood better how to make his celebrity status work for those who were much less fortunate.

There are those of us who would've given Schilling an award based only on his open letter to the people of New York. There was nothing anybody could say or do to erase the tragedies of Sept. 11, but a kind word from a recognizable name might mean a moment's solace to somebody. It was worth the effort and Schilling made the effort. Better still, he had the intellectual depth to put his effort in a proper perspective. He knew there was a limit to anyone's words in this situation. And yet, he was moved to make the charitable gesture.

This is an age in which large numbers of the sporting public have grown increasingly cynical about professional sports and the people who play them. There are, of course, plenty of athletes who have done plenty of charitable work. But the truth is, there are extremely wealthy athletes who have never done anything for anybody outside of themselves, their immediate families, the flunkies in their entourages and, of course, their agents. (These categories don't, of course, include court-ordered child-support payments to women who have won paternity suits against the athletes in question.)

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In this climate, when you find a professional athlete who is genuine, charitable, tireless in his efforts on behalf of good causes and also capable of putting his contributions into the proper perspective, you ought to cherish him. You also ought to recognize him. This is what baseball did Sunday by giving the Clemente Award to Schilling.

The award goes annually to a player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship and community involvement. Beyond these humanitarian concerns, the award also takes into consideration the individual's contributions to a team. Baseball has been presenting this award since 1971, but its name was changed in 1973 to honor Clemente, who died in a plane crash while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

Schilling's primary charitable work has come in the fight against ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). In suitably poignant and eloquent remarks, Schilling told of how important Roberto Clemente was to him as a child growing up in Pennsylvania, how his father had told him that who Clemente was as a human being was more important than who he was as a ballplayer. Ten years ago, Schilling said, he and his wife, Shonda, were watching the World Series when the Clemente Award was being presented.

"I said to her: 'If I play long enough and I stay healthy enough, that's the one award I want to win before I'm done playing,'" Schilling said. "Because to win that award, it won't matter how many wins or how many strikeouts I have, I will have made a difference in peoples' lives.

"I would like to think that my father and Mr. Clemente, who are sitting in heaven right now with a pretty good smile on their faces, and my father is asking a lot of obnoxious questions...

"And so I hope that gives you a little insight to how much this actually means to my family and myself, and nothing that I will ever do in my lifetime as a baseball player will every top today and the meaning of this award. I thank you all and God bless."

It would be automatic to say here that baseball could really use more Curt Schillings. The better point is that at this moment humanity could really use more Curt Schillings. Not proposing him for sainthood. Not recommending him for a Nobel Prize. Just suggesting that this is a man who has gone beyond earning fame and fortune by putting that fame and fortune to very good use.

Mike Bauman is a columnist for MLB.com.