Due to circumstances beyond his control, George Steinbrenner couldn't be on hand for the presentation of the Roberto Clemente Award to his designated hitter, Don Baylor.
What a shame.
He would've glowed to hear all the heartfelt, richly deserved tributes paid Baylor and he might've looked for some place to hide listening to some of the things one of his own former neighbors had to say about him.
Deeply involved in the fight against Cystic fibrosis and the terrible consequence it has on children, Baylor, who drove in 85 runs and hit 25 homers as the Yankees' No. 1 DH last year, won the 1985 Clemente Award over 25 other players.
The award is bestowed each year on the player who most exemplifies all the familiar virtues--sportsmanship, character, community involvement and humanitarianism. Playing ability and the individual's contributions to his team and to baseball also are taken into account.
Peter Ueberroth, the commissioner, made the award to Baylor Thursday saying "it's my pleasure to present this award to an MVP--'Most Valuable Person.' "
Bobby Brown, the American League president; his National League counterpart, Chub Feeney, and Woody Woodward, Bobby Hofman, Joe Safety and Dave Szen of the Yankees all were at Gallagher's Restaurant to see Baylor receive the award. But Steinbrenner wasn't there through no fault of his own.
Months ago he agreed to participate in a roast for Texas Rangers' owner Eddie Chiles and he was on the way to Dallas while Baylor was being honored here.
So he missed the whole thing.
He missed hearing Bob Dresing, president of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, talk about the rare kind of human being Don Baylor is when it comes to helping others, how "he doesn't wait for us to call him to do things, he calls us."
Steinbrenner never got the chance either to listen to a couple of Baylor's neighbors, Joe and Rhona Goldberg of Cresskill, N.J., tell how their 5-year-old daughter, Marissa, has grown to love the Yankees' husky 36-year-old slugger so much, she worked for two hours Wednesday night making him a Valentine.
Baylor didn't get shmaltzy when he got up to speak. He was brief and he focused his comments on the fans. Steinbrenner would've enjoyed that, too.
"I believe we owe something to the people who watch us play," Baylor said, and it sounded as if he were choking back some tears. "They deserve something in return from us. I believe we should make a contribution and I think that contribution should last a lifetime."
Dresing was the most eloquent of all those who spoke. He has an 18-year-old son, Rob, who is a victim of cystic fibrosis and has met Baylor. Moreover, Dresing lived close to Steinbrenner for 10 years in Bay Village, Ohio.
In talking about Baylor, Dresing called him "the Messiah" for the enormous contribution he has made among the children suffering with cystic fibrosis.
When I said he's 'the Messiah,' I meant it," Dresing explained afterward. "What this individual has done to impact the disease is truly remarkable. For the first time since we've been in the business of fighting this battle, and that goes back 30 years, we are looking at the opportunity to change its entire course in the lives of children.
"Don Baylor is one of my son's idols. My son loves him as a baseball player. I love him for what he's doing for humanity. He does so much good. Without anyone asking him, either."
Dresing drew a laugh from those present earlier when he spoke about his own baseball background. Steinbrenner's ears had to be burning where he happened to be at the time.
"I don't know whether Don Baylor was aware of the fact that I've had a close association with baseball all my life, 10 years of which were as a next door neighbor of George Steinbrenner in Cleveland," Dresing said. "If that isn't training for taking on an incurable disease, I don't know what is."
That's when he got all the laughs.
Later, Dresing talked about the "real" George Steinbrenner, the one he came to discover being his neighbor for so long.
"I know all the good things he has done in this world, how many kids he has put through college, how many people he has given back their dignity by finding them jobs, how many families he has kept from breaking up by getting them back together again," Dresing said.
"You learn a lot about a man living next door to him for 10 years. "I've walked down the street with him and never seen him pass by anyone who asked him for help. I've seen him put a $100 bill in the Salvation Army pot. I've seen him do many things like that. Not once but any number of times. He's my good friend, my dear friend, and a great man. He doesn't get the press he should."
Dresing caught himself.
"The positive press, I mean," he laughed.