Off Base
McCourt to sell, L.A. to celebrate

November 2, 2011,10:12 a.m. Indeed. Twenty-two hundred strong, in fact, which is something more than capacity. Baseball people, friends of Dennis Gilbert, and a few (myself included) who'd like to be friends of Dennis Gilbert.

In an evening of laughter, a note of sorrow, with a frequent use of the word "family," Gilbert held the eighth annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation "In the Spirit of the Game" awards dinner Saturday night at the Century Plaza Hotel.

I was honored to be a part of it, I must say, and though the Main Squeeze warned me not to stare, I found that to be a challenge.

The very first person I saw upon entering was Frank McCourt, standing in a small circle with Charley Steiner and four younger men; McCourt's sons perhaps. It's great to have a wife who gets this stuff, and all I had to do was nod in the direction of the circle to get a knowing smile, before moving on.

I saw Frank Robinson escalator his way downstairs and figured, that's the place to be.

Sorry for all the name-dropping, by the way, and as an L.A. native I'm not star-struck as a matter of course, but this was pretty cool, and it would be silly for me to suggest otherwise. Within minutes, I'd rubbed shoulders with Vin Scully, Peter O'Malley, Tommy Lasorda, Maury Wills, Ron Cey, Bobby Valentine, Robin Yount, Tim Hudson and Matt Williams (not that seeing the former-Giants third baseman was particularly meaningful).

Dennis Gilbert was on the red carpet with Bud Selig when we walked by, Larry King was milling about, as were writers Ken Rosenthal, Jon Heyman, and Tracy Ringolsby, cowboy hat and all. We sat at a table with Marcel Lachemann, and three scouts from the Colorado Rockies organization.

Kristen and Dan Pierce were our gracious hosts, and what a neat couple they are. Dan and I are working on Serious Heat: From South Central to the Show together, and Dan sprang for an ad in the event program, BaseballSavvy.com logo and all.

In case you don't know, Serious Heat is the true-life book and film story of Negro Leagues pitcher and Pittsburgh Pirates scout, Chet Brewer, who coached an incredible squad of future big leaguers in 1960s Los Angeles. More about that as we move forward, but for now let's just say we're gaining momentum, and with the night being all about scouts, I felt a part of in some small way.

Larry King started the program with some thoughtful words about how the Arizona shootings had touched the baseball family, and the Dodger family more closely. A moment of silence followed. Anticipating King's suggestion, the crowd grew silent quickly, and all you could hear was the clanging of silverware on plates by the table-clearing hotel staff. Then almost complete silence.

Allan H. "Bud" Selig Executive Leadership Award recipient Joe Garagiola, Sr. was first up, and after his introduction by the Commissioner, was about as funny as you'd expect.

Bob Uecker was in fine form soon after, as was his presenter, Jerry Reinsdorf. The White Sox owner was hysterical, actually, feigning disappointment at not being able to present his friend of 25 years, Tom Seaver, with an award, as he'd expected, because Gilbert couldn't find a taker to introduce Uecker. "Who's Bob Uecker," said Reinsdorf.

The usual-but-still-funny comments from and about Uecker included his getting an intentional walk from Sandy Koufax that one time, leading the league in passed balls, and making the final out in what for him was a big game – for the mythical Grapefruit League championship – with the opposing team in the dugout already in street clothes.

About the only thing missing was a typical line or two from Uecker's old appearances on "The Tonight Show." Johnny would lob in the gopher ball question, "how many home runs did you hit in your career, Bob," for Uecker to come back with "Oh, I banged out 14 of em." There's a classic "passed ball school" routine as well. Perhaps you can find it in "Carson Classics," or on YouTube.

Seaver was pretty funny too. After a rambling intro by James Caan, Seaver thanked the actor, following up with "we have 311 wins between us." There was a comment about hating the Pittsburgh helmet, and after seeming to forget the name of the scout who signed him to his first Mets contract, Seaver pretended to forget the name of his wife, Nancy.

Next, in what he admitted was "blatant advertising" for his wine company, Seaver plugged his current gig, pointed to his donated bottles on the table tops, and urged the audience to put the supplied coupons to good use.

I thought about grabbing a bottle as a souvenir, but as a non-drinker thought again and took the Nick Swisher bobblehead instead. Why a 2008 Swisher White Sox bobblehead was part of the centerpiece at a Rockies table, I have no idea.

Though fumbling over his current and former employers names, Lasorda introduced Bobby Valentine beautifully, and like some, but not all of the presenters, spoke extemporaneously. Valentine spoke passionately about baseball and about the work of the mostly-unsung baseball scouts, but I was struck by what had to be the intentional mention of his 1600 wins as a manager, "so far."

Of the guys who played it straight, Player Lifetime Achievement Award winner Brooks Robinson stole the show. After a moving introduction with video from Roy Firestone, Brooks had my closest attention. I literally sat taller in my chair while leaning forward to listen to him, and he delivered exactly as you'd expect him to: sincerely, with pefection, and with nothing but class.

Speaking of class, the Orioles took out a full-page ad in the event program, featuring this famous photo from the 1966 World Series, and accompanied by the headline, "Go ahead, Brooks. Celebrate."

Additional recipients are these: Bill, Marcel and Rene Lachemann – the Ray Boone Family Award, presented by Bob Boone and sons; Robin Yount – A Scout's Dream, presented by Yount's first manager, Del Crandall; Tom Sherak – Dave Winfield Humanitarian Award, presented by Winfield; Jim Fregosi and Paul Snyder – George Genovese Lifetime Achievement Award in Scouting, presented by Tracy Ringolsby and Roland Hemond; and Ken Brady, Pat Dougherty, Lou Fitzgerald, Bud Harrison, Gail Henley, Grover "Deacon" Jones, and Fred Uhlman, Sr. – Legends in Scouting Award, presented by Gary Hughes.

While Larry King and Bob Uecker were billed as Masters of Ceremonies, Matt Vasgersian, in an unannounced role, actually carried the yeoman's share of the load. And he was great. Charming, in his element, and beaming throughout; the perfect L.A. audition for his next gig, as Vin Scully's one-day replacement.

All in all, just a great night with friends, for a great cause, and thoroughly devoid of controversy, T.J. Simers notwithstanding.

A wonderful evening, which concluded with my singing "Wonderful Tonight" to the Main Squeeze at the conclusion. That she was, and is, on a regular basis.

Major props and high-fives to Dennis Gilbert. We'll be back next year.

And remember, glove conquers all…

 

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