The rain delay in the Yankees game couldn’t have come at a better time because just as the skies were opening up in the Bronx, the sun was breaking through in Cooperstown, illuminating a trio of poignant and entertaining speeches that perfectly defined why baseball is America’s pastime.
Like any good umpire, Doug Harvey kicked off the festivities with a speech that was the equivalent of a resounding “Play Ball”. Although in attendance, Harvey’s speech was actually delivered on tape because the impact of throat cancer treatment left him unable to speak for an extended period of time. At first, the recording had a bit of a melancholy feel, but Harvey’s love and passion for the game quickly returned the focus to the matter at hand. In his usual brash, but good natured manner, Harvey walked the Cooperstown crowd through his long path to the major leagues and provided a unique look at the sacrifices that umpires must make along the way. Known as “God” because of his dignified and authoritative presence, Harvey encouraged those in and around the game to “know the rules”, but the tone of his speech centered on more of a baseball golden rule: love the game as you love yourself. By the time the recorded speech had finished, Harvey took the microphone and proclaimed to the crowd that he had managed to stop the rain…a final fitting proclamation from baseball’s deity.
Whitey Herzog gave the shortest speech of the group (according to the white rat, he was trying to get the program back on schedule after the many “long winded” speeches that preceded him), but his brevity had soul. Herzog reflected back on his career in baseball, beginning with his days as a minor leaguer in the Yankees’ farm system. During that time, Herzog encountered the legendary Casey Stengel, who took the fledgling minor leaguer under his wing. Herzog’s humorous stories about Stengel kept those in the audience riveted, but the most entertaining was his tale about Stengel incorrectly thinking he was the grandson of a former teammate, Buck Herzog. Humor aside, Herzog’s account helped illustrate what makes baseball so special…the timeless history that has been passed down through generations in the game, and which the Hall of Fame portrays so well.
As a player, Andre Dawson seldom had much to say. Well, he must have been saving it all up for his induction speech because the “Hawk” gave one of the more eloquent, entertaining and evocative induction addresses in recent memory. Like Harvey and Herzog before him, Dawson’s speech centered on his passion for baseball, but covered a wide breadth of topics. He began with a series of well crafted zingers that poked fun at several fellow Hall of Famers (perhaps the funniest was crediting Tommy Lasorda with teaching him how to get a free meal), but quickly took a more serious turn. Without pontificating, Dawson was able to honor the black Hall of Famers who paved the way for his generation, admonish those players who placed a “stain” on the game by using performance enhancing drugs and encourage the youth of today to build their dreams with education and hard work. “If you love this game, the game will love you back,” Dawson repeated throughout his speech, and as he recounted his life story, it was easy to see why.
With an umpire, manager and player on the agenda, the Hall of Fame Day program was guaranteed to provide a variety of perspectives. However, the entire day was tied together by tales of love and sacrifice, faith and family, hard work and dedication. More than any other sport, baseball seems to embody these aspects of everyday life, and the Baseball Hall of Fame does a better job than any in preserving the traditions and legacies that tie them all together. Judging by their induction speeches, Harvey, Herzog and Dawson should all fit in perfectly.