NEW YORK -- The last time a Major League Baseball game was played, 80 days earlier, it was a Game 7 classic with Terry Francona managing the Indians and Jon Lester coming out of the bullpen to pitch three innings for the victorious Cubs. On Saturday night, those two sat side-by-side at the 94th New York Baseball Writers' Association of America dinner, and Francona stepped up to the microphone to present his former protege with the Postseason MVP Award.
That's when an all-too-familiar theme began to emerge.
"When you get the opportunity to watch a young Major League player achieve all their firsts, it can be pretty special," Francona said of Lester, who survived anaplastic large cell lymphoma in 2006. "Watching a young pitcher get his first hitter out, get his first Major League win, start and be the winning pitcher in his first time ever Game 4-clinching World Series, start out the next year with a no-hitter."
This night included stories of courage in the fight against cancer: Lester. Dave Roberts. Sandy Alderson. Steve Garvey. Claire Smith. There was the void of a beloved figure who would have been involved in putting on this show, longtime Mets publicist Shannon Forde, who lost her battle with breast cancer last year at age 44.
Amid the celebration of baseball greatness inside a ballroom at the New York Hilton, there was resolute hope, occasional levity and an unyielding sense of sadness, all because of a disease that refuses to go away.
Roberts, who managed the Dodgers to the National League Championship Series last fall, accepted his NL Manager of the Year Award and ended a moving acceptance speech by acknowledging someone in the audience who helped him in his fight to overcome Hodgkin lymphoma nearly seven years ago. Roberts is cancer-free today.
"Jed Hoyer is here, and he's one of my very good friends," Roberts said of the Cubs general manager, sitting at a nearby table. "As I was going through cancer in 2010, he gave me a job as a Padres special assistant to him. Baseball got me through it. Jed, I really appreciate you giving me some off-days to go through chemo and get through it. We're here."
Garvey presented sportswriter Claire Smith with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the formal version of which will come during Induction Weekend at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Garvey was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had it removed in 2012, and since then he has been an advocate for awareness and prevention. Smith is a breast cancer survivor who goes beyond to help others who have been diagnosed.
"Cancer is not discriminating," Garvey said at the end of the ceremony. "Whether it's baseball or whatever profession it may be, for those of us who were challenged by it and have come through it, it's our responsibility to be a disciple, so to speak, to create discussions and action on finding a cure for those things. Tonight, for those who mentioned it, it was an awareness that we can all do things to help and to give back."
The Joan Payson Humanitarian Award was renamed as the Joan Payson-Shannon Forde Award, and that award was presented to her surviving family. Jay Horwitz, the Mets' vice president of media relations, spoke about her impact as well as the impact of the award rededication.
"This award keeps Shannon's legacy alive to show what kind of a person she was," he said.
Alderson, the Mets' general manager, was among the presenters at the dinner. Last May, he underwent surgery as part of his treatment for an undisclosed form of cancer, and at that time, he described the procedure as successful and is on course for a "full recovery." Before presenting Kris Bryant with his NL MVP Award, Alderson took the opportunity to say something more about Forde.
"We've heard some great stories tonight about how cancer was beaten, but cancer is like a game of cards," Alderson said. "You're dealt a hand and then you play it. Sometimes it's the cards you're dealt that make the difference. Shannon fought two battles. She fought a physical battle and she fought a spiritual battle, as most cancer patients do. She lost the physical battle, but in my years with her, she never lost the spiritual battle, she never lost the emotional battle. In that sense, in the long run, she beat it.
"She'll be missed, she'll be remembered, and we were all better for having known her."
Tom Brasuell, Major League Baseball's vice president of community affairs, was seated at an MLB table in front of the dais. He observed the all-too-familiar theme as the evening unfolded and said it underscores the need to keep fighting as an institution to find a cure.
"As we know from our partner, Stand Up To Cancer, cancer affects all of us," Brasuell said. "Baseball has been a founder of Stand Up To Cancer, which has been searching for a cure and has made great strides. But tonight we saw how cancer has affected the baseball family, and how baseball has come through in times of need to assist those members of the baseball family -- certainly touching tonight all that was done and will be done in the future to perpetuate Shannon Forde's memory."
