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Top 10 baseball legends and humanitarians - Through The Fence Baseball

Top 10 baseball legends and humanitarians

by Mike Viso | Posted on Sunday, April 1st, 2012
| 1714 baseball fanatics read this article

Winning the Roberto Clemente Award in 2008 exemplifies the type of person Albert Pujols is off the field. (Tim Shaffer/REUTERS)

Who doesn’t like a list, honestly? Lists allow you to rank things and tell people why you’re correct and they don’t know what they’re talking about. I love arbitrary power. It’s pretty delicious. Currently, I have an intern and two producers that work under me. They’re really fun people and do a great job. However, I just yell nonsensical things at them randomly so they can hear what I would kind of sound like if I get mad. The perk of working in such a relaxed environment — besides wearing jeans, hat and t-shirt to work — is I’m not scolded for meltdowns during the day when something isn’t going right. It’s really good for your blood pressure and mental health.

For example: The other day, I thought I confirmed Bill Cosby coming into our studio for an interview. I screamed, “(expletive) yeah” and sprinted down the hall to tell my host. Then I got an e-mail saying he was going to join us by phone instead. I was disheartened, so, after sulking, I kicked a trash can, walked into the producer’s studio and yelled at the associate producer, “Eli Manning is a mouth-breathing dork. Go make me a turkey pot pie.” As a Giants fan, he was trying to defend Manning, but he was confused by my demand of turkey pot pie. As he halted mid-sentence in defense of Manning to ask me about pie, it made me feel better. I was able to go about my day and book a Madonna impersonator instead. Win-win.

What does that have to do with anything? Nothing. I just like the fact that you read that because I honestly have no idea how I was going to start this article before I sat down. So with that in mind, I present to you:

Mike Viso’s All-Time Good Guys. These guys are not only legends on the field, but should be remembered for the great things they did or do for their fellow man.

10. Sandy Koufax — In a time where racial segregation was ending but still left an uneasy feeling, Koufax brought about a different conversation. America has always been a “Christian” nation, so Koufax — not only acknowledging his Jewish heritage, but refusing to play in one of the biggest games of his career — is nothing short of admirable. Revisionist history might not be so kind if the Dodgers had lost that series to the Twins or if Koufax didn’t bounce back from a game two loss to throw two shutouts, but it worked out well. Koufax went on to become the face of the Jewish community in America and internationally. He was even drafted in 2007 in the inaugural Israeli Baseball League draft!

Besides the work that he has done for his fellow Jewish brethren, Koufax also serves on the Baseball Assistance Team, which is a non-profit dedicated to helping former major league, minor league, and Negro league players through financial and medical difficulties.

9. Tony Gwynn — Could there be a nicer guy in all of sports? If so, please tell me. Tony Gwynn, aka Mr. Padre, aka Mr. Video, was one of the truly “good guys” in baseball. He did everything the “right way.”

On top of being a quiet superstar, Gwynn has given back to the community. A huge supporter of children, Gwynn was a Humanitarian Hall of Fame inductee back in 1999 with the likes of Tom Landy. Continuing the theme of giving to the youth, Gwynn also has coached at his alma mater, San Diego State University. His struggles with cancer have been noted, and at times, lost in the media. Gwynn continues to battle on, always with the twinkle in his eye and the smile that made him so very loveable.

8. Cal Ripken Jr. — This is one I truly struggled with. I’ve heard mixed opinions on Ripken and his off-the-field demeanor. He is hailed as a baseball brat who grew up to break a record of one of the greatest people in sports history, Lou Gehrig. We know about the amazing work he has done for youth baseball. Baseball leagues went from being called “Babe Ruth” to “Cal Ripken.” But some have heard about his standoffish ways, the rumors of his wife’s infidelity with a certain baseball movie star, and how he isn’t personable. However, he’s done a lot for the youth and that can’t be ignored. Plus, he does a good job in the studio shows, so maybe I’m just biased because of his send-off in his final All-Star game versus the way Tony Gwynn was treated.

7. Gary Carter — I collaborated on some of this list. I took suggestions on my Facebook and Twitter pages, so that’s how Ripken got on there. I do have to admit that this pick goes to my dad. A Phillies fan his whole life, he admired and despised Gary Carter. A Hall of Famer and all around humanitarian, Carter was one of the greats who gets lost in some generations. I plead ignorance. I knew of Carter, but not the true talents he brought to the game. Off the field, Carter was someone that I will want my kids to emulate.

Carter was not only a quality media analyst and a great coach in the minors, but his foundation has had a huge impact in the Florida area. The Gary Carter Foundation aids children who live in poverty. Not only does his charity help people, but what elevates Carter to the number seven spot is his involvement with the organization.

