John Keen, Staff Writer
Every fall, the month of September marks Hispanic Heritage Month, a celebration of Hispanic and Latinos contributions to society.
From Luis Castro, the first Hispanic Major League Baseball player, to modern-day sluggers such as Albert Pujols and David Ortiz, no American sport has benefited more from Hispanic contributions than the MLB.
Perhaps the best known and most well-respected Hispanic baseball player was Roberto Clemente.
Clemente, a .317 lifetime hitter with 3,000 career hits, was known for much more than his on-field achievements.
Manny Sanguillén, Clemente’s Pittsburgh Pirates teammate and fellow Hispanic, best summarized Clemente’s legacy.
“Roberto Clemente played the game of baseball with great passion. That passion could only be matched by his unrelenting commitment to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate and those in need. People saw Roberto as a great ballplayer and humanitarian. He was also a great father, husband, teammate and friend,” Sanguillén said, via Baseball Almanac.
Clemente’s philanthropy was so profound, MLB created the Roberto Clemente award to honor on and off field contributions.
Current Hispanic players understand the difficulty of transitioning from poor Latin countries to a MLB lifestyle and the importance of giving back, as Los Angeles Angels star Pujols acknowledged when winning the 2008 Roberto Clemente Award during his time with the St. Louis Cardinals.
“At the end of the day, when all is said and done playing this game, it doesn’t matter what you did on the field it’s what you do off the field and the lives that you touched…I try to do that when I go back to the Dominican Republic,” Pujols said.
While Pujols has since moved to Anaheim, his Pujols Family Foundation still serves over 500 families affected by Down syndrome in the greater St. Louis area.
Ortiz, 2011 Roberto Clemente Award winner, and his charity help lower income families in the Dominican Republic and the New England area with access to critical pediatric services. While Carlos Beltran, 2013 Clemente Award winner, helps promote health, fitness and education for lower income families.
Furthermore, Since Clemente’s career, Hispanic-born players in MLB have increased substantially, reaching 29.3 percent in 2015.
MLB front offices have been greatly affected by Hispanic contributions as well. The Colorado Rockies’ and the aforementioned Angels’ ownership is, in majority, run by Hispanic interest groups, while the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies are operated by Hispanic general managers.
When it comes to on-field contributions, MLB teams have reached the sport’s pentacle with Hispanics at the helm. The Chicago White Sox hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy with Hispanic manager Ozzie Guillen leading them to the 2005 World Series.
Whether on the field or off, Hispanic influences have shaped MLB like no other American sport, influences that should be celebrated this Hispanic Heritage month.