By Joe Rini
Despite the freezing temperatures that made me wish I had parked my car a few blocks closer to the New York Hilton Midtown on Saturday January 26, once inside its Grand Ballroom, it became a perfect night for baseball as the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) held its 96th annual dinner.
In presenting this year’s winners of the Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year with their awards, the BBWAA dinner tied a bow on the 2018 season with the start of spring training 2019 within view. Among the other honors bestowed by the New York chapter were the Joe DiMaggio “Toast of the Town” award to David Wright, the Arthur Richman “You Gotta Have Heart” award to Sandy Alderson, and the “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke” award to the 1969 Mets.
The day to day of professional baseball can be grindingly glamorous, with moments of success and hours of training and preparation so it was moving to hear the honorees thank their families for their sacrifices and support that enabled them to succeed. In accepting the Casey Stengel “You Could Look It Up” award, Yankee broadcaster and former star outfielder Ken Singleton thanked his wife for her support and of his children he said, “I went 4 for 4.” Sandy Alderson, who brought cheers to the crowd when he announced he has been cancer free for four months, thanked his wife of 49 years (also a cancer survivor) for being there for him when he returned from the military, helping him through law school, and for her support in his career and dealing with his recent illness.
AL MVP Mookie Betts recalled his mother’s fast and adventurous driving that got him to his games on time and recounted the hours his father pitched to him, shooting hoops together, and running football pass patterns with him. Tongue in cheek, Betts even thanked his 10-week old daughter for the two hours sleep she allows him a night (hopefully, she’ll be sleeping through the night by Opening Day, Mookie). Cy Young award winner and “New York Player of the Year” Jacob deGrom mentioned that he and his Dad still play catch together in the offseason.
Newly inducted Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera was celebrated for being the first player voted unanimously, and the all-time saves leader told the honorees on the dais, “Keep playing the hard way. Love the game. Respect the game. You are tremendous ambassadors” for the game. In a similar vein, 1969 World Series hero Ron Swoboda said, “It isn’t easier to be a baseball player today. These guys are good. It’s a tough game with better players playing it. Bigger…stronger…these guys can do it.”
Swoboda was joined by former teammates Cleon Jones, Ed Kranepool, and Art Shamsky in accepting the award for the 1969 Mets. After joking that he was usually asleep at this hour, Jones was effusive in his praise for Gil Hodges, saying he “molded this group into a team…if not for Gil Hodges, we would not be talking about the 1969 Mets.”
Jacob deGrom was modest in his moment of triumph, grateful to everyone from the writers who voted for him to the clubhouse staff that gets him ready to play. He thanked the Mets for “taking a chance on a shortstop slash pitcher who didn’t want to be a pitcher.”
The recently retired David Wright capped off the evening and was alternatively humorous and thoughtful in his remarks. He joked about fatherhood and playing with John Franco as a rookie, but in recalling the 2015 postseason, he said, “2015 was extremely special, waiting that long to get to the playoffs with a group of guys that were grinders, blue collar type players…I tried to soak it in as much as I could.” His homerun in Game 3 of the World Series was his most memorable moment; recalling the “chaos in the stands” as he rounded third base still “sends chills down my spine.”
Speaking of the bond he had with the fans, Wright said, “A lot of times when I did wrong, they treated me like I could do no wrong and for that, I will forever be grateful.”