Dan Schlossberg's Weekend Report: Induction Party Was Baseball's Answer To Woodstock • Latino Sports


Dan Schlossberg’s Weekend Report: Induction Party Was Baseball’s Answer To Woodstock


COOPERSTOWN — I never had so much fun in my life.

A baseball fan since 1957 and baseball writer since 1969, I have written 35 books and made friends of celebrities while covering the game. But I had never been to Induction Weekend before Jay Smith, president of Sports Travel and Tours, asked me to help entertain the 800 bus passengers he brought to Central New York this weekend.

Jay knew I loved the Atlanta Braves, who had the unique distinction this year of seeing three of their biggest icons inducted simultaneously.

Bobby Cox (right) and current Braves boss Fredi Gonzalez

Bobby Cox (right) and current Braves boss Fredi Gonzalez

Greg Maddux, who leads all living pitchers with 355 wins, led off with a speech heavy on humility and thanks but inclusive of a couple of zingers just to remind listeners of his reputation as a serious athlete on the diamond but a playoff observer in the dugout.

Bobby Cox, whose string of 14 straight division titles may stand unchallenged, followed Maddux in the speaking order, with Tom Glavine then completely the triumphant troika from Atlanta.

All three mentioned John Smoltz, the third man in the team’s formidable Big Three rotation and a leading contender for enshrinement next July.

Tony LaRussa, third in career wins by a manager, spoke fourth, followed by

Joe Torre's Yankee years got him into Cooperstown

Joe Torre’s Yankee years got him into Cooperstown

long-time White Sox slugger Frank Thomas and finally by Joe Torre, who reached the postseason in all 12 of his seasons with the New York Yankees.

All six speeches were emotional but Thomas — long known as The Big Hurt — was the only speaker who lost his composure.

More than 50 of the 66 living Hall of Famers, from Hank Aaron to Sandy Koufax, were introduced by emcee Gary Thorne before the outdoor ceremonies began under a sweltering summer sun.

The camaraderie was apparent. LaRussa admitted he was a lousy player who almost stumbled into the manager’s office, while Torre blamed teammate Felix Millan for setting up his dubious feat of hitting into four double-plays (Millan went 4-for-4 while hitting ahead of him).

Frank Thomas is now a Hall of Famer

Frank Thomas is now a Hall of Famer

All three managers credited long-time coaches for making the day possible: Don Zimmer with Torre, Leo Mazzone with Cox, and Dave Duncan with LaRussa.

Many of their colleagues, including former manager Jim Leyland, were in the audience, along with hordes of family members.

Also spotted in the crowds were Stan Kasten, long-time president of the Braves, current Atlanta general manager Frank Wren, and a myriad of prominent writers and broadcasters.

With retiring Commissioner Bud Selig reading each of the six new plaques aloud, a few fans yelled “Pete Rose, Pete Rose,” loudly enough to be heard on the MLB Network feed. Rose has been banned from the Hall of Fame ballot because he violated the rule against betting on baseball.

Of all the incumbent Hall of Famers, Aaron got the loudest ovation when he was introduced. A huge collection of Braves fans also erupted into “the

His 11th-inning homer won the NL pennant for the 1957 Milwaukee Braves

Hank Aaron, 80, got the loudest ovation at Sunday’s Inductions

Tomahawk Chop” when Cox was introduced.

Just one day earlier, the living Hall of Famers enjoyed a golf tournament in the morning and a parade in pick-up trucks, symbolizing the tiny town’s status as an otherwise-sleepy hamlet known as much for farming as baseball.

Taking advantage of enormous crowds, ballplayers great and small sold signatures at tables that lined Main Street. They ranged from Ron Blomberg, the first designated hitter, to Art Shamsky, hero of the ’69 Mets. Also on the street were Ryan Klesko, John Rocker, and career hit king Pete Rose, whose exclusion from the Hall of Fame (gambling) remains a source of controversy.

Hall of Famers Tommy Lasorda, Gaylord Perry, Ferguson Jenkins, Juan Marichal, and Andre Dawson also occupied Main Street tables, along with Hall of Fame hopeful Dale Murphy, a two-time MVP who somehow remains on the outside, looking in.

Darryl Strawberry was here too, along with players from the old Negro Leagues.

The Induction Ceremony itself looked like baseball’s answer to Woodstock, with fans perched on blankets and folding chairs that had been placed a day ahead. Just a walk to the the hot dog stand manned by Cooperstown High School kids required a delicate balance and more patience than most fans could muster. And the lines were long — almost extending up the rear hill in the vast open field adjacent the Clark Sports Center, a mile from town.

The top Cooperstown candidates for next year are Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Smoltz, and Craig Biggio, who missed by two votes this year. The Baseball Writers Association of  America (BBWAA), whose members vote, shortened the time players stay on the ballot from 15 to 10 years. The result may be fewer players getting the required 75 per cent of the vote before their eligibility expires.

This year’s was the largest Induction Class since six men were enshrined in 1971. Many of the thousands in the audience wore the regalia of their respective teams.

Now that the All-Star Game and Induction Weekend are over, teams can get down to business — more specifically doing business. The deadline for non-waiver trades is July 31.

In recent days, the Red Sox have sent struggling starter Jake Peavy to the San Francisco Giants for prospects and the Cardinals have signed catcher A.J. Pierzynski to protect the position vacated by injured All-Star Yadier Molina.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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