Stirring day wraps with Parade of Legends
Nostalgia runs high with variety of former superstars on hand
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Player by player and truck by truck, the world's greatest assembly of baseball talent made its way down Main Street in Cooperstown on Saturday. More than 40 all-time greats were on hand for the aptly named Parade of Legends, a highlight of the second day of Hall of Fame weekend.
Heroes of every generation -- from Whitey Ford and Frank Robinson all the way down to Sunday's inductees, Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven -- took turns waving and interacting with the crowd, which lined both sides of Main Street and stood patiently in the oppressive heat of a torrid summer afternoon.
It was a fitting end to an exciting day full of activity in and around the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Sunday's annual induction ceremony, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. ET behind the Clark Sports Center, will be broadcast live on MLB.com and MLB Network, with coverage beginning at 11:30 a.m.
Saturday, by contrast, had its own full slate of activities. The morning brought a series of panel discussions at Doubleday Field that featured some of the weekend's honorees. Bill Conlin and Dave Van Horne -- the winners of the J.G. Taylor Spink and Ford C. Frick Awards, respectively -- took part in a forum dubbed Scribes and Mikemen in which they spoke about their careers in the press box and broadcast booth.
Conlin, in fact, dubbed baseball "the best writing sport in the history of mankind" during his group conversation, and he held forth on what he meant by that designation after the event.
"There's so many storylines," Conlin said. "Because of the fact that you play the game every single day with a day off here and there -- starting with six weeks of Spring Training -- there's a lot more interaction with the players. With the NFL, you get a game Sunday, and then the next day they're usually off or watching films. Tuesday, there might be limited availability. Wednesday, you talk to the quarterback from the other team. It's all so orchestrated ... that it's really difficult to do the type of enterprise writing that it's possible to do on the baseball beat."
There was another discussion -- Talent Evaluation -- that featured two of the game's most prominent managers in Tommy Lasorda and Earl Weaver. That was followed by a talk on the Art of Pitching from Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver and Don Sutton, and a dovetailing discussion on hitting with Paul Molitor and Tony Gwynn.
That was just the beginning of an action-packed day which included an introductory news conference for inductees Alomar, Blyleven and Pat Gillick. That trio took turns speaking about their respective careers and what the Hall of Fame meant to them. Blyleven remembered his father, Joe, who passed away in 2004 from the ravages of Parkinson's disease, and he said that he could feel his presence with him.
"My dad is here in spirit," Blyleven said. "My mother cried because she wished that my dad was here. But he's here. I feel it. Maybe he's not here body-wise, but he is here spirit-wise. He's the one in my speech tomorrow that I'm going to thank a lot because he's the one who mentored me. He introduced me to the game of baseball.
"But my mother is here and in good health. She's Dutch and she's stubborn. She raised seven kids."
Late in the afternoon, the scene turned back to Doubleday Field, where Conlin, Van Horne and Roland Hemond -- the winner of the Buck O'Neil Achievement Award -- were celebrated for their accomplishments. Each man gave a hearty acceptance speech that underlined his passion for the game and amazement to be honored by the respective professions that he's excelled at over the years.
Conlin, Van Horne and Hemond were the beneficiaries of a new scheduling initiative at the Hall of Fame that separated the award winners from the Sunday enshrinees. Each man had his moment, leaving ample time for Alomar, Gillick and Blyleven to be celebrated in style on Sunday.
The parade was the closing event of Saturday, and all of the Hall of Famers in town participated. A fleet of pickup trucks provided by the Ford Motor Company transported the legends from Doubleday Field and past an adoring public that lined 10 people deep along the sidewalks to cheer as they crept past.
The players came down Main Street in order of their induction year, with Whitey Ford, Ralph Kiner and Al Kaline beginning the procession. Juan Marichal pantomimed his trademark leg-kick for the fans while seated in the bed of one pickup truck, and Reggie Jackson was greeted by a rousing chant of his name.
Brooks Robinson, Lou Brock and Billy Williams were all on hand, as were Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan, linchpins of the '70s-vintage Big Red Machine. Perhaps the loudest reaction came for Orlando Cepeda, who was greeted by a chanting and flag-waving group of fans of Puerto Rican heritage.
One by one, the trucks disappeared into the near distance, carrying a significant piece of baseball history with them at low speed. Cooperstown, that lovely little anachronism of a small American town, proved once again that it values tradition over all, raising the love of the game to a tidy form of art.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.