Murcer honored for rousing recovery
Ex-Yankee's emotional acceptance punctuates BBWAA Awards
NEW YORK -- The fact that Bobby Murcer even made it to the New York Hilton on Sunday night represented something of a miracle. Science said he shouldn't have been there. Common sense agreed. But when it came time for the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America to present its annual Milton Richman "You Gotta Have Heart" Award, there stood Murcer, ready to accept.
Barely one year after doctors diagnosed him with a malignant brain tumor, Murcer took the podium not as a victim, but as a survivor. His determination had helped that miracle happen, to be sure -- and so too, had the determination of others.
"The reason I'm here tonight is because of all your love for me," Murcer told a crowd of writers, players, Hall of Famers and fans at the 85th annual New York BBWAA dinner. "That's what's sustained me and that's what's given me the strength to be here tonight and to fight this deadly disease."
While Murcer was just one winner among many on Sunday, his award meant something more. And the crowd certainly punctuated that, honoring him with a rousing standing ovation after new Yankees manager Joe Girardi presented the award.
"Bobby, you've inspired us with all the hits and the great catches," Girardi said, "but you've never inspired us more than with the way you live your life."
There was reason for inspiration throughout the event, in which stories from baseball's past intertwined with tales of hope and caring. Perhaps the dinner's most poignant moment came when an emotional Johnny Damon accepted his Joan Payson Award for excellence in community service. Damon earned the honor through his work with the Wounded Warrior Project, which aims to address the needs of soldiers wounded in battle.
Helping to present Damon's award was one of those soldiers, Army Capt. Tony Odierno, who lost his left arm during military duty in Iraq.
"I'm not that emotional of a person," Damon said, pausing several times to compose himself. "But for the freedoms that we have, we all should pay more attention to a gentleman like Tony who goes out and fights for it.
"We're going to make these guys come home and live normal lives, and feel like they're a part of our country still."
And so the night offered proof of just how wide baseball's reach has grown, and just how iconic its players can be.
There were plenty of lighter moments as well -- that's only expected when New York writers honor Red Sox players, and when rivals such as Mets manager Willie Randolph and Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins share a dais.
Randolph, for one, came prepared, taking the opportunity to poke fun at Rollins' boast last winter that the Phillies were the team to beat.
"How you doing, Jimmy?" Randolph asked as he took the podium. "You going to make some predictions today?"
Then Rollins took his turn, first thanking his mother for teaching him "how to talk trash," and then jokingly thanking Mets fans for giving him inspiration in 2007.
"I'm looking forward to 2008," he said with a smile.
As far as the game's current greats go, Rollins wasn't alone on the dais. One by one, each winner of a 2007 BBWAA award -- MVPs Alex Rodriguez and Rollins, Cy Young Award winners C.C. Sabathia and Jake Peavy, Rookies of the Year Dustin Pedroia and Ryan Braun, and Managers of the Year Eric Wedge and Bob Melvin -- came to the stage to accept their plaques, and one by one they addressed a crowd of writers who helped vote them in.
A-Rod took home some added hardware, winning the Sid Mercer Award as the player of the year for the third time in six seasons. Yogi Berra presented him with the award.
"Now that's pretty cool," A-Rod said. "Yogi Berra -- what a treat."
Recently retired Astros second baseman Craig Biggio won the Casey Stengel "You Can Look It Up" Award, an award designed to honor career achievement for those who had gone home empty-handed at previous dinners.
And Randolph, a pretty good second baseman himself, couldn't resist also taking a crack at Biggio, who holds the curious distinction of being a human magnet. Biggio was hit by 285 pitches over his 20-year career.
"You got hit 285 times?" Randolph joked. "Get out of the way, bro. I know you're taking one for the team, but that's ridiculous."
Naturally, some other Yankees -- past and present -- also snagged their fair share of hardware. After splashing on the scene last summer, pitcher Joba Chamberlain won the Joe DiMaggio "Toast of the Town" Award, which honors those players who have become New York favorites, while Joe Torre, who wasn't in attendance, won the William J. Slocum Award for long and meritorious service.
The Mets, too, got into the act, with closer Billy Wagner taking home the Ben Epstein "Good Guy" Award for his candor and accessibility to writers.
Not in attendance was Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who won the chapter's Babe Ruth Award for the most outstanding World Series performance of the year. Papelbon saved three of his team's four World Series wins last October without allowing a run.
In a nod to history, the Willie, Mickey and the Duke Award, which annually goes to a group of players forever linked in baseball history, this year went to Denny McLain and Luis Tiant, who were among the best starters in the league in 1968, the "Year of the Pitcher."
The New York chapter also honored Goose Gossage and Dick Williams, the two living members of this year's Hall of Fame class.
"To go in as a Yankee, I can't tell you what that means," Gossage said. "I played for eight other teams and loved every moment of every other team that I played for. But playing for the New York Yankees and putting those pinstripes on, there is absolutely nothing like it."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.