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Awards Presentation highlights Induction Eve in Cooperstown

July 21, 2012
Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson interacts with the crowd as the Hall of Fame Parade of Legends makes its way down Main St. (Milo Stewart, Jr./NBHOF Library)

With the biggest moment on the Cooperstown calendar just hours away, the village known as the “Home of Baseball” saw thousands of fans celebrating baseball’s weekend and cheering on some of the games most historic contributors.

Those attending Saturday’s Hall of Fame Awards Presentation, held under sunny afternoon skies at Doubleday Field, saw Tim McCarver of Fox Sports presented with the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcast excellence and the Toronto Sun’s Bob Elliott receive the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.

“I received a text from Al Michaels today. The text was very, very thoughtful and very nice. And I also received a text from Bob Costas,” said McCarver, the former big league catcher in his fourth decade in a broadcast booth, prior to the ceremony. “And the reason I’m dropping those two names is to show you the importance of the weekend that Bob (Elliott) and Barry (Larkin) and the family of Ron Santo and I are about to experience.

“For me personally, it is huge in scope. I’m humbled by the whole experience. It’s easy to say that with the 45 Hall of Famers that are going to be there later on this afternoon. And it’s very difficult to be here without being overwhelmed. And I am. And I’m trying to get over it so I can get through my talk.”

While Elliott, a national fixture in his native Canada for the past 30 years, also called the honor “humbling,” he did recall with some joy a school guidance counselor who wasn’t exactly encouraging.

“He said, ‘What do you want to be?’ and I said, ‘I’d like to work at the newspaper.’ So he’s looking at my marks and laughing and said, ‘You’ve got a 61 in English Composition and you’ve got a 63 in English. You’ve got no chance,’” Elliott told the assembled media prior to accepting the Spink Award. “I said, ‘Sir, I’ve been working there for three years on weekends.’ He said, ‘You can never work there fulltime. Maybe you can get a job at the Napanee Beaver.’ It’s a bi-weekly.

“I went back to a reunion about 20 years later and I couldn’t find him. Not that I was looking for him,” he said with a smile.

Prior to the Awards Presentation – which also celebrated the three living managers who skippered the St. Louis Cardinals to World Series titles: Hall of Famers Red Schoendienst and Whitey Herzog, as well as Tony La Russa, who led the Cards to the 2011 championship – the historic field played host to a new game show, Pitch Count, which involved Hall of Fame pitchers Phil Niekro and Bert Blyleven teaming up with fans.

 As evening fell, the third annual Hall of Fame Parade of Legends was just getting under way. Traveling in Ford trucks down Main Street and concluding at the front steps of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the Hall of Famers arrived for a private reception.

The busy day began with the Hall of Famer Golf Tournament held at the Leatherstocking Golf Course. Located on the shores of Otsego Lake, the greatest names in the game’s history tried to show they were able to swing something more than a bat. During a stop at the first hole, the Hall of Fame participants not only joked (“I wish I could still shoot my age,” said Al Kaline. “I’m 77 and I don’t come close to 77 anymore.”) but shared their thoughts on this year’s inductees – Barry Larkin and the late Ron Santo.

“I’ve been pushing for Santo for a long time and so have a lot of other people,” said Santo’s onetime Cubs teammate Lou Brock. “I remember his courage. Santo was a person with Type 1 diabetes that daily went to his locker, pulled out insulin, gave himself a shot, and went out on the field and made the best of it. To me that was courage at a time and point where people were actually ashamed to have other people know that was happening to them. But he had no shame. That’s what I remember.”

“It’s great to have my friend here,” added Cubs legend Billy Williams, “because Ernie (Banks) is a Hall of Famer, Fergie Jenkins is Hall of Famer, and I’m a Hall of Famer. When he said out in Chicago, ‘This is my Hall of Fame’ when his number was retired, in his heart he didn’t mean it. I know he wanted to be here where his teammates are.”

At an inductee press conference held at the nearby Clark Sports Center, three of Santo’s children shared their thoughts on a father who passed away at the age of 70 in 2010

“We’re as a family just very honored to be here representing our father who we know very much wanted to be here, of course, and was looking forward to it,” said son Ron Jr. “We’re very honored and very proud of him and hoping that we can represent him the best that we know we can.”

“We’re able to experience a little bit of what my dad would and it’s a remarkable feeling,” said Santo’s daughter, Linda Santo Brown. “I feel in a way he’s experiencing it through us and that’s what gives us true satisfaction.”

With less than 24 hours before being honored with his bronze plaque in front of thousands of fans sporting Cincinnati red, Larkin began his pre-induction press conference talking about what the lead-up has been like.

“I’m really excited about this. The last couple of days have been great,” said Larkin, who will be inducted along with Ron Santo as the Class of 2012 at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday in Cooperstown. “I’ve spent a lot of time with many of the Hall of Famers and they’ve made me feel very welcomed here and very comfortable.

“We had a golf tournament this morning and I think my team, which was comprised of my two brothers and my financial guy, we were 22-under. Now, my financial guy, he’s the guy that kept score. I had nothing to do with that.”

As for his induction speech, Larkin, the longtime Reds shortstop now working for ESPN, gave some clues as to what to expect.

“I’m a pretty transparent person, kinda what you see is what you get. And I think I’ve been very vocal about the keys to my success as a player. And what those are basically is what I’ll speak about during my speech,” Larkin said. “It’s the perspective that guys gave me when I first got to the big leagues. The tone that they set, the work acumen that I followed, the work ethic that they talked about, the requirements to be a professional, how to handle success and failure, all those things that my mother and father instilled in me as a young boy but they were reinforced by the players on the team.

“So not only did they help me on the field with becoming a better player but they helped me also become a better person on and off the field.”

Let the countdown begin. 

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum