Hall of Fame weekend: the ceremony

With the central New York weather rating nearly a perfect 10, it was only fitting that emotions reached a similarly high level on Induction Day in Cooperstown.

Vicki Santo, the widow of Ron Santo, gave one of the most stirring induction speeches in memory, while Barry Larkin delivered a talk high on energy and enthusiasm.

Speaking clearly but emotionally on a sunny and seasonable 80-degree day, Mrs. Santo thanked former Cub greats Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, and “especially Billy Williams” for their support of Santo. She also explained how her husband dealt with his diabetic condition. Because he did not have the technologavical devices available to diabetics today, Santo gauged his sugar levels simply by how he felt while hitting, fielding and running.

She recalled on one occasion how he suffered a reaction while in the on-deck circle. After Williams walked to load the bases, Santo found himself battling a bout with triple vision. Figuring that he ought to swing against the middle of the three pitchers he saw, Santo somehow belted a grand slam home run against Bill Singer, the hard-throwing right-hander for the Dodgers.

Mrs. Santo also spoke of Ron’s commitment to fight diabetes, the disease that plagued him for the entirety of his major league career. She estimated that he raised more than $65 million in the battle against juvenile diabetes.

Finally, Mrs. Santo quoted from a classic Christmas film in summing up the substance of Ron’s life. “I don’t know of anyone who had more friends than Ron Santo … He truly had a wonderful life.”

Faced with a tough act to follow, Larkin did well in conveying his spirited enthusiasm to a crowd that was dominated by a flood of Reds shirts and caps. Though nervous and overcome with emotion near the beginning of his speech, Larkin managed to thank his family members, including his daughter, who sang the National Anthem at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown.

He mentioned a number of influential Hall of Famers with the Reds’ organization, including the late Sparky Anderson and the playing trio of Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez, who watched Larkin’s speech from the stage behind him.

In perhaps the most touching moment of his speech, Larkin spoke Spanish while thanking the Latino community in attendance. He acknowledged Latino greats like Luis Aparicio, the late Roberto Clemente, and last year’s inductee Roberto Alomar. As a shortstop, Larkin added that he badly had wanted to play with a second baseman like Alomar.

As expected, Larkin acknowledged his first manager, Pete Rose, who is currently banned from Hall of Fame consideration. The mention of Rose’s name drew loud cheers from the assembled crowd of about 15,000 fans. In recalling Rose, Larkin said nothing about Rose’s ban but instead told the story of how he received his call to the majors, except that he had no equipment to use. So Rose gave him his bat and his shoes to play with in his first game; Larkin kept the bat and the shoes, bringing them home as mementos after his major league debut.

Larkin also credited several of his mentors, including veteran shortstop Dave Concepcion, who happened to be one of his boyhood idols. Even though Concepcion knew full well that Larkin was being groomed to take his job, he worked diligently with Larkin on defense and preparation.

Other veteran teammates also helped Larkin. He mentioned Tom Browning, Danny Jackson, Jose Rijo, Billy Hatcher and Chris Sabo, whom he referenced as “Spuds Mackenzie.” Larkin also cited Buddy Bell as his mentor and recalled a story involving outfielders Eric Davis and Dave Parker. After Davis and Parker confronted Larkin about playing with more urgency and determination, the young shortstop overhauled his attitude, spearheading his Hall of Fame career.

Hall of Fame news and notes

Davis, Parker, and Tom Browning all attended the ceremony in honor of Larkin. Larkin’s invited guests included actor and baseball fan Charlie Sheen, who could be seen wearing a Reds cap while sitting in the VIP section at the Clark Sports Center.

Those who attended in support of Santo included former Cubs catcher Randy Hundley and longtime Cubs second baseman Glenn Beckert. Hundley served as one of Santo’s pallbearers, while Beckert was Santo’s roommate in Chicago.

Other baseball notables in the audience included Tony LaRussa, who was honored as part of a celebration of three generations of Cardinals managers; ex-Reds and Cubs manager Lou Piniella; former Phillies right-hander Larry Christenson (who is good friends with Frick Award winner Tim McCarver); and FOX broadcaster Joe Buck, who is McCarver’s on-air partner.

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A total of 45 Hall of Famers attended the ceremony. Gaylord Perry escorted his former Giants teammate, Willie Mays, onto the stage. Mays’ vision is very poor, making it difficult for him to walk in tight quarters. Another aging Hall of Famer, Yogi Berra, who has been walking with the assistance of a cane, was helped onto the stage by Whitney Selover, the Hall’s director of Hall of Fame Weekend.

In one of the most memorable sequences of the day, the Hall of Fame played an emotional video tribute to the late Gary Carter on the Jumbotron scoreboard. Carter passed away in February from brain cancer. Carter’s widow, Sandy, courageously attended this weekend’s festivities in Cooperstown.

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Bruce Markusen is the manager of Digital and Outreach Learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He has authored seven baseball books, including biographies of Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Ted Williams, and A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, which was awarded SABR's Seymour Medal.

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Glenn-Troy NY
Glenn-Troy NY

it is too bad they still don’t put up the necrology since the last induction on the video screen like they did in the past..a lot of ballplayers that we remember in our youth don’t get mentioned in the papers or on the internet when they die ..having their name on the screen lets us remember their contribution to the game one last time..