The stars were out at the New York Hilton Saturday night at the 90th annual Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) Dinner.
This year’s award winners received their hardware, and of course, R.A. Dickey was the main event.
Dickey took home the 2012 NL Cy Young Award and was honored with the BBWAA’s “Joe DiMaggio Toast of the Town” award for forging a special bond with the New York fans.
Before Dickey took to the podium, the dais featured some of the top players in the game today including Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, David Price, Buster Posey and C.C. Sabathia. Former Met killer Chipper Jones was also in attendance to receive the BBWAA’s “Long and Meritorious Service” award.
The 1973 NL champion New York Mets were honored for their 40th anniversary. Rusty Staub and Buddy Harrelson accepted the “Willie, Clipper and the Duke” award. Willie Mays was actually there too and was given a standing ovation.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson was tasked with introducing the 1973 team. But before doing that, he acknowledged Dickey for his remarkable season.
“The contributions he’s made for the Mets not just this year but over three years, it’s been a privilege of mine to watch him perform over the last two,” he said. “I think everyone, Mets fans and baseball fans everywhere, will agree that last year was truly not just historic but in some ways a storybook finish to his career here. I hope it’s not finished. I hope that sometime down the line that we will meet again.”
However, he said he was not infringing on Blue Jays’ general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who was sitting at the table right in front of the podium.
Alderson must have thought he was a comedian, but many Mets fans in attendance were not too impressed with his routine. He said that he has been in contact with several outfielders that he “met on the Internet, one of which went to Stanford.” Naturally, he was poking fun at the Manti Te’o situation, but still Sandy, why don’t you go get us an outfielder rather than joking about it?
But Alderson wished Dickey well, even though he was the guy who sent him out of town.
“Perhaps R.A. will become the first back-to-back Cy Young winner in two different leagues representing two different countries,” he said. “I hope that happens.”
Dickey was introduced by Phil Niekro, the greatest knuckleballer in history who served as a mentor to Dickey as he learned to throw the mysterious pitch.
Niekro was honored to be part of the event and even said to his wife that if his wedding had been scheduled for Saturday, he would have postponed it in order to be in New York for R.A.’s special night.
When Dickey won the Cy Young, Niekro called right away, and Dickey kept saying, “We did it! We did it!”
“I said, ‘We didn’t do it. You did it. You were out there busting your butt from the first day of spring training to the end, you’re taking the signs and you’re striking them out, and you’re pitching one-hitters and shutouts. You did it.’”
But Dickey still said that it was a team effort.
Niekro said that he was so proud of Dickey, and he’s sure that the likes of Charlie Hough, Tim Wakefield, his brother Joe Niekro, Hoyt Wilhelm, Tom Candiotti and Wilbur Wood would all feel the same way.
“This has never happened to us before,” Niekro said. “No knuckleballer in the history of the game had won a Cy Young Award. You (Dickey) have brought us up to a level that none of us ever thought we’d get to.”
Dickey and Niekro embraced before it was R.A.’s turn to accept his award. He started with a litany of thank you’s to the Wilpons, Alderson and Mets’ public relations director Jay Horwitz.
“I have so many thank you’s for my Met family, and that’s what it really felt like when I was here,” Dickey said. “I don’t think I could have ever wished to play for a better manager than Terry Collins.”
Dickey of course thanked his wife Anne for sticking by him at his lowest times and traveling all over the country, Latin America and now Canada with him as he pursued his dreams. He talked about Cy Young’s wife, Robba, to put his thanks into perspective.
“For every Cy Young Award winner who has a mate and is married, there needs to be a Robba Young Award to go along side of it,” he said.
Dickey – a Star Wars buff of course – gave a special thank you to whom he calls the “Jedi Council of Knuckleballers” made up of Hough, Wakefield and Niekro. He said he remembers meeting Hough in 2005 as he was on his way out as a conventional pitcher.
“I was throwing 85 (mph) and didn’t have the control of a Greg Maddux,” he said. “I was serving up some balls that still haven’t landed.”
But he was grateful to his manager and pitching coach with the Texas Rangers, Buck Showalter and Orel Hershiser, for giving him the confidence to reinvent himself.
“75,000 knuckleballs off a cinderblock wall later, and here I am,” Dickey said. “I would not be here if it wasn’t for Charlie, Phil and Tim. This is an award to not only be celebrated with them but also the city of New York and the New York Mets fanbase.”
Dickey only spoke for a few minutes since he likely had to feel a bit strange. Here’s a guy being celebrated in his former town for his accomplishments with his former team, but yet that team sent him packing even though he wanted to be back. Sure, the trade made sense for a rebuilding franchise, but it’s still tough to Dickey leave after such an inspirational season.
This year’s dinner marks the second straight year (Jose Reyes in 2012) that a Mets’ award winner accepted an award as a member of another team.
Even so, the night was a great event for baseball fans and one that Dickey will cherish for the rest of his life.