Big names turn out for RBI fund-raiser

Big names turn out for RBI fund-raiser

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. -- A huge turnout of baseball stars, fans and supporters attended the annual Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) fund-raising dinner on Thursday at the Globe Theatre, located right next to Universal Studios.

The event raises funds for the 17-year-old charity that provides scholarships, uniforms, equipment and baseball instruction to thousands of youngsters around the country. Every year RBI honors past and present-day players with awards for their achievements both on and off the field.

This year, three men with ties to the Los Angeles Dodgers -- Eric Gagne, Frank Robinson and Willie Davis -- along with Southern California native and RBI alum Coco Crisp of the Boston Red Sox, former closer Rich Gossage and Hall of Famer Joe Morgan were honored by the foundation.

"I think that's why you play the game," said Gagne, the Dodgers' closer, who received the 2006 Children's Choice Award and also added his arm felt great after throwing a bullpen session at Dodger Stadium earlier in the afternoon.

"When I was growing up, I remember going to camps [in his native Montreal] where [Expo] Tim Wallach was there, Tim Raines and Andre Dawson. And I used to look at them and say, 'One day I want to be one of them.' I think it's great for the kids just to be able to play baseball. RBI is a great cause, and it helps the kids -- and I have three kids. It's great, it's fun and I'm proud to receive an award like that."

"I think Eric just embodies what we want here with the Dodgers," said Dodger chairman Frank McCourt, who, along with former closer Robb Nen, presented Gagne with his award. "He's passionate about winning -- he knows it's all about the fans so he wears his heart on his sleeve and he gives back to the community. He's a big part of the community -- he's the face of the Dodgers and that's very, very important. The community respects that because he gives back."

For Crisp, who was a member of the 1995 Los Angeles Senior Division RBI World Series Championship team, being inducted into the foundation's Hall of Fame was an emotional experience.

"It's really like a speechless moment," said Crisp to the audience after receiving his award from the evening's master of ceremonies, Larry King. "I want to thank [founder] John Young and RBI for giving me the opportunity to play baseball when it really wasn't there for me. Coming up through high school, I only got a chance to play a couple of seasons. John Young and the RBI program were there for me to step outside of high school and have a chance to develop and play with some guys who were older than me and get better -- not only on the field, but off the field."

Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson, who played for the Dodgers for one season in 1972, was the recipient of the foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award. The Hall of Famer, who broke in with the Cincinnati Reds in 1956, is a huge supporter of the foundation.

"I have a feel for the RBI program and what it means to inner-city kids, because when I was coming along there was no such thing as Little League," said Robinson to the audience about his youth in the Bay Area. "What I had to do at that time was ride in a police wagon -- that the police would pick you up in to go to ballgames because the police sponsored the leagues we played in. It gave me a chance to realize a dream -- to play baseball at the Major League level. It was a starting point for me.

"A lot of the young people don't know the history of baseball," added Robinson. "It's up to us old-timers to try to get them to understand that this wasn't as good as they have it now. A lot of people really sacrificed, they really worked hard for them to realize what they are today in their careers."

Morgan, who was honored with RBI's Humanitarian Award, pointed out in his speech the importance that baseball has had as a cultural institution for change.

"Baseball has done more to improve the social landscape in our country," said Morgan, who was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1990 and has had a successful second career as a television and radio broadcaster. "We all know, starting with Jackie Robinson, things have improved tremendously in this country. And again, I think that everyone should be involved, and we're giving the inner-city kids a chance to stay in the game -- play in the game and that's what it's all about."

The crowd gave Gossage, who came close to joining fellow closer Bruce Sutter in Cooperstown this year, a big ovation when he received the 2006 Save the Children Award. But the most emotional presentation came from former Dodger Lou Johnson, who presented an RBI Hall of Fame induction to his former teammate and friend Willie Davis. Johnson, who had oral surgery two days earlier, told the audience that he wouldn't have missed this presentation for anything in the world.

"Welcome home, Willie Davis," said Johnson, fighting back tears. The two old friends embraced on stage. Davis, the former Dodger center fielder of the 1960s and early 70s, had been estranged from the Dodgers since 1996 while he was dealing with a substance-abuse problem. Now clean and sober for some time, Davis was welcomed back into the organization last year and is now a much-in-demand member of the Dodgers' Speakers Bureau. With his grandchildren in the audience, Davis accepted his induction.

"It's awfully nice to look out there and see everybody here tonight," said Davis. "I'm very humbled."

At the end of his speech, Davis had a few kind words for his boss: "Mr. McCourt, I'd like to thank you for having me back -- I'm having a good time, and thanks for giving me things to do. I love you all."

All proceeds from the event will go back into RBI's operational funds that will hopefully help inspire young players to love the game of baseball as much as the evening's award recipients do.

Ben Platt is a national correspondent for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.