Among the night's assorted other highlights were remarks from BBWAA Award recipients upon receiving their hardware:
NL MVP: Bryant. He became just the fourth player to accept a Rookie of the Year Award one year, and then the MVP trophy a year later.
"I think I've had a pretty dang good year," he said. "Winning a World Series, making a trip to the White House, winning this award, and of course getting married, probably the most important thing. ... So many people deserve this award. It's such an honor to wear the Chicago Cubs uniform every day, and I do not take it lightly."
AL MVP:Mike Trout. He gave special credit to two players who have influenced him -- former Angel Torii Hunter and current teammate Albert Pujols.
"I stand here tonight to accept this award with immense humility and satisfaction," Trout said. "I am humbled because of the award's rich history, and the fact that since 1931, when it was first established, not one player has emerged who was bigger than the game itself. I am satisfied because of the time and effort I have put into the game over the years, all in order to become a better player and a teammate. Personally, I still look at baseball as just a game. ... I love everything about it."
NL Cy Young:Max Scherzer. Seated next to Corey Seager of the Dodgers on one side, and with Roberts two seats to his right, Scherzer "did a lot of reminiscing about Game 5 against the Dodgers." He started that NL Division Series finale at home, a 4-3 loss.
"As a kid, I never dreamed of winning a Cy Young," the Nationals right-hander said, "and after winning the first one, it's been my dream to come back up here, so I have to give a lot of thanks for everybody who's been able to make my dream come true again."
AL Cy Young:Rick Porcello. Presenter Tom Verducci checked his phone and joked that Kate Upton, unimpressed by 32 walks allowed in 33 starts, had just tweeted in protest (she didn't this time). Porcello gave special mention to Red Sox infielder Dustin Pedroia's work ethic, and the play of his teammates.
"You watch guys like Pedroia play, and the things he does on the field, and you don't really understand what he goes through on a day-to-day basis to make that happen," Porcello said. "He's taping his body from head to toe, basically. He's doing it for us to win. When you're a pitcher on the mound, you appreciate things like him laying out for a ball up the middle and saving a run from scoring from second base. Or Brock Holt throwing a runner out from left field. These are things that I have to give thanks for, not only for our team and the winning aspect of it, but also because I'm on the mound and it reflects me."
NL Manager of the Year: Roberts. He was introduced by Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson, whom she said would have been proud to see an African-American manager win this award after his first year of managing in the bigs.
"It's something I couldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams," Roberts said. "Baseball is such an amazing game, and I just want everyone to know that we're in a good place. ... I think that we're all just stewards of this great game of baseball. We all have our own responsibilities, and for me, being named the first African-American manager of the Dodgers, that's a huge responsibility. That's something I definitely welcome."
AL Manager of the Year: Francona. He received the award from his reliever, Andrew Miller, and told the crowd, "If you look closely, he's still icing that left arm." Then, after the event, he told Miller, "See you in two weeks."
"I view it as an organizational award, tackling challenges together," Francona said. "I can guarantee you one thing: If you receive Manager of the Year votes for being able to show up to work with people you care about, you admire and you respect, I'd be the runaway winner every year."
NL Rookie of the Year: Seager. Bryant called him "a nice guy off the field, but not a fun guy to play against," and said he expects bigger awards soon, as he attained.
"I'm looking forward to taking the next step next season," Seager said.
AL Rookie of the Year:Michael Fulmer. Among those he thanked were the Mets, for drafting him in 2011, prompting Alderson -- who traded Fulmer in the deal to get Yoenis Cespedes -- to say later in the ceremony, "If Dilson Herrera [traded for Jay Bruce ] is Rookie of the Year next year, I'm going to be in serious trouble."
"Without my teammates, I wouldn't be here, or anywhere near here," Fulmer said. "There are many memories that I'll carry with me from the 2016 season, starting with my Major League debut in Minnesota. It's always nice to get a 3-0 lead before you go out and throw a pitch."
Several other awards were recognized on the night:
The program, presented by Esurance and captured by MLB Network, will air at 9 p.m. ET on Jan. 28.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. 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.