Hall of Fame eve features Awards Presentation, Parade of Legends
Early Saturday morning, Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs, about to tee off on a nearby golf course, shared a sentiment undoubtedly held by many in Cooperstown this weekend: “This weekend something I look forward to every year. It’s sort of like Christmas. This is our piece of heaven.”
One day before the National Baseball Hall of Fame holds its 2013 Induction Ceremony, the Museum began the celebration with several events including a Hall of Famer golf tournament, an awards ceremony, and a parade – and baseball fans rejoiced.
The Cooperstown institution held its Awards Presentation at historic Doubleday Field on Saturday afternoon. With the stage placed in centerfield, thousands of fans in the stands and blue skies overhead, MLB.com writer Paul Hagen received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing and beloved Blue Jays voice Tom Cheek was honored posthumously with the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcast excellence.
The weekend culminates on Sunday with the 1:30 p.m. Induction Ceremony at the Clark Sports Center when Hank O’Day, Jacob Ruppert and Deacon White will be enshrined as the Class of 2013.
“I think he loved everything about his job,” said Cheek’s widow, Shirley, who accepted his award. “He really, truly loved his job. He always wanted to be a broadcaster from the time he was seven years old. The kids would be playing stickball and he’d have something in his hand to broadcast the game. His realization of his dream coming true at the age of 37, that is pretty amazing.”
Cheek called the first 4,306 regular-season games and 41 postseason games in Toronto Blue Jays history. Though he passed away in 2005, he had hundreds of family members, friends and fans in the stands to celebrate his day in the sun.
“A few weeks after Tom passed away I came across a notebook that he had jotted down memories,” Shirley Cheek said. “One of the pages were his reflections on baseball.
“These were Tom’s words: Baseball is hotdogs and peanuts, scoring a close game on a warm afternoon, sipping on a cold beer; Baseball is ‘down in front,’ the seventh-inning stretch, Say Hey, and the president throwing out the first pitch; Baseball is Joltin’ Joe, Big Train, the Splendid Splinter, and when the fat lady sings; Baseball is the greatest game in the world and it belongs to all of you and me.”
Hagen’s baseball writing career has spanned four decades, including stints covering the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers and, most notably, the Philadelphia Phillies.
“The announcement was made in December and it seemed so long until this was going to happen,” Hagen said. “And it was really just three or four days ago when I woke up one day and said, ‘Oh my goodness. It’s here. This is really going to happen.’ It seemed so distant and then all of a sudden it seemed like it was really coming at me.”
Hagen’s speech not only thanked those who helped him along the way but also referenced his background in writing and the importance of beat writing.
“I got in just a little too late to be able to hand my copy to the Western Union guy. I kind of regret that – that would have been kind of fun,” Hagen said. “But I started out on typewriters … and I remember thinking when computers came in that this was real good because with all the technology deadlines would obviously get later – but for some reason they got earlier instead.
“When I started out, if you got up in the morning and something happened at noon you had plenty of time to make the phone calls, talk to people, formulate your thoughts and write a coherent story. Now they want it up as quick as you can. So I think the writing part of it has suffered because deadlines have gotten earlier. And now your deadline is every minute because they want it up as quickly as they can.”
Still, being honored in such a way with the Spink Award seems awkward to Hagen.
“When you grow up and go to journalism school and you start up with newspapers the first thing you learn is you’re no supposed to be the story,” he said. “You’re not supposed to put yourself in the story. So to be part of the story is a little unsettling.”
The Awards Ceremony also saluted the contributions of Legendary Entertainment Founder and CEO Thomas Tull, who produced the Jackie Robinson biopic “42,” as well as Dr. Frank Jobe and Tommy John, who combined for the famed surgical procedure on the elbow today known as “Tommy John Surgery.”
“This was in an age when the surgery was just being developed for athletics and things that weren’t lifesaving. So before Tommy (John) came along, if you had this condition you were sent back home,” Dr. Jobe said. “And in his case he didn’t want to go. Even though I kept telling him I couldn’t fix it, and he said, ‘Come up with something.’ I thought I could maybe fix it bit I didn’t know if it would hold up or not. I didn’t know if the body would accept the graft.
“So that’s why I told him he only had about a one in a 100 chance. Really, I wasn’t too confidant that he’d be able to come back. So he came back in a few weeks and said the magic words: ‘Let’s do it.’ So we did. One year and one day from that time he had surgery he pitched.”
According to John, he was aware of Dr. Jobe prior to his 1974 “Tommy John Surgery” due to a 1972 procedure.
“After I hurt my arm in 1974, I told Walt (Dodgers manager Walter Alston) I hurt my elbow and I went in and saw the trainer and I said, ‘Get Dr. Jobe. Something bad has happened,’” John recalled. “It was a pain I’d never had before. And the only pain I’ve had since that comes close to that was Feb. 15 of this year when I fractured my left kneecap in six pieces slipping down stairs.
“But back in 1974, Dr. Jobe told me, and this is why I knew I had a good doctor, ‘Nobody can tell you your arm is sound except you. The trainer can’t, the pitching coach can’t, the manager can’t, I can’t. I can tell you from a medical standpoint it’s sound, but you have to convince yourself.’ And I did.”
Today, estimates are that one-third of big league pitchers have undergone “Tommy John Surgery.”
For Tull, who grew up 90 minutes from Cooperstown, the idea to make the film “42” probably dates back to his first visit to the Hall of Fame when he was a child.
“I’ve been a baseball fanatic since I was a kid and the first time I ever came here the two stories that I vividly remember learning about were Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson,” Tull said. “When Joe Morgan offered to introduce me to Mrs. Robinson (Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow) I just sat down and told her why I thought this was not only an important story, that it was something we were passionate to do, and fortunately she said yes. It was an incredibly special experience.
“Probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life is the first time we showed her the movie. We were in New York and she got friends and family together to watch it. When I came into the screening room she said, ‘You come sit right next to me.’ Twenty minutes into the movie, during an emotional moment in the film, she squeezed my hand, looked at me and smiled, and said, ‘I love it.’ I can’t tell you what a moment that was.”
Tull ended his speech to a standing ovation from the crowd when he said, “After having had the privilege of making “Batman” and “Superman” and all these superhero movies, the greatest superhero movie I’ll ever make is about No. 42, Jackie Robinson.”
The day’s events began early Saturday morning with the Hall of Fame Golf Tournament at Leatherstocking Golf Course.
“I always figure the next shot I make is going to be the greatest shot I make in my life,” said Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro. “That’s how I pitched baseball and that’s how I play golf.
Fellow hurler Bert Blyleven, inducted in 2011, plans on returning to Cooperstown every summer for Induction Weekend.
“It took me 14 years to get in and you’re really in such a small fraternity of guys,” he said. “With Deacon White going in and Hank O’Day and Jacob Ruppert, I’m looking forward to their family members talking about them a little bit on Sunday. It will be interesting to hear some of their memories that were passed down.”
After the Awards Presentation was over, the busy Saturday ended with the almost three dozen returning Hall of Famers sitting in the back of numerous Ford trucks for a parade down Cooperstown’s Main Street.
Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum