By Sean McAdam
SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Wakefield has won nearly 200 games in the big leagues, been a part of two world champions and, in his 17th season, was selected to the All-Star Game for the first time.
But when asked Thursday where winning the 2010 Roberto Clemente Award ranked among his many career highlights, Wakefield didn't hesitate.
"This is the ultimate. This is the highest,'' said Wakefield at a press conference prior to Game Two of the World Series. "This has nothing to do with baseball, or your statistics or anything. This has to do with your character. I take a lot of pride in my character, which ultimately is the highest accomplishment you can attain, it's the highest compliment you can get from somebody.
"I'm very humbled and honored at the same time to accept this award.''
Wakefield, 44, is the first Red Sox recipient to be honored with the award, which has been given annually since 1971, and since 1973 has been named for the late Pittsburgh Pirate great who died in a plane crash while on a relief mission to Nicaragua on Dec. 31, 1972.
Past winners have included Hall of Famers such as Willie Mays, Brooks Robinson, Tony Gwynn, and Al Kaline. Last year's winner was Derek Jeter.
The award is determined by a panel including commissioner Bud Selig and Vera Clemente, the Hall of Fame outfielder's widow. Fan voting is also incorporated into the process.
Wakefield long ago earned a reputation as one of Boston's most generous athletes when it comes to charitable endeavors. Each Tuesday when the Red Sox are home during the regular season, Wakefield hosts "Wakefield's Warriors,'' taking children from the Franciscan Hospital for Children and Dana Farber Clinic to meet Wakefield and watch batting practice at Fenway. He also hosts the annual Tim Wakefield Celebrity Golf tournament, which benefits special needs children in his hometown of Melbourne, Fla.
In addition, Wakefield works with Jason Varitek on the Pitching in for Kids program and generously donates to Teammates for Kids, a foundation run by country singer Garth Brooks.
Wakefield, who was originally drafted and signed by the Pirates, said he was aware of Clemente at a young age.
"Coming up in the Pirate organization,'' said Wakefield, "I got to witness first-hand what his legacy really meant and I've tried to continue to carry that torch into Boston . . . He was one of the greatest Pirates ever to put the uniform on. You knew not only his on-the-field contributions as a Pittsburgh Pirate, but you knew about his off-the-field contributions as well.
"It wasn't something that was harped upon by veteran players. You knew who Roberto Clemente was, what he meant and the ultimate sacrifice he paid for everything he did off the field. Not only was he a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but what he did off the field really epitomizes what I think athletes should be like.
"It doesn't really matter what you do on the field; what matters most is making a difference in someone else's life and Roberto was a class act when it came to that.''
"In addition to winning nearly 200 games in his career,'' said Selig, "Wakefield has been an All-Star when it comes to charitable initiatives for a long time . . . His efforts to help those in need has been remarkable.''
Each Major League team nominates one player annually and Wakefield had previously been nominated seven times before being chosen.
"You deserved this a long time ago,'' said Vera Clemente, the late Hall of Famer's wife. "God bless you.''
Phil Caruso, representing Chevrolet, the corporate sponsor of the award, added: "We all know about your accomplishments on the field. They're very well documented across the board. But it's your dedication to your activities off the field and the impact on the lives of the children that will last with them forever. You're truly a hero on and off the field.''