A's 'Big Three' to receive iconic BBWAA award

Winners to gather for organization's annual banquet

A's 'Big Three' to receive iconic BBWAA award

NEW YORK -- Looking to increase attendance at the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America's annual awards dinner in 1995, Claire Smith found a solution that made the event one of the best in what is about to be its 93-year history.

Smith, then a baseball writer with The New York Times and in her first year as chairman of the chapter, was worried that the ongoing player's strike, which led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series, would curtail attendance. In hopes of creating some buzz, she created a new award, one that would salute baseball folk who were readily linked together by anyone with a real knowledge of the game. Hence, the chapter developed the Willie, Mickey and the Duke Award, named after the three Hall of Fame center fielders who played in New York in the 1950s.

The first men receiving the award, not surprisingly, were Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider. The three graced the dais that night -- each said they never had been together on one dais previously -- and made for a special evening and a full house.

Since that nostalgic night, the Willie, Mickey and the Duke Award has been presented to relevant tandems -- the likes of Ralph Branca and Bobby Thomson (2001); Bucky Dent and Mike Torrez (2003); Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain (1998); Reggie Jackson and Charlie Hough (2007); and Keith Hernandez and Don Mattingly (2004).

Three-man awards have been presented, too. The chapter saluted the Mets' 1969 outfield of Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda (1997); the Yankees' perfect-game pitchers, David Cone, Don Larsen and David Wells (2000); and retiring managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Lou Piniella (2011).

The 93rd New York Chapter dinner is Saturday night at the New York Hilton Midtown, and the recipients of the Willie, Mickey and the Duke Award this year fit the criterion perfectly, because they are permanently linked in our minds. Think of Tim Hudson, you think of Barry Zito and Mark Mulder. Mention Mulder, and Zito and Hudson immediately come to mind. And bring up Zito and an instant connection to Mulder and Hudson forms.

The three starting pitchers who joined hands -- and arms -- with the A's of 2000 thereafter became the American League's version of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, or a big league adaptation of rock, paper, scissors.

Zito and Hudson retired after the 2015 season and Mulder retired in 2008.

The three former A's will be on the dais Saturday, along with another set of pitchers who have become readily linked more recently and locally -- Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard, the four starters who carried the Mets to the World Series last season. The four share the Toast of the Town Award.

Two other prominent figures in the Mets' late 2015 run will receive awards. Manager Terry Collins will receive the Epstein/Castellano Good Guy Award, and right fielder Curtis Granderson will accept the New York Player of the Year Award.

Yes, the dais will tip toward the National League champions. And tip even more: Hall of Famer Mike Piazza is to attend as well.

The chapter annually presents five other awards it votes on as well as the eight awards the national BBWAA determines -- the MVP, Cy Young, Manager of the Year and Rookie of the Year for each league. The local chapter's other awards are the Joan Payson Humanitarian Award, named after the first owner of the Mets (posthumously to Yogi Berra), the You Gotta Have Heart Award (to Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays), the Casey Stengel You Could Look It Up Award (to Tommy John), the Slocum Award for Long and Meritorious Service (to LaTroy Hawkins of the Blue Jays) and the Postseason MVP Award (to Wade Davis of the Royals).

All recipients except Syndergaard are expected to attend, including American League MVP Josh Donaldson, National League MVP Bryce Harper, AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa, NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant, AL Manager of the Year Jeff Banister and NL Manager of the Year Joe Maddon. Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe will be saluted as the winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award.

The dinner begins at 7 p.m. ET. Tickets ($225 apiece) are available until 5 p.m. Friday. Contact Ken Swarthout at the New York Hilton Midtown (212-586-7000).

Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.