Sunday's inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame are a varied group, with nicknames running the spectrum in terms of flattery. With Andre Dawson (aka "Hawk") being the only player elected on the writers' ballot, the Veterans Committee saved the day by voting in "The White Rat," Whitey Herzog, and the umpire otherwise known as "God," Doug Harvey.
This year's ceremony was quite the production, stretched out over three hours, considerably longer than last year's event, which was reorganized and rushed due to the threat of rain. There were welcome additions to the lineup, as well as a couple of questionable calls, namely the between-speech interviews with current Hall of Famers Tom Seaver and Ozzie Smith. But, a special treat on this particular day was John Fogerty's live performance of his baseball classic "Centerfield," in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the release of his popular anthem.
Fogerty didn't bring a band with him, but he definitely performed his vocals live, and entertained the crowd with a song that has become almost as much a part of the game as "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Allowing Fogerty to speak following the song was a bit questionable, but it didn't detract from the moment.
Before the Hall of Famers took the podium, Ford C. Frick Award winner Jon Miller kicked things off with an embarrassing story about his daughter interrupting a radio broadcast by asking him to take her to the little girls' room. J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Bill Madden then recounted the pivotal moments in his career as a baseball journalist in New York. Together, Miller and Madden represent quite possibly the most well known (to me) pair of Frick and Spink award winners in the 23 years I've attended.
31-year National League umpire Doug Harvey was unable to deliver his speech in person due to throat cancer, but he had recorded his speech shortly after being elected back in December. When he spoke to my umpire school class back in 1994, he mentioned that his mother's wish was to live long enough to see him get into the Hall. So, I expected a heartfelt acknowledgment of the fact that didn't happen, but instead Harvey's primary message was that umpires "...are necessary, but not evil."
After the conclusion of the pre-recorded speech, during which the skies opened and there was a brief downpour followed immediately by the sun peeking out from behind the clouds, Harvey had a few words to say to the live crowd. He drew quite a laugh from virtually all in attendance as he said, "I want you to notice that I stopped the rain."
Whitey Herzog's managerial career ended after the 1990 season, so he had to wait quite a while to get the call notifying him that he was going into the Hall. As he referenced former Cardinal Enos Slaughter's "It's about time!" declaration upon learning of his own Hall of Fame selection, Herzog's humble speech began with the statement, "Any time is a good time when you're receiving an award like this." He then proceeded to honor his fellow inductees, saving Harvey for last, and humorously pleading with the former arbiter not to throw him out of Cooperstown.
Andre Dawson was the headliner of the day, and he was certainly up to the task. Just as humbly as Herzog started off, Hawk began by saying, "Thank you, gentlemen, for welcoming this rookie to your team." He then briefly turned his speech into a roast of a few fellow Hall of Famers, including marveling over how much beer Goose Gossage could drink and thanking Tommy Lasorda for teaching him how to get a free meal.
Dawson was mostly serious, though, and his primary message was about respecting the game. "If you love the game, the game will love you back" seems to have become his mantra, as he made that statement three times during his speech, in which he also defended baseball by reminding us that it's people who have made mistakes, not the game.
It wouldn't be a Hall of Fame induction ceremony, though, without a few plugs for players whose careers are yet to be deemed worthy of Cooperstown, and without a speech that brought a few tears to the eyes of the crowd. Dawson delivered in both respects, getting in a subtle plug for Pete Rose, and making an obvious plea on behalf of the under-rated Tim Raines.
Dawson closed out the afternoon's event by spending several minutes paying tribute to his mother. Unfortunately, she passed away four years prior to his special day, but she certainly made her mark on this Hall of Famer's career. The tear-jerker moment was when he said his mom promised that he'd have his moment one day, and his mom never broke a promise. It's just too bad she wasn't able to witness the final fruits of her labor, as her son displayed the quiet dignity in accepting baseball's greatest honor that he was known for throughout his career.
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