Hall of Fame Weekend is Under Way
PLAY Ball With Ozzie and First-Day-of-Issue Major League All-Stars Dedication Ceremony Headline the Day
“This is baseball heaven, so I try and spend as much time here as I can.”
In responding to a reporter’s question why he returns to Cooperstown for the annual National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, legendary shortstop Ozzie Smith may have been speaking for all those who’ve shared in the experience over the past eight decades.
Friday morning was the start of the Induction Weekend schedule, and it began with the Wizard of Oz and his annual fundraiser, PLAY Ball, for the Hall of Fame’s education department. Joined by fellow Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and Paul Molitor, the quartet spent time at an area diamond with 18 participants for a couple hours of instruction and fun.
The annual Smith fundraiser dates back to 2002, the year Smith was inducted into the Hall of Fame. In total, the 13-time Gold Glove winner has helped raise more than $110,000. “I’m just trying to do my part,” he said.
The weekend’s highlight arrives on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. with the induction of longtime Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin and former Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 70.
“It’s great to see guys that have his (Larkin’s) ability finally get a chance to make it here,” said Smith of his National League contemporary for 11 seasons. “I’m happy for him because he was the guy I kind of passed the torch to in 1996 when I retired. When you see a player of his caliber, it’s not hard to figure out that he had a chance to be a Hall of Famer. And it finally came true for him this year."
As for their styles of play as shortstops, Smith acknowledges there were differences.
“I was probably more prototypical, while he was the first guy that came along as a shortstop and hit 30 home runs and stole 30 bases in the same season,” Smith said. “At that point I think the game was starting to change a little bit and you were starting to see the position much more from an offensive standpoint rather than an emphasis put on defense. And he was one of the first guys that was able to blend those two things together.”
Former Reds catcher Bench spent many a game playing against Santo, who he called both consistent and a great fielder.
“The numbers he put up were deserving a long time ago,” Bench said. “I’m really sad that he’s not going to be here to be a part of this. If you get an extra star for loving the game more than anybody else …”
The day’s activities continued with the unveiling of four new stamps depicting Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Larry Doby, Willie Stargell and Ted Williams by the United States Postal Service. The late-morning First-Day-of-Issue Major League All-Stars dedication ceremony for the “Baseball Legends Stamps” took place in the Hall’s Grandstand Theater.
“The relationship between the Museum and the postal service dates back to our grand opening over 73 years ago on June 12, 1939,” said Jane Forbes Clark, the Hall’s Chairman of the Board. “The United States Postal Service commemorated that moment with the release of a three cent stamp known as “The Centennial of Baseball" and we are thrilled that the tradition is continuing. What an honor for us, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, to welcome the United States Postal Service back to Cooperstown and pay tribute four such fantastic members of our Hall of Fame.”
Patrick R. Donahoe, the 73rd Postmaster General of the United States, said, “The postal service has been around for a long time, 1775, under the leadership of Benjamin Franklin, our first Postmaster General. When you think about it, as old as we are, baseball is a pretty old institution in this country too."
“Today, on a leisurely summer day, the Postal Service honors the memory of four great players whose unchanging dreams and exceptional skills propelled them to success,” he added. “We’re pleased to honor baseball and these four excellent players, especially since these four reflect so much on the unique American culture.”
Also attending the celebration was Tony Gwynn, who had the chance over the years to meet all four of his fellow Hall of Famers being honored.
“When I think of Joe DiMaggio, Larry Doby, Willie Stargell and Ted Williams, I immediately think of hitting because all four of these guys could really hit,” said Gwynn, who compiled a .338 career batting average during a 20-year career with the San Diego Padres. “But each Hall of Famer featured in these stamps is being honored today because their impact on the game went well beyond baseball. Joe DiMaggio, Larry Doby, Willie Stargell and Ted Williams proved to be more than just being great baseball players. They were each role models that provided opportunities for future baseball players and generations of fans to celebrate their achievements. It is only appropriate that these are ‘Forever’ stamps as these legends will forever be Hall of Fame talents and Hall of Fame contributors to our game.”
Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum