New York Yankees reliever Zack Britton inspired to recognize key bullpen performances with FDNY helmet

NEW YORK -- Reliever Zack Britton wanted to light a fire under the Yankees' bullpen. And he got a helmet to prove it.

Britton was looking for a way to not only recognize a job well done recently, but also spur some friendly competition within the New York Yankees' relief corps.

And a 1986 Dave Righetti Rolaids Relief Man Award trophy spurred an idea.

From 1976 to 2012, the Rolaids award was bestowed annually to the top relievers in each league. And because so many relievers are known for "putting out a fire," the trophy awarded was a gold-plated firefighter's helmet. (It's known today as the Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year and Trevor Hoffman NL Reliever of the Year awards.)

Britton found the 1986 version of the trophy awarded to Righetti, the then-Yankees closer, in storage at Yankee Stadium. That trophy, which now lives in the Yankees' bullpen, gave Britton the idea of acquiring an FDNY firefighter's helmet to use as an award.

Since 2017, a blue leather Yankees-themed championship belt has been officially awarded to the "Player of the Game" in a fun clubhouse ceremony, where it is passed on from winner to winner, according to their individual game contributions.

But Britton was inspired to start a tradition of awarding the helmet to the reliever that managed to best serve as a "firefighter" in a particular game the Yankees had won, mostly because the belt is not generally awarded to a member of the bullpen.

"You look at the job that Clay Holmes does, filling in, shouldering the load in the bullpen. And I was out, and Chad Green's out, and Aroldis Chapman was out too at one time. And for a guy that's never been in this situation... and not just him, Michael King, Wandy Peralta... guys that were not expected to do this, they're the ones carrying the load. It's not their job. They're not getting paid to do that," Britton told ESPN. "I'm getting paid to do that, Chapman is getting paid to do that. And the all the relievers that were acquired and the young guys that have joined our bullpen. I felt like these guys should be recognized,"

"And in the end, good bullpens always work when there's a competition, when one guy is doing well, the next guy wants to do well. If you're closing, and your seventh and eighth-inning guys are dominant, you want to dominate too. So, I wanted to create something that is not just about competing for ourselves, but there's also a little friendly competition in the 'pen, because you want the helmet, you want to be the guy."

About four months ago, Britton asked Yankees director of team security Mark Kafalas, a former member of the New York City Police Department with close connections to the New York City Fire Department, to help him secure a helmet. Once Britton made his way back to Yankee Stadium after being activated off the injured list just over a year after undergoing elbow reconstructive surgery, the helmet was waiting for him.

Britton's idea was to have the helmet outfitted with a sticker with the winning reliever's number, and stars would be added for every repeat award, in the style of college football helmets. The goal, per Britton, would be to fill the helmet with stars and every number for every Yankees reliever.

The first sticker was Lou Trivino's No. 56. Trivino relieved Chapman with two men on and one out in Thursday's game against the Boston Red Sox. He loaded the bases with a four-pitch walk to the first batter he faced, but got out of the inning without further damage. The Yankees went on to beat Boston 5-4 in 10 innings.

Jonathan Loaisiga, No. 43, was the second recipient. He pitched two innings without allowing any runs to earn his second win of the season against the Red Sox in Friday's 5-4 win. The third recipient was Scott Effross (No. 59); the sidewinder earned his first save in Saturday's 7-5 win over Boston.

Britton pitched on Saturday too -- his first game in the major leagues since undergoing surgery in September 2021. But Britton, who returned about two months ahead of schedule, deflected when asked if he would have been deserving of the helmet in his debut.

"You can't start the fire and get the helmet," Britton said, laughing, given the fact that he left the game with the bases loaded and only one out for Trivino, before Effross came in for the save. "But the idea is for every guy in the pen to have their number on the helmet. There's always somebody, and it's not always the closer, it's not always the set-up guy, that comes in and puts out the fire and I want them to know that's valuable to us."