Even through his battle with cancer, Carter was a hero and I hope that future generations aren’t as ignorant to his impact on the world as I was.

6. Babe Ruth — Simply said, “The Babe.” This is a man whose legend is as great as he was. Born into a dysfunctional family, Ruth spent his early years hanging around the bar his father owned. Following his mother’s death, his father could no longer handle his only child and signed his rights over to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. This was a reformatory school and orphanage for infants up to young men. You can argue that this experience is what pushed him to be a titan both on and off the field during his time.

There’s no secret when it comes to Ruth’s womanizing, partying and other less-than-wholesome activities. However, you can’t argue with what he did for children. Ruth was a pioneer in his charitable contributions. Because of his celebrity, earning power and status, he was able to make a living solely off baseball, unlike many of his contemporaries. This afforded Ruth the time and means to give to sickly, abandoned and underprivileged youth. He was one of the first of his day to start a foundation for a cause, and his legacy is cemented until the end of time both on and off the field.

One interesting fact about Ruth that gets looked over is that he got 95 percent of the vote to get into the Hall of Fame. Who didn’t vote for him!?

5. Rod Carew — No sexy pick here, but a solid one in Rod Carew. An ambassador for the game, Carew has had a hand in showing the talent level that South Americans bring to the table. This market is heavily scoured today. What Carew has also done is bring to light, much like Koufax, that race or creed shouldn’t have an affect on how you play the game. While Carew never officially converted to Judaism, he raised his children in that religion and has been revered by the community. Oddly enough, Carew is a devout Christian and has spent extensive time giving back to that community as well.

While you can’t pinpoint one great cause under Carew, you can find several examples of his generosity and compassion for mankind. Carew’s daughter, Michelle, fought a tough battle with leukemia and couldn’t be cured because her rare Panamanian-Jewish heritage limited the donor pool. Michelle couldn’t overcome the disease and passed at just 18 years old. Carew has also had a cancer scare because of his prolonged use of chewing tobacco. The most impressive part of Carew’s background was his willingness to serve a six-year commitment to the United States Marine Corps Reserves during his prime in the 1960s.

The fascinating thing about Carew is we will never know where he could have placed among the all-time greats. After his contract wasn’t renewed by the Angels in 1985, Carew was forced to retire after zero teams offered him so much as a minor league deal. Carew’s numbers weren’t fantastic in his last seson, his .280 AVG was the second lowest of his career, but by no means did he slip so far from grace that he couldn’t compete. While you hear of this from spurned players from time-to-time, Carew’s claim was justified a decade after he was forced to retire. He received just over $780,000 in damages. The number was based on what he would have made if he played one more year. It’s hard to fathom that happening in our world today when guys like Manny Ramirez can still find a home.

4. Albert Pujols — This offseason may have been the only one in Albert Pujols’ career that was marred by negativity. Known for his superior play and giving nature, it was a shock to many that Pujols would “betray” the Cardinals and move to greener pastures. I can empathize with the frustration, hurt, anger and sense of bewilderment, but I don’t agree.

The shelf-life of a professional athlete is short and rarely sweet. Men like Pujols have opportunities to make money outside of baseball, however, that may not last forever. Maybe he wants to spend all of his time with his family after his retirement. Maybe Pujols doesn’t want $100,000 a year to be away from his family for weeks on end to broadcast or analyze. Really think about the type of pay cut he would be taking and the amount of commitment it would take to be a broadcaster.

Give the guy a break. If you’re not a St. Louis Cardinals fan, suck it up. What this man does for the game, how he plays the game and what he uses that extra $20 million for has such a great impact that I’m glad he took it. Don’t forget about the hometown discount he gave the Cardinals some years ago. With that off my chest, let’s talk about what the three-time MVP and four-time MVP runner-up has done for humanity. Let this not be undersold: When Pujols met his wife, she had a child with Down syndrome from a previous relationship. Realistically, that shouldn’t deserve accolades, but in today’s world, it says something about the character of a person, especially for someone as devout a Christian as Pujols. He didn’t judge his future wife’s past, he accepted her and her family. The difficulties of relationships are rigorous enough, but adding a child makes it even more so. Oh, did I mention that Pujols was just 20 years old as well?

Besides taking care of his family (he has three additional children), Pujols is looking for a cure for those with Down syndrome. Not just children, but adults. His charity is a non-profit organization that promotes awareness of Down syndrome and works to support those who have it and their families, aids the poor in the Dominican Republic, and supports people with disabilities and/or life threatening illnesses. The foundation also hosts numerous events to raise money and awareness for Down syndrome. It has even built and a home to house adults with Down syndrome.

