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New inductees' plaques up for all to see07/29/2007 9:20 PM ET
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The process itself required eight half-inch bronze screws -- four for each plaque -- and then little bronze baseballs which screwed right into the holes in the middle of those screws. A horde of fans watched patiently inside the Gallery on Sunday night, as workers at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum finished hanging them on a wall just a few feet away from the great Babe Ruth -- and then Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. were officially among baseball's legends.
"To be one of the first 10 people to actually touch Tony Gwynn's plaque is incredible," said Greg Miller, a lifelong Padres fan and a statistics professor at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. "We came here Friday, getting autographs, waiting in the rain in ponchos, then the red-carpet deal on Saturday and the induction, and now seeing the plaques put on the wall. What a weekend.
"My brother and I wanted to do this for a long time. Our mom got tired of us talking about it, and she sprung it on me for my birthday last spring. It's been great to be here. Tony's plaque is fantastic. It's a good image of him, and the actual text is fitting. I love that they put 'Mr. Padre' on there. That's how he's known."
Miller said he "debated doing this," because they were scheduled to fly out of Syracuse, N.Y., in the morning for Dallas. But he heard Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey mention at the start of the induction ceremony that the plaque hanging would be open to the public, and sure enough, just like everything else this weekend, it was a capacity-crowd event and a fairly wild scene that will be remembered years from now.
A heavy volunteer and security presence were required as the plaques arrived ceremoniously inside the Gallery, and everyone wanted to touch the plaques and have their pictures taken with them. The workers who hung the plaques first raised them up in the center of the room so that all fans in the area could observe them before their placement. It took perhaps 10 minutes for the plaques to be mounted. There was little patience for the media photography that happened after that, and then gradually, fans were released through the line in single file to approach the new works of art.
"I was there for 2,131, for Cal's last game, and for the important games, and for me it was special to be able to be here for the induction and then be one of the first to see his plaque," said Mark Waugh, who grew up an Orioles fan in southern York County in Pennsylvania and now lives in Atlanta. "My friend and I promised each other we'd come here whenever Cal was inducted, and it's been a great experience."
His friend, Andy Woodring, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., said he came to Cooperstown "as a kid" when another Orioles legend, Brooks Robinson, was inducted in 1983.
"He was an ambassador when the game needed him," Woodring said of Ripken.
Calvin Edwin Ripken Jr.'s plaque begins with the inscription: "Arrived at the ballpark every day with a burning desire to perform at his highest level."
In the news conference that he and Gwynn attended after the induction ceremony, Ripken said he had not yet had a chance to look at the plaque. Presumably he got a good look between then and the plaque's hanging at about 7 p.m. ET.
"I did think it was really heavy -- 35 pounds or so," Ripken said. "That was my first feeling. You don't expect that. I thought I could drop it on my toe, it could be pretty embarrassing. There was a brief moment of that. I now have an opportunity to read it, really absorb what's going on. I was just kind of worried about getting up there and getting through [the speech]."
Anthony Keith Gwynn's plaque began: "An artisan with a bat whose daily pursuit of excellence produced a .338 lifetime batting average, 3,141 hits and a National League record-tying eight batting titles."
Gwynn had said beforehand, perhaps half seriously, that he was concerned whether his likeness would have a big afro hairstyle and his old mustache. When asked what he thought of seeing it, the new Hall of Famer said, "When they handed me the plaque the first time, I didn't even look at it. That's how focused I was trying to be on giving my speech. So I didn't see what it looked like till it was all over. It was perfect -- nice-size afro, no mustache. It was perfect."
Christina Vasquez of San Diego thought so. As she walked away, perhaps reluctantly, from the new masterpiece hanging on the wall, she realized that it was the perfect ending to a wonderful story she followed for so long.
"I think it's awesome," she said. "I'm very happy it said 'Mr. Padre' on it. That's my favorite thing."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.