This morning it was back in the time machine to go back into the past. Upon arrival in Cooperstown, it was off to mass. The church was small, and a pre-Vatican II design with the tabernacle centered on the back wall. It was a bit odd walking in to church and seeing Yankees, Cardinals, and White Sox uniforms (one Cubs, two Braves)
It was a fast mass, and the priest invoked the White Sox as the greatest team ever for their perseverance through tough times. The priest ended mass by reminding everyone that if they parked in the church parking lot, they were welcome to leave them there as long as they were gone by midnight (a very kind thing … most private homes were charging $40 or more for parking today). He then announced that the recessional hymn would not be found in the hymnal, but that everyone would know the words. Then, I had the surreal experience of singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” … in church (with an organ as the dear Lord intended the song to be accompanied). It was a reminder: Cooperstown, like Camelot, is unique, and operates under different rules.
I got to walk through the small residential neighborhood today between the church and the field where the induction ceremony would be held. Many residents had signs advertising parking, and many other homes and makeshift lemonade/water/homemade cookie stands manned by the local adorable urchins (the church was about half way between the Hall of Fame and the field where the induction ceremony would be held). Every do often, a father and son or brotehrs or a brother and sister playing catch. The town was very friendly in a very 1950s kind of wholesomeness.
The induction ceremony was in a field next to the town’s athletic center. A giant white tent shielded the immortals and the soon to be enshrined. We had reserved seating behind the invited guests. As we entered, we noticed that Joe Torre, the Yankee manager, seemed to have nearly one-third of the reserved seating (it turns out his wife is one of 15 kids, and her side of the family knew a good thing when they saw one). We waited in our seats for about an hour watching videos on the giant high def projection screen. Nearby, former Brave pitcher John Smoltz and former White Sox hero Jermaine Dye were manning the MLB Network booth. John Rocker arrived and started signing autographs, miraculously not getting the pus beaten out of him by the assembled citizens of Yankee Nation.
As the ceremony began, the immortals arrived and were seated while the six new inductees got front row seats. Gary Thorne, broadcaster for the Baltimore Orioles, was the MC, and introduced the President of the Hall of Fame (the granddaughter of the founder), and the Commissioner of Baseball, Bud Selig.
The three Braves were inducted first. Greg Maddux gave an elegant speech that was practiced, sharp, and slick. The man delivered speeches just like he pitched. Maddux elicited boos from the Braves fans when he declared Cubs fans the best fans in the world, but then made up for it when he declared that he left Chicago because he wanted to win. Ouch!
Tom Glavine was also relatively short, and to the point. Bobby Cox included some humorous anecdotes about his years managing the Braves dynasty. I guess I hadn’t expected an old-timer like Bobby Cox to give a nice speech, but it was well done, and relatively short.
Tony LaRussa’s speech was a little longer, and at times meandered, but the emphasis of his speech was learning … that one is never too old to learn, and that this is how he managed to stay in the game so long. He expressed his gratitude for all three organizations he had worked for: the White Sox, the A’s, and the Cardinals. He noted that he still seemed somewhat confused over his election, and that he didn’t know what to make of it. LaRussa was the fifth manager in Major League history to have a law degree. He was also the fifth manager to have a law degree to get elected to the Hall of Fame. I guess law degrees can have some value in the world 😉
Each of the inductees were introduced by a video testimony from someone. Maddux was introduced by Tom Glavine, and Glavine by John Smoltz.
The next video was Ken “The Hawk” Harrelson, who explained (and showed through footage) the origin of the nickname “The Big Hurt”. He also lapsed into a Hawkism explaining that in his 50 years in the game, the three greatest right handed hitters he had ever seen were Manny Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera, and Frank Thomas. Then, Frank stepped to the mic. Maddux and Glavine had been warm but precise, and Cox had been humorous. I’m not sure anyone was ready for a man who towered over the podium and microphone to deliver what came next.
If you click that link (and it worked), you will see that it didn’t take long for the big guy to choke up and start crying through most of the 18 minutes he spoke. I was trying to take video, and it was hard for me to hold the camera steady while dabbing my own eyes. I lost track of how many times he said “thanks” or “thank you”. He could have made this about a crusade against those who tried to cheat with steroids, but he didn’t need to. His mere presence was all of the proof he needed for that. The last Chicago White Sox player to be alive for their induction was 30 years ago when Luis Aparicio was inducted in 1984. At this rate, and given the current state of the team, there is no strong indication to counter this, we may not see another induction for at least 20 years if not longer. I was extremely happy to be a witness to this event. It was a great day for baseball (the third highest attendance for an induction), and a diamond studded platinum moment in White Sox history. I hope one day to share my pictures and videos with my nephew.