NEW YORK -- Hank Aaron, who made a living by hammering opposing pitchers to the tune of 755 home runs and a Major League-record 2,297 RBIs, accepted the 2012 Rawlings Lifetime Achievement Award on Friday night as this year's Gold Gloves were presented at The Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.
Yes, on a night when fielding was celebrated, batting royalty was the center of attention. Aaron, who was presented the honor by Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, discussed how being an all-around player was paramount to him.
"Let me congratulate all the Rawlings Gold Glove winners, but first I'd like to tell you this little short story about myself," Aaron began. "When I first started playing baseball, I remember in Memphis, Tenn., that I had the pleasure of meeting one of my idols, and that was Jackie Roosevelt Robinson. Yes. I remember at the hotel that he and I talked about baseball, and I had played in maybe 10 or 15 games against the Dodgers, and I did fairly well. He said he'd like to just tell me some things that I needed to do and to carry through my baseball career. I listened to him, because I've always learned that if you listen, you can learn a lot, and I've always been a good listener.
"I remember him taking me in a corner and he said, 'Listen, the most important thing, you may be able to hit 100' -- he really emphasized -- '100, 400, whatever home runs you may hit. But the most important thing that you want to do for your team is, you want to try to be an all-around ballplayer.' That's not only hitting home runs, but that's runs batted in, doing some of the other small things that maybe some of us don't even understand.
"Being a baseball player myself for some 23 years, I can register what Jackie Robinson was telling me at that time. You can see all the players here today, and I venture you to say that if you talk to the average pitcher, first base, second base, right field, whatever, that they will tell you instantly that it's not the home runs you hit, it's how many runs you keep from coming in. And that's what these guys represent this evening. They represent not home runs, but they also represent the idea of a pitcher going out there, knowing that somebody can hit a ground ball and they can get a double play or whatever. That's why they are here tonight to accept these gloves."
Then Aaron, a Gold Glove winner from 1958-60 with the Braves, drew one of the loudest ovations of the night in the large ballroom when he added: "Home runs mean an awful lot, but it also means that's only a small part of what you mean to a baseball team."
Hall of Famer Bob Gibson was one of the legends who presented awards, and before handing out this year's Gold Gloves to pitchers, he said: "I was listening to Hank talk about defense, and how the home run is not really that important, stopping the runs from coming in. Well, I just want you to know that I'll stop the runs from coming in if you just keep hitting home runs."
The annual Rawlings Platinum Gloves were also handed out, recognizing the top-fielding player in each league. Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre won in the American League, and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina won in the National League.
All of the Gold Glove awards are based on votes by Major League managers and coaches. Voters are not allowed to submit ballots for their own players.
There were 19 Gold Gloves presented, and 14 recipients were on hand. The extra one was due to a rare tie in voting for AL pitcher, so Jake Peavy of the White Sox and Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays each received a Gold Glove. Mark Buehrle of the Marlins won in the NL.
The Yankees had two players honored this year: First baseman Mark Teixeira took home his fifth Gold Glove, while second baseman Robinson Cano was honored for the second time.
Teixeira posted a picture of the stage Friday night with the trophies neatly arranged on his Twitter handle, @teixeiramark25.
"Stage at the Rawlings Gold Glove Award dinner ... very cool!," he wrote.
The event raised more than a quarter-million dollars for Hurricane Sandy Relief. The Tunnel to Towers Foundation distributes 100 percent of the proceeds to benefit those in need, and those interested in donating or volunteering can visit Tunnel2Towers.org
. A couple with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation bid $120,000 at the auction before Aaron's award was presented, and that included $60,000 each for a pair of authentic Gold Gloves signed by the dignitaries at the dinner.
What will Aaron do with his new Gold Glove?
"It will go in my trophy case where all my trophies have gone," he said, "and that's in Cooperstown."
Cal Ripken Jr. was presented by former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Eddie Murray with the Rawlings Heart of Gold Award. It recognizes the work Ripken has done in the community, helping in the development of nearly 700,000 children to date.
"Winning the World Series feels great, hitting a walk-off home run feels really, really good as a baseball player," Ripken said, "but when you fill the air of the chest of a kid with some hope and some confidence, that's the ultimate feeling."
The Rawlings Gold Glove Award Hall of Fame Induction went to longtime Reds catcher and 10-time Gold Glove winner Johnny Bench, and he was presented by 13-time Gold Glover Ozzie Smith.
Comedian Joe Piscopo, the evening's emcee, sang the national anthem in a Frank Sinatra fashion, and during dinner he crooned Sinatra while Yankees legend Bernie Williams serenaded the attendees with classic guitar.
Orioles center fielder Adam Jones was with his mother and said, "She's just soaking everything in." So was he -- coming off a big year in which he helped Baltimore back into the postseason.
"I think last year we surprised a lot of people. We didn't surprise ourselves, because we knew how we could play the game," Jones said. "When it comes to sports, you've got to repeat. We had a good year last year. Last year's already gone. It's not a distant memory, but it's a memory, though. I think what we have to do is build on last year, build on everything we did well, work on the things that we didn't do as well, and come out Spring Training with the same mindset, ready to play every game, 162, just like we have our entire life, and give it our all."
What does the Gold Glove mean to him?
"Guys seeing me play every single day, seeing what I bring to the field on a daily basis, even if I'm not hitting, how my defense affects the game still," Jones said. "It's just a blessing to get the recognition that the other coaches see in me."
Royals outfielder Alex Gordon received his second Gold Glove, which is "a pretty trophy to show off in your house." He said it is too big to take home from the dinner, so you get it at Opening Day the next season.
"It's great," he said. "You play against these guys all year almost as enemies, but to come together like this and celebrate and have a good time with them, it's pretty cool."
Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said his wife was "missing this dinner badly" after attending last year, but they have a 6-week-old baby at home. Wieters was with Jones and teammate J.J. Hardy.
"It's a long, hard-fought year, and everybody respects that from everybody," Wieters said. "So to get here and relax and enjoy, it's a good honor. It's huge. Offense is going to come and go, but anytime you can help your team defensively, it can keep you around the game a long time."
A's outfielder Josh Reddick called the night "something special" and said he was happy to be there and "show that the Oakland Athletics aren't just a team that can hit -- we've got some pride in our defense as well." He said he is trying to buy his first house about 20 minutes north of Savannah, Ga., so as soon as he gets the call, he will be moving in there this offseason.
During the dinner's cocktail hour, he was happy to reflect on a big year for Oakland, which shockingly took the AL West before falling to Detroit in a dramatic five-game AL Division Series.
"I think everybody remembers our eventful walk-off wins, and then the last week of the season when we really surprised the Rangers and took them out of the run," Reddick said. "All those walk-off wins, and sweeping the Yankees was a big thing for us. It brought confidence to us. Overall, the year was really special, and it just proved that a bunch of young no-name guys could pull it off."