Willie, Joey and the Doc
By Craig Muder
One at a time, they approached the podium at the New York Hilton. Men of great fame, accustomed to honors and accolades.
And one at a time, they looked to their right – 30 feet away in the audience at the New York City Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner on Saturday night. And they acknowledged the great Willie Mays.
Ron Gardenhire, skipper of the Minnesota Twins and the 2010 American League Manager of the Year. Bud Harrelson, the glue that held the 1969 Miracle Mets together at shortstop. John Denny, the 1983 National League Cy Young Award winner.
Each told similar versions of the same tale, separated by only geography and time. Mays was their hero, the player who inspired them to what they became.
As more than one said: The greatest living ballplayer.
It was a chance to celebrate the Giants’ Hall of Famer, who will turn 80 this spring yet still elicits kid-like awe from three generations of baseball fans. For many, just sharing dinner with Mays was an experience they’ll never forget.
Mays, however, was far from the only star in the room. The best of the best from the 2010 season received their hardware Saturday night, joined at the head table by luminaries like 2011 Hall of Fame electee Pat Gillick, 2012 HOF hopeful Barry Larkin, and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.
It was the coda to the 2010 season, the official start of 2011. In 22 days, pitchers and catchers will begin to report to camps in Florida and Arizona. And the journey will begin anew.
It will be tough to top the heroics of 2010. Cy Young performances by Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez. MVP seasons by Josh Hamilton and Joey Votto. And farewell campaigns from legendary managers Bobby Box, Lou Piniella and Joe Torre.
But come January of 2012, the magic will return at the BBWAA dinner. Maybe not with the bonus of an appearance by Willie Mays, but with the joy that is reborn with every fresh season on the diamond.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.