NEW YORK -- Perhaps there have never been more fitting recipients of the Baseball Writers' Association of America's Willie, Mickey and the Duke Award, given to people linked together in baseball history, than this year's honorees Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. The trio will be forever tied together from their days in Oakland, with the mention of one name usually followed by the other two.
One of baseball's greatest homegrown starting pitching troikas was presented with the award on Saturday night at a private ceremony for the honorees and their families at the New York Midtown Hilton, after a major snowstorm forced the cancellation of the BBWAA's annual dinner to the public. But the A's legends were still in attendance -- sporting tuxes and wide smiles as they were recognized along with the game's best players.
"Being a part of this group and those teams back then was just surreal," Zito said. "People ask me what were the best years [of my career], and how could [those] not be?"
Hudson added: "It's awesome to be mentioned in the same breath as these two guys. They were great teammates, awesome pitchers, but even better people."
The A's selected the pitchers in consecutive Drafts -- Hudson in the sixth round in 1997, Mulder in the first round of '98 and Zito in the first round in '99 -- before they went on to play an integral part in Oakland's success through the early 2000s. Even as they neared the completion of their final campaigns in 2015, Hudson and Zito -- pitching for the Giants and A's, respectively -- were matched up against each other on the mound on Sept. 26, with Mulder in attendance.
As they accepted their award, the three poked fun at each other about their ages. Hudson and Mulder shook their heads at Zito, as he got into an impromptu discussion of his "All-Dreamy Team" for the most handsome players in baseball.
"I wouldn't have been as good at that time without these two," Mulder said. "We pushed each other, the friendly competition. If Huddy went ... for eight [scoreless], I wanted to go nine the next night.
"As young as we were at that time, none of us really knew how good some of the teams we had [really] were. And sometimes, all those losses in the playoffs, you still think about it at times. But the memories you have with those guys -- whether it's in the clubhouse, the dinners, the locker room -- it was just so much fun at that time, so it's stuff like that that we miss."
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, who served in the same role for the A's until 1997, presented the three with the award and also credited former A's scouting director Grady Fuson for his role in drafting them.
"These guys were brilliant as a group," Alderson said. "They were durable as a group, but they were somewhat unique as individuals ... successful in their own ways. Zito with the curveball and change; Hudson with the splitter, sinker; and Mulder, the one with the bulldog mentality."