Personally, Pujols has taken several trips with doctors and dentists to his native Dominican Republic to offer services to those in need. Much like his commitment to Down syndrome, Pujols also hosts events to raise money for his trips to the Dominican Republic.

3. Lou Gehrig — The top three are really in a category of their own. It starts with Lou Gehrig and could certainly end with him as well. If you don’t get chills from this speech, regardless of your favorite team, you are a heartless monster and I take pity on your soul. What Gehrig meant to baseball as a sport is astounding. Easily one of the greatest, if not the greatest, first baseman who ever lived. Pujols has given him a run for his money, but what a battle that’ll be when it’s all said and done. Gehrig’s demeanor off the field and his reputation can only be challenged by the two men ahead of him on this list. A Columbia graduate in a day and age when people weren’t going to college in a sport that still is notoriously undereducated, Gehrig was like no other before or after him.

We all know about Lou Gehrig’s disease and vaguely know the struggle that abruptly ended Gehrig’s career and life, but because of Gehrig being the face of this terminal disease, millions have been able to extend their lives even if it is in the slightest. I don’t want to oversell my knowledge of the disease and how close scientists are to a cure; however, because of Gehrig, the brilliant minds working on a cure are exponentially closer than they ever would be without Gehrig’s name on the disease. Gehrig is a true hero, and it’s a shame that we never got to know him past his playing days.

2. Jackie Robinson — You can begin and end the conversation with Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. But that wouldn’t do justice to the type of man Robinson was and what he contributed to society. You can argue that the civil rights movement started with Robinson and propelled the realization that segregation is an asinine idea. If a black man can be successful, respected and beloved in America’s national pastime, then what makes him different from every other black person? More importantly, what makes his white teammates and the white fans watching any better?

The amount of time you can talk about Robinson, his accomplishments and his unique journey is way more than I can ever type and/or explain. Instead, take some time to read about him. An American hero, role model and the best example of how sports can affect our country and the world. I can’t say enough about this man, and I won’t try to because I’ll only muddle his accomplishments. What is even more important about Robinson was his demeanor as a man on the field, but his willingness to express his disgust with what was said around him. Robinson was outspoken and was punished for his behavior on occasion; however, that never stopped him from fighting for what he believed in.

1. Roberto Clemente — The heart and soul of the Puerto Rican people to this day, Roberto Clemente is the most famous person in Puerto Rico’s history. Now, I may be a little biased because I’m of Puerto Rican descent, and I became aware of his life at young age. My grandfather speaks of the days when he was a boy in Puerto Rico and worked at the stadium to catch a glimpse of Clemente. However, what Clemente meant to the Puerto Rican people is still something that is comparable to American greats. Everything in Puerto Rico bears his name, children still emulate him and he is the gold standard of what people want to be.

Just a few months ago, I was watching a special on MLB Network call “The Enduring Spirit of Roberto Clemente”. Although I’ve always been a fan, I was moved to tears as I heard of a man who was given every talent, squeezed the most out of it and gave more than most humans ever will, let alone athletes. Not only was he charitable, but he also had an impact on a racially tinged town in Pittsburgh. Clemente, like Robinson, was the face of the race in the city.

Clemente’s journey to help the people of Nicaragua and personally deliver supplies after a corrupt government was stealing from the people is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Sadly, his son had a dream just a short time before predicting this and Clemente told his son that it was fine and this was something he must do. His life and legacy is undervalued and I hope this article can shed light on an amazing player and hero.

Honorable Mention: Derek Jeter, Willie Mays, Ryan Howard, Stan Musial, Jim Thome.

These players are in no specific order. They may not stand out to you at first glance, but do some homework and you’ll see their commitment to various charities and humanitarian efforts are outstanding.

We always hear about the negative aspects about athletes: They want more money, they are promiscuous, self-involved or just outright jerks. That’s not the always the case, and I think it’s only fair to shed light on those who have shaped the world with their bodies and souls.

Post By Mike Viso (25 Posts)

Mike is a just a regular baseball-loving guy. The lone exception is that he is devilishly handsome. A proud La Salle University graduate, the Vineland, NJ native has spent three years broadcasting baseball including the 2012 season as a broadcaster for the Carolina League Champion, Lynchburg Hillcats (Adv. A, Atlanta Braves). He has also spent time as the lead broadcaster for Radford University's Division I Women's Basketball program. Sports aren't Mike's only passion, you can find his random thoughts, recipes and movie reviews by following him on Twitter, @mikeviso, or on Facebook.

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