Wakefield, Lidge honored at B.A.T. Dinner
Event raises money for former baseball personnel in need
NEW YORK -- Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield remembers a time when one of his friends, who is no longer in baseball, had fallen on some hard times. The veteran knuckleballer, who is an active part of the community both in Boston and in his offseason home in Melbourne, Fla., made a call to the Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.), and the organization promptly came to the rescue.
Phillies closer Brad Lidge can tell a similar story about how B.A.T. aided his former teammate Ricky Stone, a right-hander who played six seasons in the Majors and was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor after retiring.
"I've seen the personal side of it and know what they're about," Wakefield said of B.A.T., an organization devoted to assisting members of the baseball family with financial assistance and counseling. "And I am very proud to be a part of it."
Wakefield and Lidge were a big part of Tuesday's 21st annual Going to Bat for B.A.T. Dinner, which gave fans a chance to eat and interact with past and present Major Leaguers to help benefit the B.A.T. Wakefield was presented with the Bart Giamatti Award, which is bestowed yearly to the player who best exemplifies the compassion demonstrated by the late Baseball Commissioner, while Lidge was named the recipient of the Big BAT/Frank Slocum Award for his continued financial generosity to the B.A.T organization.
"We all talk about making a difference in people's lives, but the modern day player, because they are starting to contribute money, they are able to benefit more people," said Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, who was one of more than 120 players seated among fans on Tuesday night.
"Obviously, it's kind of an autograph session. But it's a real worthwhile autograph you get because people are helping B.A.T."
Since its inception in 1986, B.A.T. has awarded more than $19 million in grants benefiting former players, umpires, scouts, front office personnel and players and families involved with the Minor Leagues, Negro Leagues and Women's Professional Baseball League.
"I'm happy to be involved, even if it's just a small part, as far as coming in to meet with the public," former Red Sox outfielder Fred Lynn said. Named the American League's Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in 1975, Lynn was one of 19 former MVPs who came out to show their support for B.A.T.
"There aren't many sports groups that have this facility for people that have fallen on hard times, for whatever reason," he said. "I'm real proud of baseball that we have protected our own."
It's a trend the organization hopes will continue through programs like the B.A.T. Payroll Deduction Program, which allows players to donate directly out of their paychecks.
The top contributing teams from each league, the World Series champion Yankees and Astros, were recognized as the recipients of the inaugural Bobby Murcer Award, which honors the late B.A.T Chairman and Yankees legend.
"Bobby worked very hard trying to get players to give back," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who accepted the award on his team's behalf. "It has come to fruition and the players have been generous.
"For our team to be the highest giving team in the American League, it says a lot about Bobby, but it also says a lot about our organization," Girardi added. "To me, what the Steinbrenner family has always done is give back. To have Bobby's name on the award is just so fitting."
Houston outfielder Hunter Pence accepted the award on behalf of the Astros. A native Texan, Pence has been diligently generating support for Happy Hills Farm, which is a program based out of Granbury, Texas, that aids children who need a safe place to live.
"A lot of other guys in baseball give back to their communities that support them," Wakefield said. "They do it quietly. They do it because they care. They do it because they want to, not to be recognized. But it is an honor to be recognized especially by an organization like B.A.T. that does a lot of the same stuff that [current players] do."
"When you play baseball, you are kind of insulated, you are one of 750 people, you are a pretty special group," Palmer said. "But the minute you get out of baseball, you are like anyone else. You have health issues, you have family issues, sometimes you get better jobs than others, sometimes you can't even get a job ... and B.A.T. has been there over the years."
Added former All-Star Jim Bouton: "There's a tremendous amount of help that people can get, and I think most players feel the same way about B.A.T. I've been to every dinner; I plan to come to every one. As long as I can walk, I'll be here."
Brittany Ghiroli is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.