Damon honored by writers group for work with wounded soldiers

Updated: January 28, 2008, 8:30 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Johnny Damon was trembling as he stepped to the podium. He tried to steady himself, take a deep breath, find some way to choke back the tears.

It was no use.

Boo Weekley

For the freedom that we have, we all should pay more attention to people who go out there and fight for it.

-- Johnny Damon

The Yankees outfielder was overwhelmed by his introduction Sunday night at the 85th annual New York baseball writers' dinner, where he was honored for his work with soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Wow. I'm not that emotional of a person," Damon said after a standing ovation. "But for the freedom that we have, we all should pay more attention to people who go out there and fight for it."

Damon received the Joan Payson Award for community service, named after the former New York Mets owner. In September 2006, he became a national spokesman for the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides various types of assistance to injured servicemen and women.

"This was something that really needed to be addressed," said Damon, whose father, Jimmy, was a career Army officer and served in Vietnam. "I'm going to keep spreading the word. We're going to make these guys come home and live normal lives and feel like they're a part of our country still."

Another boisterous ovation went to Damon's teammate, Alex Rodriguez, who picked up his third AL MVP award and the Sid Mercer Player of the Year Award.

Rodriguez, who appeared to be on his way out of town before reaching a $275 million, 10-year contract with the Yankees this offseason, was introduced by another three-time MVP.

"Alex, welcome to the club, buddy," Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra said. "You're pretty good."

Rodriguez knew just how to respond.

"Yogi, I am pretty proud and impressed with your three MVP awards," he said. "The 10 championships, I'm very jealous of."

The slugger also added that he was happy to stay in pinstripes.

"I'm very glad to be back here for 10 years," Rodriguez said. "I want to thank New York, for a lot of reasons. New York makes you do a lot of things. It makes you think. It humbles you. It makes you look in the mirror and ask yourself all the tough questions. And if not, the reporters will ask them."

Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins received his NL MVP award.

"I'd like to thank my parents -- my dad for taking the line drives off the elbow and my mom for teaching me how to talk trash," he said.

Mets closer Billy Wagner took home the Ben Epstein Good Guy Award, and Yankees rookie sensation Joba Chamberlain won the Joe DiMaggio Toast of the Town Award.

Recalling his infuriating bout with those tiny midges at Cleveland's Jacobs Field in the AL playoffs, Chamberlain glanced down the dais and found Indians manager Eric Wedge.

"Mr. Wedge, where you at? Next time we come, leave the bugs off," the pitcher said.

Joe Torre, the new manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers after 12 years guiding the Yankees, won the William J. Slocum Award for Long and Meritorious Service. Yankees broadcaster and former outfielder Bobby Murcer, battling cancer, received the Milton Richman You Gotta Have Heart Award.

Longtime Houston Astros star Craig Biggio, who recently retired, won the Casey Stengel You Could Look It Up Award. Denny McLain and Luis Tiant were honored with the Willie, Mickey and the Duke Award to mark the 40th anniversary of their outstanding seasons in 1968 -- the year of the pitcher.

"Look at how many years I had to wait to get something," said Tiant, who lost out to McLain in AL Cy Young Award voting that year.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press