The Roberto Clemente Award is given annually to a Major League Baseball player selected for his character and charitable contributions to his community. It is named for Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente, who was killed in a plane crash in 1972 while delivering supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
Throughout his career, and especially in 1998, Sammy Sosa has exemplified the philanthropic spirit and love of the game; and thus was awarded with The Roberto Clemente Award. In winning the prestigious award for community service, Sosa became only the second Hispanic recipient of the exclusive honor, following Panamanian-born Rod Carew who was honored in 1977.
(Note: Since that time two Hispanic stars, Seattle Mariner Edgar Martinez in 2004 and NY Met Carlos Delgado have been subsequently honored with the award.)
In 1998, major league baseball was still struggling with the “low attendance hangover” from the mid-90’s baseball strike, and it desperately needed something to ignite the fan base into returning to major league ballparks. That “something” turned out to be Sosa’s colorful personality, dynamic batting style and winning smile, which made him a household name. Although he ended the ‘98 season second to McGwire with 66 home runs — it was still five more than the previous record and more than enough to cement Sosa’s place as one of history’s most dynamic home run hitters.
In true Roberto Clemente style, Sammy Sosa not only gives to the local Chicago community, but to his homeland of the Dominican Republic as well. In the Dominican he has financed a $1.2 million office/retail building known as "30-30 Plaza." With the building of this facility, Sammy has employed hundreds of local citizens. Back in Chicago, Sammy launched "Sammy Claus," where he visited five U.S. cities distributing 7,000 toys to underprivileged children. He also sponsors two RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities) Teams and frequently speaks to kids about the importance of education. These are just a few of Sammy's many civic and community contributions.
Despite his achievements, Sosa never stopped working to improve his game. Before the 1998 season, Sosa heeded baseball critics by working with Cubs’ hitting coach Jeff Pentland to slow down his swing; thereby cutting down on his strikeouts and hitting more to the opposite field. Armed with an improved swing and new attitude, Sosa put together one of the most remarkable months in major league history. From May 25 through June 21, he hit 21 home runs in 22 games. Then, in a game against the Detroit Tigers, Sosa broke the major league record for home runs in a month when he hit his 19th and 20th homers during June.
He joined Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals as the only two players in National League history to hit 30 home runs before July 1. By the All-Star break, he had 33 homers, and Sosa's hot streak suddenly propelled him into the race to break the single-season home run record of 61 set by Roger Maris of the New York Yankees in 1961.
During the media frenzy that surrounded the epic home run chase, Sosa showcased his boyish charm and honest enjoyment of the game. "I go to bed happy every night,” Slammin’ Sammy was quoted as saying. “ I tell you true, I am having a good time. This is like an amazing miracle for me. I just have to say, 'Thank you God for putting me in the situation I am in now.' This is a beautiful country. God bless America."
Despite the fact that Sosa finished second to McGwire with 66 home runs in 1998, his final statistics made the Chicago slugger the favorite to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award. He finished the year with career bests in batting average (.308), RBI (158, first in the major leagues), runs scored (132, first in the major leagues), and hits (198, tied for fifth in the National League).
Little Known Sosa Facts:
In 1993, Sosa became the first player in Cubs' history to both hit more than 30 home runs (33) and steal more than 30 bases (36).
A player's strike cut short the 1994 season, but Sosa still hit 36 home runs (second in the National League), drove in 119 runs (second in the National League), stole 34 bases (seventh in the National League), and made his first All-Star Game appearance