Rizzo named Heart & Hustle winner at MLBPAA dinner
Jones, Valentine, Erskine among night's other honorees
By Mark Newman
NEW YORK -- This time, the Heart & Hustle Award was accepted with a heavy heart.
"Baseball lost a player today, Tommy Hanson," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo told a hushed audience at the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association's 16th annual Legends for Youth Dinner on Tuesday night at Capitale. "I didn't know him personally, but I know a lot of people did. He was family. Losing anyone at 29, losing anyone in general, but 29 years of age ... I want to wish him to rest in peace and gratitude for his family."
That is how Rizzo began his acceptance speech as the top overall Heart & Hustle Award winner, speaking on behalf of the game itself. Rizzo's award was announced at the dinner, and his words reflected the state of shock players were still in around baseball over the news of Hanson's passing less than 24 hours earlier. It was amid that sadness that such matters as award presentations and fundraising went on, like the game itself.
In addition to Rizzo's award, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones was presented with the Brooks Robinson Community Service Award by the award's namesake himself, and former manager Bobby Valentine and Dodgers legend Carl Erskine were given Lifetime Achievement Awards. Robinson, the longtime MLBPAA president and Hall of Famer, accepted for the latter award on Erskine's behalf due to late travel complications that prevented Erskine from leaving Indiana.
Attendees included individual Heart & Hustle team winners Brandon Crawford of the Giants, DJ LeMahieu of the Rockies and James McCann of the Tigers, and a long list of legends, including Robinson, Phil Niekro, Dale Murphy, John Franco and Mudcat Grant. The event drew 38 players who accounted for 371 seasons and more than 25,600 games, and proceeds went to the Legends for Youth Baseball Clinics, a series of free clinics designed to provide children with positive role models, teaching fundamentals and promoting the sport.
Rizzo talked about playing the game the right way -- as he did in leading the Cubs to a National League Championship Series appearance and finishing his season with 31 homers, 101 RBIs, an .899 OPS and gritty play such as the highlight when he teetered on a tarp roll at Wrigley Field and held on for a dramatic catch before going into the stands.
"We have a very young team in Chicago, and I don't know how I got old," Rizzo said. "I'm the older one on the team now with a lot of younger players. I tell them every day, 'There's some little kid who's been waiting to come to this game for probably four, five or six months, he got Christmas presents to come to Wrigley Field on July 21, dog days of summer, and they're looking forward to seeing me play, you play, him play, anyone play with a Cubs jersey on.'
"With the platform we're on, it doesn't matter what the name is on the back, we represent a lot more than that. That's what I try to do every day. There's a little kid coming to the field, and if I have an 0-for-4 game, if I'm 0-for-21, that little kid doesn't know that. Maybe his dad does, and doesn't like me very much at the time. But that little kid, when you pop up a ball and his coach tells him to run it out every time, and he sees one of the guys in the Major Leagues not running the ball out, that's not going to set the right example."
Jones, who had received the players union's prestigious Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award a night earlier, found a perfect way to complete his evening. During the live auction toward the end of the dinner, Robinson came back on stage to hold up his own autographed No. 5 Orioles jersey, and Jones was the winning bidder at the front table for $1,000.
"It means a great deal," Jones said. "Brooks is one of the biggest pillars in Baltimore, and he's even more famous than Cal Ripken in Baltimore. It just means I'm giving back to the community. I went back and looked at what Brooks did in his career, and he just did it unselfishly. He just did it because impacting the youth and giving back is the right thing to do.
"This is our job. This is what we love to do. We have a responsibility not just to ourselves, but to the community that supports us. I'm just trying to spread knowledge. It's really easy to give back if you want to do it."
Jones said he thought the Orioles had a good season except for an August nosedive, and on the subject of major free-agency issues, that could mean Chris Davis, Darren O'Day and/or Matt Wieters departing, Jones said, "It's not going to be easy -- it's economics, what can you afford, what are you willing to spend? I know that they've loved the organization, and the organization treated them good. But if you reach six years, you create your own opportunities.
"I wish them all the best, and whoever comes back to my team, I love you more. If you don't, I'm not going to like you too much."
Valentine brought along a contingent from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., where he is athletic director. His award was presented by his former Mets teammate and roommate Tom Grieve, who, as the Rangers' general manager in the 1980s, hired him as manager for a long association that brought new respect in Texas.
Valentine was a first-round Draft pick by the Dodgers in 1968, and he reached the Majors in just one year thanks largely to a crucial managerial lesson taught him by legendary Tommy Lasorda as a 19-year-old Rookie League prospect in Ogden, Utah. During a road trip to Spokane, Wash., Lasorda had been told by his coach that the pitchers didn't want to pitch if the young Valentine was going to play shortstop.
"Tommy immediately called a clubhouse meeting, in this little rickety clubhouse in Spokane and had us all sit in front of our lockers. He started pacing back and forth. Then he said, 'I hear we have a problem. The problem is the pitchers on this team don't want to pitch when that kid is playing shortstop.' Now I'm fast-forwarding in my mind, thinking two things could be said next. One of them could be, 'Don't worry about it, because he's going to A-ball where he belongs.' And two is, 'It's none of your business, he's playing shortstop, go out there and pitch.'
"Well, instead of A or B, he said, 'I'm going into my office. I want all the players on this team to grab a pencil and a paper, and I want you to go over in front of that kid's locker and get his autograph, because when he's in the Major Leagues, you'll be carrying his lunchbucket somewhere and telling your kids that you played with Bobby Valentine in 1969.'
"It's incredible that he did that. What he showed me when I was a 19-year-old kid was, if a manager believed in his players, his players could do incredible things. I tried to bring that lesson through my 23 years of managing, and tried to get my players to believe that I believed."
Yankees broadcaster Suzyn Waldman emceed the event, and at one point, she stopped to alert the crowd that Crawford, the Giants' shortstop, had just won an NL Gold Glove Award. Crawford stood and waved in response. During the cocktail reception beforehand, he was reminded that an even-numbered year is approaching for the Giants, who won titles in 2010, '12 and '14.
"We have some good competition," Crawford said. "I was just telling Anthony Rizzo, we need to figure out a way to beat them next year if we're going to win another one. There are a lot of teams with good, young players. We definitely have a shot. If we make some moves that I think we are going to make this offseason, and the core guys we have on our team, I think we have a good shot."
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.