The award honoring the memory of the Major League Baseball star and manager for whom the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is named has been presented for more than half century, but it has yet to gain the visibility traction that would put it on the prestige pedestal that it’s supporters think it merits.
To students of baseball lore, the name Fred Hutchinson brings to mind a Seattle kid who became a star pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, went on to manage three big league teams, including guiding the Cincinnati Reds to the 1961 World Series, but succumbed to cancer in 1964 at the age of 45.
But to those afflicted by the disease that claimed his life, his name on the renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, created in 1975 by his brother, Dr. William Hutchinson, to honor his memory, has conveyed hope.
A year after Hutch’s death, three Midwest sports media admirers who saw him in action created an award to honor his memory, and ever since then The Hutch Award has been presented to a Major League Baseball player who exemplified the fighting spirit and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson.
For years the award was given out annually in New York, starting with a flourish as the first honorees were New York Yankee legend Mickey Mantle and Dodger pitching great Sandy Koufax. But it was an event far from Seattle and wasn’t a fund raiser until, in 1999, it was brought back to Seattle and was moved to Safeco Field a year later.
But despite the fact the Seattle Mariners are a sponsor and, for the past 16 years, have hosted the annual luncheon where the award is presented at Safeco Field, attracting about 1,000 attendees and raising about a half-million dollars a year for The Hutch, it has not yet achieved the success its supporters think it could and should.
The missing link to bring the award to a visibility level equal to the prestige of The Hutch itself is viewed as active support from Major League Baseball.
And a new push to achieve higher visibility and broader support, including from Major League Baseball, is under way by officials of The Hutch as well as those who have long been involved in this event.
“We hope to take this prestigious award onto a national stage to increase the support and awareness around our world-class science at the Fred Hutch,” said Justin R. Marquart Deputy Director of Development at The Hutch. He was quick to note that local sponsors like the Mariners and Alaska Airlines have provided key support but that what direct involvement from Major League Baseball would mean is national sponsors.
Organized effort to gain visibility for what it is and what it does has not been part of the strategy for The Hutch as an institution until the last year or so, which is part of the explanation for the fact that this event hasn’t received a lot of media visibility, even locally.
Certainly the achievements of The Hutch’s “stars” have gained attention over the years. Those range from the Nobel Prizes in physiology or medicine that have gone to Donnall Thomas in 1990, Dr. Lee Hartwell in 2001 and Dr. Linda Buck in 2004, as well as the major awards across the medical industry to individual researchers. Perhaps the most compelling of advances for which The Hutch is known is the life-changing research of Thomas into bone marrow transplantation.
But research into cancer and related diseases has come to require huge amounts of money and the quest to attract those dollars from grants, individuals and events has come to require a visibility strategy and focus matching the research itself at the institutions where research and treatment are carried on.
“It is our goal to eliminate cancer as a cause of human suffering and death through prevention and curative treatments accessible to all patients,” as Marquart put it. And that “accessibility to all” is a major cost driver. Among those is the Hutch School, where patients and family members of those living temporarily in Seattle while being treated at The Hutch have classes, from kindergarten through high school.
The success the award has achieved since returning to Seattle is due to a large extent to the involvement of Jody Lentz, regional sales manager for Mass Mutual, who set up and chaired a committee to oversee planning for the event.
“We had about 25 to 30 people at the event at the hotel the first year and I thought ‘we should make this a fund raiser,’” she recalls.
Her plan included getting a hall of fame player as keynoter each year, and the event has generated attendance of between 1,000 and 1,400 and about $500,000 a year for The Hutch.
Her commitment to the event has stemmed from the fact that both cancer and baseball are part of her life. Husband, Mike, was the highest pick in the baseball draft ever from this state, being the second overall pick as the first choice of the San Diego Padres in 1975.
Her sons Ryan, Richie and Andy were all baseball All-Americans at the University of Washington and Ryan and Richie had careers that included high minor league play and time on the roster of the Major League teams that drafted them.
And she has suffered two cancers, the latest, thyroid, hit her in 2008, as that year’s event was in planning, after she had chaired and overseen the event the previous eight years.
“I just never got involved again,” she told me as we talked about her sense of frustration over the fact “I guess I figured it was time for others to have a chance to guide this event. But I do believe this event could be so much more as a source of funding for The Hutch.”
It was that 2008 event where John Lester, a native of Puyallup and most recently on the mound for the Chicago Cubs in this year’s World Series, was honored after being successfully treated at The Hutch for anaplastic large cell lymphoma.
Lentz is convinced that a lack of local visibility for the event is a reason that major local sponsors have not stepped up in major fashion to add value to the funds raised for The Hutch.
The 2017 event, an 11:30 to 1:30 luncheon, will be January 25 at Safeco with Boston Red Sox star Jim Rice as the Hall of Fame keynote speaker. The honoree for 2017 will be announced in the next few days.
Honorees are chosen by a vote of each Major League team to determine which player on the team meets the criteria and those chosen represent the finalists from which the winner is selected. Jamie Moyer is the only Mariner to be selected.
Last year’s honoree was Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals as the event raised just under $550,000, which The Hutch put toward faculty fellowships.