From Mike Murphy
What was the single most memorable moment of your career? What is the one career accomplishment that means most to you?
An unfair question. There were moments, both good and bad, that are enduring.
Moment I was most proud of? Winning the Roberto Clemente Award in 2001.
Back in the winter before the 1992 season Shonda and I were talking and she asked me “What’s the one award you want to win before your career is over?”
My answer? The Roberto Clemente Award. The reasons were many. Growing up a Pirate fan (my dad was born and raised in Somerset, PA) I was a fan from the time I can remember, around 1971, until I got to the big leagues. I grew up with the Pirates of the ’70’s, which was a great time to be a Bucs fan. My dads favorite player when I was very young was Mr. Clemente. He loved everything about him, that he was an all around player, could beat you with his bat, legs, arm, glove, whatever was needed to win.
True story. I paid to go to one MLB game in my entire life. My dad took me to see the final regular season game of the 1971 season, September 30th, in Three Rivers. For folks that might not understand the significance, the game was between the Pirates and the Mets. In what would be the final regular season at bat of his career Mr Clemente doubled off John Matlack for his 3000th career hit. He would die in a plane crash three months later, taking aid to Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua. When the news came out, it was the first time I’d ever seen my father cry, so obviously I cried. I idolized Mr Clemente my entire life, because my father did. I was an obsessed baseball fan so I read up on Mr Clemente and came to understand the man was every bit as big, if not bigger, than the player. The way his teammates talked about him, the way fans revered him.
I came to look at the Clemente award as something you had to earn, as a human being, that what you did on the field meant very little other than you needed to be an MLB player to be eligible. But the award represented things that were, when all was said and done, far more important than a win, loss or shutout. You had to impact peoples lives, you had to use the window of opportunity baseball gave you. Shonda and I tried to do that, and in the end, being nominated and then winning, meant that someone thought we had made a positive impact off the field.
I was able to come on the field with Shonda, and (at the time) our 2 kids, Gehrig and Gabriella, and receive the award, and explain to them why this happened. Proud to say our oldest Gehrig is a Best Buddy, and Gabby has aspirations to work with disadvantaged children, and I like to think that these moments meant enough to them to do that.
I was honored and flattered to be able to meet and get to know the Clemente family. I also had a chance to meet Mr Stargell before he passed and got to talk to him at length about playing with Roberto. Pops was my new favorite player after Mr Clemente passed.
Roberto Clemente, like Lou Gehrig, came to represent everything that was amazing about this game, and winning an award with Mr Clemente’s name on it was the, I think, the most important achievement of my career.