Hall of Fame Weekend Update: Live From Cooperstown on Sunday

The Summer of Rain subsided for most of the day, allowing Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice, and the family of the late Joe Gordon to fully enjoy their afternoon in the spotlight. Except for a brief smattering of raindrops, the skies remained clear on a day filled with humid warmth in Cooperstown. The announced crowd of 21,000 may have been slightly off the mark, but not as inflated as past estimates have been. So let’s call it a crowd of 20,000, or double the paltry total that we saw last year for the induction of Goose Gossage, Dick Williams and company.

There’s no doubt that the highlight of the day came with Henderson’s speech, which livened up a rather pedestrian ceremony. Wearing a brilliant white suit, Henderson looked sharper than any inductee I’ve ever seen. (He could have done a scene in Saturday Night Fever with that suit.) Though never known as a great orator, Henderson spoke deliberately but clearly. According to a source, he had been coached to slow down his pace; the advice worked to perfection, making Henderson more understandable than he was during most of his career encounters with the media. Henderson also delivered plenty of good old-fashioned humor. I loved his story about how his first coach bribed him to play baseball, a sport that he really didn’t like, by promising him glazed doughnuts and hot chocolate. (Hey, maybe Dallas Green and Lou Piniella should have tried that approach with Rickey in the late eighties!) Henderson provided another interesting tidbit when he described his youthful efforts to obtain Reggie Jackson’s autograph. Rather than sign for his young admirer, Reggie gave Rickey a pen inscribed with his name. Punctuated with some real humility at the end, Henderson delivered one of the better induction speeches of recent memory.

Rice was not nearly as strong with his delivery. He had good content—in particular, his fond remembrances of Don Zimmer, an early mentor—but he was very nervous and stumbled at several junctures. On the plus side, he did a good thing by poking fun at his own prickly relationship with the media. Whether he’ll admit it or not, Rice has clearly mellowed from his contentious days in the seventies and eighties.

In contrast to Rice, Henderson, and Spink Award winner Nick Peters, Tony Kubek did not read from a prepared script. Speaking off the cuff, Kubek recalled his first major league roommate with the Yankees, Moose Skowron, who happened to be in the crowd at the Clark Sports Center. A humble Kubek spoke little of himself, instead taking time to praise Henderson and Rice and tell a few amusing stories from both his playing days and his broadcasting career. He also added a nice touch in describing Cooperstown as “magical,” and praising the hardworking staff at the Hall of Fame for making his weekend so comfortable. It was typically classy Kubek, a nice way to highlight the latter half of the ceremony…

In addition to the actual induction ceremony, here are a few other observations from Sunday’s proceedings in the village:

Downtown Cooperstown was much less clogged on Sunday, what with most of the visitors on the south side of the village attending the ceremony at the Clark Center. The village closed off parking on Main Street, but continued to allow vehicular traffic, a simply baffling decision. The village needs to reconsider that policy in 2010…

Let’s add a few more names to our Saturday list of dignitaries in town. Former A’s shortstop Bert “Campy” Campaneris and longtime baseball funny man Jay Johnstone put in appearances at a local bat company. Both Campy and Jaybird signed as part of an effort to raise money for Ferguson Jenkins’ charitable foundation. Campy remains in tremendous physical condition; he looks lighter every year…

Two prominent executives attended the Sunday ceremony. Yankee general manger Brian Cashman and Red Sox owner John Henry both sat in the VIP section at the Clark Sports Center. Henry’s appearance made sense, given that Rice played his entire career for the Red Sox. I’m not as sure about Cashman, but I’ll guess that he attended as a way of supporting Kubek, who broadcast Yankee games at the end of his career in the late 1990s…

Two non-players also visited Cooperstown this weekend. On the plus side, actor John Schneider (of Dukes of Hazzard fame) signed autographs at Key Bank as part of a charitable effort to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network. On the down side, we were blessed with a visit from the overbearing Keith Olbermann. I’ll have more on “Le Grand Orange’s” annoying presence on Monday…

Finally, I had a brief but interesting encounter with former Tiger, A’s, and Braves pitcher Denny McLain. As I drove down Pioneer Street early in the afternoon, I stopped my car, so as to allow Denny a chance to re-enter his vehicle on the driver side. He thanked me for the patient gesture, not knowing that I was the same writer who had upset him last fall with an article I had written about the late Eddie Brinkman. McLain sent me an angry e-mail in response. Perhaps he’ll read this and think a little bit better of me now. Well, maybe.

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