Event raises $1.4M for ALS, toasts O'Neill, Posada, A-Rod
By Mark Newman
NEW YORK -- An all-Yankees lineup was recognized on Wednesday night at the 21st annual Lou Gehrig Sports Awards Benefit dinner, as Paul O'Neill, Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez were honored in front of 700 guests, raising an event-record $1.4 million for the ALS Association Greater New York Chapter.
The dinner at the Marriott Marquis raises funds for ALS research and patient care programs. More than 6,400 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) every year, and there is no known cure. The 2014-15 Ice Bucket Challenges radically raised awareness of what many still refer to as Lou Gehrig's disease, which struck down the Yankee legend.
Rodriguez, 40, surprised nearly everyone in his 21st Major League season by playing in 151 games and helping the Yankees back into the postseason with 33 home runs, 86 RBIs and 83 runs. Receiving a mostly standing ovation in front of a philanthropic New York crowd in the Broadway Ballroom was another fairly significant sign of how much has changed in one year's time.
"I have the honor of wearing the same Yankee pinstripes as The Iron Horse," Rodriguez told the crowd, reading a prepared speech. "I am amazed by his career and his heroic battle with ALS. He died at the age of 37, but he left a legacy of courage and strength. It's really hard to believe that [nearly] 75 years after his death, we still haven't found a cure for this devastating disease. But we will."
Rodriguez said he expects to come back strong again in 2016, but without a fade at the end: "Hopefully next year I start slow and finish strong. I could have kept going. I thought the DH was a big asset for me. This offseason I have a lot more information on what is needed of me. Hopefully I can build on what I started last year."
Posada, who won five rings in his 17-year career, spent entirely with the Bronx Bombers, is enjoying just being a dad shuttling kids around in Miami these days. He flew up the coast to help raise funds and called it a "big honor."
"You're talking about the Yankees, you're talking about Lou Gehrig," Posada said. "What he went through and what people here have gone through with this disease, for me to be here and honored, it means a lot."
While Posada had plenty to say about the current Yankees, what people really wanted to know was what the deal was with former teammate Derek Jeter's upcoming nuptials. While most everyone found out about Jeter's engagement to model Hannah Davis through his column on The Players Tribune website, Posada said he had received a text from Jeter that said only: "Just got engaged."
"I'm really happy for him. She's amazing. We love her, and we look forward to that day," Posada said, not giving any further wedding info. "I was just hoping that he's happy, and it looks like he's happy."
O'Neill, who played the last nine of his 17 seasons with the Yankees and won five rings overall (including 1990 with Cincinnati), drew an ovation when he said: "To me, the passion in New York drives the world."
"This is one of those diseases that you feel if you can raise enough funds, soon this is going to be taken care of," O'Neill said. "When you sit down and talk to people who have this disease, you see how devastating it is. Things are done here in New York because Lou Gehrig's name is put with this disease. But with so many things happening in medicine, you just feel that if you raise enough funds, someday this will be gone."
As for the Yankees, who lost to Houston in the American League Wild Card Game, O'Neill said, "They're kind of in a tough spot, obviously -- age is not on their side. But they do have some young players coming up. A few of the questions that were unanswered last year going into the season -- you have your shortstop, you know [Jacoby] Ellsbury and [Brett] Gardner need to stay healthy, that adds a big dimension to their offense. I don't think the Yankees are that far away as some people think. I think that some youth put in that lineup adds some excitement, and that's what fans want to see."
An auction was held during the dinner, and the highlight was a package of O'Neill, Posada and Rodriguez memorabilia, fetching $11,000. Give some of that credit to former Yankees pitcher David Cone, who put on his auctioneer hat for the event. And yet another Yankees great on hand was former outfielder Roy White, who helped them to 1977-78 titles during his 15-year career, spent entirely in pinstripes.
Despite the Yankee fervor at this event, returning attendee and Mets legend Ed Kranepool said there was "some good news to talk about" after the World Series came to this town.
"It rejuvenated the fans, who for nine years had suffered," Kranepool said. "The Mets had a great run. They've got a great pitching staff and potentially they're going to be around for a long time, barring injuries. We expect them to bounce back next year and be there. The addition of [Zack] Wheeler can only strengthen the ballclub. Now it's a matter of what trades they're going to make this winter, who they're going to keep, who they're going to acquire, what's going to happen to the defense."
Bill Nuti, president, CEO and chairman of NCR Corporation, was presented with the Jacob K. Javits Lifetime Achievement Award.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.