MLB royalty brave storm for annual B.A.T. dinner
Selig, Weiner among honorees in front of more than 75 past, present players
NEW YORK -- The snow fell sideways all day Tuesday and blanketed Manhattan with around a foot of accumulation, making the normally busy sidewalks treacherous and canceling many events. It was accompanied by Arctic temperatures that led masses to stay home or stay away.
But you wouldn't know it from the near-capacity crowd inside a ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. An impressive turnout, including more than 75 past or present players dispersed among tables, braved Winter Storm Janus to be part of a Who's Who night in baseball and raise funds for the Baseball Assistance Team at its 25th annual "Going to Bat for B.A.T." Dinner. Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Orlando Cepeda, Rollie Fingers and Tommy Lasorda were among the guests.
"It's a tough night for even thinking of coming here," said Major League legend and one of B.A.T.'s founding fathers, Rusty Staub, as the crowd erupted in a unified cheer. "My deepest appreciation for all of us, all the players that are here, thank you to everybody."
The first Commissioner Bud Selig Leadership Award was presented to its namesake, who has ardently supported B.A.T. and this dinner for more than two decades. Michael Weiner, the former MLB Players Association executive director who passed away in November after a battle with brain cancer, was posthumously awarded the B.A.T. Lifetime Achievement Award. Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins received the Big B.A.T. / Frank Slocum Award and Michael Young, now an unsigned free agent, was given the Bart Giamatti Award -- both based on their community service.
B.A.T. provides a means of support to qualified applicants and their families who have nowhere else to turn, helping those within the extended baseball family who have financial, psychological or physical burdens. Through charitable contributions from corporations, foundations and individuals, B.A.T. has raised more than $29 million since its inception in 1986 and has helped 3,100 cases.
"The Baseball Assistance Team does invaluable work, and on behalf of Major League Baseball, I want to thank all of you for supporting one of the most unique organizations in sports," Selig said in a video recording after the weather canceled his travel plans. "One of the wonderful things I have come to learn in my more than 50 years in baseball is that our national pastime is so much more than a game. It is a social institution with important social responsibilities. Whether it's providing opportunities for youth, supporting the fight against cancer or giving aid to communities in need when tragedy strikes, I am very proud to say that baseball has embraced its responsibility to making a difference in the lives of others."
The Commissioner said he was "honored to be mentioned alongside" Weiner.
"Michael and the players union rallied behind the Baseball Assistance Team and encouraged all players to contribute," Selig said. "They have been crucial to the continued success of B.A.T. Like B.A.T., Michael was one of a kind. He was a gentleman to everyone he encountered, a man who loved his family, and an extraordinarily talented individual who earned the respect of all throughout the national pastime. The world lost a very special person. He is someone for whom I had a tremendous amount of admiration."
Weiner's widow, Diane, accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award and received a standing ovation before and after her moving speech. She and their three daughters sat at a table near the stage along with Tony Clark, Weiner's successor as the union chief.
"Your recognition at this beautiful event affirms Mike's life, the good work he was able to do with the time he had," Diane said. "I don't think it means anything statistically, but I like the coincidence that Mike's tenure with the players association lasted 25 years, and tonight we celebrate B.A.T.'s 25th anniversary."
While playing with the Rangers, Young was involved with Wipe Out Kids' Cancer, a non-profit foundation. He began the young Heroes Scholarship Program in 2006, helping young adults in the U.S. who overcame their battle with cancer and look forward to pursuing higher education. He and wife Cristina launched the Michael Young Family Foundation in 2011, helping various causes.
"To be able to win it is very humbling," Young said. "I'd like to thank my fellow players. We are in a fortunate position where we get to be around the Baseball Assistance Team every spring and hear the stories about the fantastic things they do in the community, and to be recognized by them is a tremendous honor. I'd like to thank my wife Cristina, who spearheads our foundation. She does all the legwork, the heavy lifting, for our foundation from the beginning of the season to the end while I'm out playing baseball."
In addition to his many on-field exploits, Rollins created the Jimmy Rollins Family Foundation, which began by assisting the fight against juvenile diabetes and now includes the fight against juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Rollins was an early advocate of helping Philadelphia Reads, improving kids' literacy, and in 2007 created JRoll's Aces, rewarding children from underserved communities who excel in school. He is involved with the Stop Child Abuse Pennsylvania program and other causes.
"I am honored to be the recipient of this year's Frank Slocum Award and recognized by an organization that helps so much for those in the baseball family in times of need," Rollins said, before adding some improv comedy to the video he taped at snowy Citizens Bank Park earlier in the day.
The Bobby Murcer Award was presented to the Dodgers and Yankees for leading their respective leagues the past year in giving the greatest amount of resources to B.A.T.
Former Pirates and Orioles outfielder Tike Redman was introduced along with his wife Lesley and their three children, Jalyn, Imani and Justus. The Redmans were grant recipients, their mortgage and utilities covered in two consecutive six-month grants by B.A.T. during a crisis in which Jalyn underwent cancer surgery and more than a year of chemotherapy while their costs mounted. Jalyn just celebrated four years of being cancer-free.
"It's heartwarming. It almost brings tears to your eyes when they explain and tell their stories," former Dodgers All-Star Reggie Smith said at the event. "But they are tears of joy that we are able to do something and help some people."