The Hutch Award was bestowed to Billy Butler of the Royals today at Safeco Field, with Cal Ripken Jr. (shown above signing autographs afterward) providing the keynote address. The weather cooperated — it was brisk, but clear for the outdoor ceremony — and as always the day provided poignant moments as the good work of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center was highlighted.
The award goes to the player who “best exemplifieds the honor, courage and dedication” of Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson, the former major-league pitcher and manager. His death from lung cancer at age 45 prompted his brother, cancer surgeon Bill Hutchinson, to start the research center. The Hutch Award was instituted in 1965 and has been handed out annually ever since. Winners include Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle (the inaugural Hutch honoree), Sandy Koufax, Carl Yastrzemski, Pete Rose, Al Kaline, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Lou Brock, George Brett, Johnny Bench , Andre Dawson and Paul Molitor, among others.
Butler said he perused that list and “frankly, I don’t think I belong with them. It’s very humbling to understand what award I’ve won.”
Butler and his wife, Katie, started the Hit-It-A-Ton campaign to help feed disadvantaged families in the Kansas City area.
“I feel like it’s a part of being a baseball player, as much as being on the field,” Butler said of his community service. “Every time the Royals have a charity event, I’m at every single one of them.
Butler and his wife visited the Hutch School in the morning, as all the Hutch Award winners do. I’ve been covering this event every year since David Cone won in 1998, and it never fails to move me to see the kids at the school, the nation’s only full-time school for the children and siblings of cancer victims, as well as the youthful patients themselves. The pictures above show the Butlers meeting the kids, and Billy signing an autograph, as he did for every single child.
A few reporters got a chance to talk to Ripken in the visiting manager’s office at Safeco Field before he spoke. He said it was sentimental for him to return to Safeco, where one of his career highlights occurred — the 2001 All-Star Game, his final one. Ripken hit a home run off Chan Ho Park and was named Most Valuable Player.
“Coming in the entrance today, it has a wonderful feel coming in,” he said. “It reminds me, first and foremost, of my final All-Star game here. Coming in, it almost feels ceremonial that way. Then you think back, I hit a home run in my first at-bat, had a wonderful ovation. It’s been 10 years since I dressed in a locker room like this. Coming to the ballpark, all those good feelings immediately come flowing back to you. I’m enjoying it right now.”
One of the memorable moments occurred when Alex Rodriguez — unbeknown to Ripken — yielded shortstop to Cal, who had been elected the starting third baseman.
“It was a little bit annoying when it was happening,” Ripken said. “I don’t like to be surprised, don’t like to be embarrassed. Alex came up with a wonderful idea, but it didn’t feel wonderful at the moment. When it was pushed on me, I was kind of thinking, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to expose myself to that at this point. But only in hindsight, after it’s over, you look back and say, What a wonderful gesture it was. He was really bringing tribute to the success I had at the position, being a bigger guy, and it might have opened up the mindset for other guys to be considered, like Alex and Derek. If you really analyze it after the fact, without threat of embarrassment, you realize how special that moment was.”
Ripken also endorsed Edgar Martinez to join him in Cooperstown, when asked if he could make a case for a designated hitter earning that honor.
“I think I can always make a case for that. In my lifetime, the DH has been a position on an American League team. Why penalize a person if he plays a position? He does it very well. It’s an advantage to have that DH in there that understands how to hit, and stay in the game, and those sorts of things. It’s easy for me to make a case: It’s a position. National Leaguers must feel a little bit differently, because they don’t play with a DH. But if you’re going to play with a DH, it’s a position that needs to be filled, and Edgar was one of the very best ones to do that.
“He was amazing to me. He had a run where you didn’t know how to get him out. He didn’t have any weaknesses. It was a matter of trying to throw an unexpected pitch to him. Many hitters have glaring weaknesses you could start to expose, but he could adjust to any pitch, any time. It almost seemed like he had this intuition about what was going to happen, and I hated to see him in the clutch. I would just as soon take somebody else on, sometimes including Griffey. He was that way, too, but Edgar had our number, I think. I witnessed him winning many games, so I would just as soon take our chances with the next guy.”
Finally, here are a couple of pictures of John Olerud, who was in attendance. Olerud won the Hutch Award in 1993.