NEW YORK -- Ed Kranepool joined the Mets in June of their original 1962 season, when they lost more games (120) than any team in Major League Baseball history. He was a key player on their 1969 team that amazed everyone in winning the World Series.
"Well, you've seen it all. I've seen the good, bad and the ugly, I guess you could say," he said Wednesday at the MLB Fan Cave, contemplating a half-century of Mets baseball. "Obviously winning is a lot more fun. I was part of a championship in 1969, and a playoff contender and a World Series team in '73, so I was part of two championships. It's a lot of fun, a lot of thrills, a lot of fond memories, and I'll be looking forward to seeing all the players coming back."
They will be coming back in droves this winter, telling stories of the highs and lows and the boys of summers past, because Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.) announced that it will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Mets at the 23rd annual "Going to Bat for B.A.T." fundraising dinner on Jan. 24, 2012, at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel.
Founded in 1986 as an entity of Major League Baseball, B.A.T. is dedicated to assisting members of the baseball family through financial grants, healthcare programs and rehabilitative counseling. More than $23 million in grants have been awarded to date, benefiting more than 2,700 members of the baseball family who are in need of assistance.
Those on hand at the Fan Cave to make the announcement about the next dinner included Kranepool, Hall of Famers Ralph Kiner and Joe Morgan, Mets legend Darryl Strawberry, former Mets catcher and 2005 Hurricane Katrina survivor Barry Lyons and B.A.T. executive director Joe Grippo.
"This event obviously is a tremendous fundraiser for baseball, which takes care of their own," Kranepool said. "There have been a lot of former players who unfortunately have had some tough times, and if we can benefit them in any way, it's certainly my pleasure to be a part of it. Since 1986, I've been to every dinner, and I'm going to continue to do it. I hope former players, and current players who are active, will support their program."
Kiner, 88 and cracking jokes Wednesday, has been there for the whole half-century as a Mets broadcaster, following his own Hall of Fame career as a feared slugger. He noted that it was during his first Major League season with Pittsburgh in 1946 that he represented the National League and Allie Reynolds represented the American League as a pension plan was introduced for MLB players.
"It really was the basis for the beginning of the greatest pension plan in the history of all business," he recalled. "It was a wonderful story and still is."
Kiner will be among those who fans flock to see for an autograph at the B.A.T. dinner. He said of the 50th-anniversary celebration: "In a way, it means everything to me. I spent 50 years with the Mets from their beginning in 1962 to broadcasting their games ever since. I still work, in fact. Of course, the Mets have been a major part of our life in sports.
"The one thing about being around for 50 years, you can tell a lot of lies and nobody's around to refute it," he said. "I was there with the Mets in 1962, and that was the start of a wonderful experience of broadcasting baseball games for a New York City team. We had some great years, and they also had a lot of bad years, but the whole thing turned into a wonderful experience for me.
"The only thing that sort of bothers me about the whole matter, a lot of people come up to me and say, 'Didn't you used to be Ralph Kiner?' Well, I still am Ralph Kiner. I was a baseball player for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1946, and that was the start of what became one of the great pensions of all-time."
Strawberry, who led the Mets to their most recent title in 1986 and then added two more World Series rings with the Yankees in '96 and '99, took the opportunity to repeatedly emphasize that active Major Leaguers need to get involved with events such as the B.A.T. dinner.
"We're all here because we support a tremendous cause, of being part of the B.A.T. organization and what it means to players and assisting them," he said. "They're always there. This is what baseball is about. Baseball is a family. We would like to get some of those current players out there to come support some of the great players who played the game. Because when you understand the game of baseball, each step from Ralph Kiner to Joe Morgan to Eddie Kranepool, they made a way for a guy like me to come along and play, and make great money and excel at the Major League level. Current players need to understand what the great players did for the game of baseball."
Lyons used to come to the B.A.T. fundraisers as an active player and as a former player. And then one day, he became a beneficiary himself. On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina wiped out his home and that of many others in his hometown of Biloxi, Miss. Former teammate David Cone helped steer him to the right person within B.A.T., and now he tells the story to others in hopes they will donate funds.
"My family and I suffered, along with thousands of others, total devastation and loss of homes, vehicles, clothing, memorabilia and pretty everything I owned," Lyons said. "I was able to secure and save some things, but a huge part of my life was gone. Fortunately my family and I are safe and received no personal harm. But obviously everything we owned at that time was washed away by the surge and the wind and the water of Hurricane Katrina.
"The B.A.T. group assisted me for over a year, in helping me get my life back in order -- helping to pay the mortgage, helping me make ends meet, helping me to get back on my feet. Without B.A.T. at that time, it would have been even more difficult. Now, six years later, the Mississippi Gulf Coast is thriving again. There's still a long way to go, but good things are happening. I'm very proud to say that Biloxi -- my hometown and one of the areas hit hardest by Katrina -- has come back. I'll always remain grateful of the B.A.T. efforts."
Special awards are presented at the dinner each year: the Big BAT/Frank Slocum Award, which goes to an individual who provides financial support and generosity to the B.A.T. organization; the Bart Giamatti Award, which goes to the individual who displays a dedication to giving back to the community; and the Bobby Murcer Award, which is presented to the team in both leagues whose players contribute the most amount of money to B.A.T. through the B.A.T. Payroll Deduction Program the previous year.
Grippo said his organization reviewed 75 grants on Tuesday, and almost all of those applicants are being helped. Speaking at the home of the 2011 MLB Dream Job winner, he said "this is the real MLB Dream Job, trust me."
"The [Mets] organization has been an incredible supporter of B.A.T. over the years, and we are thankful for their generosity in helping members of the baseball family," Grippo said. "The Mets have one of the most passionate followings in the game, and we are happy to give those fans an opportunity to rub elbows with some of their baseball heroes while raising money for B.A.T."
"We are honored that the Baseball Assistance Team is saluting the Mets' 50th anniversary," said Dave Howard, Mets executive vice president, business operations. "This will be an 'Amazin'' experience for our fans to meet some of the greatest players in our history and raise money for B.A.T.'s mission of helping members of the baseball family in need."
For more information about B.A.T., to purchase tickets for the dinner, or to make a donation, phone 212-931-7821 or visit BaseballAssistanceTeam.com.