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Roberto Clemente was an elegant right fielder. He had a tremendous arm, he swung the bat with incredible force and he ran the bases in a daring fashion. When Clemente was on the field, it was almost impossible not to stare at him.
“Couldn’t take my eyes off him,” Paul O’Neill once said.
Aaron Judge is a regal right fielder. He has a powerful arm, he swings the bat with sensational force and he runs the bases in an athletic fashion. When Judge is on the field, it is almost impossible not to watch him.
“Everyone comes to see Judge,” David Cone has said.
There are definite similarities between the iconic Clemente and the larger-than-life Judge. And those two players became forever entwined on Monday when Judge won the Roberto Clemente Award. The annual award recognizes the major league player who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions.
For what Judge has done as a player and as a person, he is a perfect recipient of the Clemente Award. Judge is one of the most talented players in the major leagues, a 6-foot-7-inch, 282-pound giant who, like Clemente, is adept in all facets of the game and, like Clemente, is charitable away from the field.
When Judge hammered an American League record 62 homers for the Yankees in 2022, he was the A.L.’s Most Valuable Player. It was a memorable and surreal season for Judge who, again, had virtually every set of eyes watching his pursuit of Roger Maris’s total of 61 homers. Despite only playing in 106 games in an injury-plagued 2023, Judge still hit 37 homers.
In addition to Judge’s obvious exploits on the field, he has also been instrumental in impacting lives off the field. In 2018, Judge founded the ALL RISE Foundation, which has allowed him to create opportunities for children in San Joaquin County and Fresno County in California and in the Bronx, N.Y. According to ALL RISE, Judge has helped support more than 2,000 kids in various programs and initiatives.
When Judge was nominated for the Clemente award, he said Clemente was a “complete player” and “someone I try to model my game after.” Judge praised Clemente for his charitable work and how Clemente “touched every single fan” with his selflessness. Clemente notched his 3,000 career hit off the Mets’ Jon Matlack in the final game of the 1972 season.
Less than three months later, Clemente perished in a plane crash while he was trying to help coordinate the delivery of supplies to Nicaragua, which had been ravaged by an earthquake. The National Baseball Hall of Fame amended its rules so that a player who had been dead for at least six months would be eligible to be on the ballot. Clemente, who played his entire 18-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was inducted into the Hall in 1973.
For Judge, it has already been a busy and rewarding off-season. In addition to the prestigious Clemente award, Judge’s number 29 will be retired by Fresno State on the weekend of November 18 and 19. During Judge’s career at Fresno State, he batted .345 with 18 homers and 109 runs batted in across 169 games. Judge now wears number 99 for the Yankees, which is one of the best-selling jerseys in baseball.
And now number 99, that regal right fielder, has an indelible connection to Clemente, another elegant right fielder. It’s a connection that Judge will cherish forever.