Martinez, who spent all 18 of his major-league seasons with the Mariners, has been involved with a nearly a dozen charities and nonprofit organizations. The first Puerto Rican-born player to receive the honor, Martinez was given the award Tuesday by baseball commissioner Bud Selig and Roberto Clemente Jr.
"I was watching the World Series where Clemente played, in 1971," Martinez said. "And after that Series, I went outside in my house and I started playing in the yard, backyard, and I was hooked on baseball after that."
The award is named after the former Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder, who died in a plane crash New Year's Eve 1972 on a flight to deliver relief supplies to earthquake victims in
Martinez hit .263 with 12 homers and 63 RBI in his final season. A designated hitter for most of his career, he finished with a .312 career average and 309 homers.
"As great a player as Edgar Martinez has been on the field, he's been a greater human being off the field," Selig said.
Martinez said Clemente was his idol as a child.
"I didn't see him play in person, but I watched many of his highlights and he was a very unique player," he said. "It would be really hard to imitate Roberto Clemente."
Martinez has supported several charities, including Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, Children's Hospital, Overlake Hospital, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Wishing Star Foundation, United Way, Esperanza, the Page Ahead Children's Literacy Program, Big
Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Clubs and Mariners Care.
Pitcher Jamie Moyer, a teammate of Martinez for the past nine seasons, won the award last year. Willie Mays was the first winner of the award in 1971, and others include Pete Rose, Cal Ripken Jr., Sammy Sosa and Tony Gwynn.