07/28/2002 6:43 pm ET
A day of celebration
Fans cheer as Smith, Kalas and Falls honored
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The weather held, the turnout was terrific and the speeches went well. It wasn't quite a perfect day, but it was close.
Approximately 19,000 fans, most of them in Phillies and Cardinals red, turned out for the 2002 Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, as Ozzie Smith was inducted into the Hall and Harry Kalas and Joe Falls were honored. They cheered the heroes of baseball's past and they cheered the honorees. They mixed in a few boos, but on the whole it was a day of celebration.
It was also a day of remembrance, as the names of those baseball has lost this year were never far from anyone's mind. And the struggles that the United States has faced over the last 10 months were on all the speakers' minds as well.
But most of all, it was Smith's day. At the beginning, Master of Ceremonies George Grande said it most succinctly: "No way was it going to rain on Ozzie's parade."
Smith, the only player inducted into the Hall this year, gave a thoughtful 25-minute speech in which he compared his experiences in baseball to the quest of the characters in the novel "The Wizard of Oz" -- that title being, not coincidentally, Smith's nickname.
He also drew parallels to the layers of a baseball, comparing the cork center of the ball to his heart, the interior threads to the "strands of love and faith" he received and the leather covering to his courage and determination.
"If one was to cut a baseball in half, as I have done to this one," Smith said, holding up a ball that was cut open, "you would find the road map of my journey from a young child growing up in Southern California to this prestigious podium here in Cooperstown. ... I think every true baseball fan, at some time in their life, has taken one of these apart and examined it. ...
"Likewise, when you look at Dorothy's journey down the Yellow Brick Road and her three delightful companions -- the scarecrow, the tin man and the cowardly lion -- you will find the exact same road map as I found in the baseball."
Smith thanked a series of important contributors to his success, starting with his parents, as well as his high school and college coaches, and many friends from along the way. But perhaps the most touching moments of his speech -- and certainly one of the most emotional parts for Smith himself -- was when he thanked his ex-wife.
"Denise, though our journey has taken us down different paths," Smith said, "the good roads far outnumber the rough ones, and the fun we shared will forever be embedded in my heart."
"We come here to Cooperstown to laud our baseball heroes each year. But all of us laud America's heroes from all walks of life, whose selflessness is on display daily. Those who lay their lives on the line for our safety, you are in our hearts."
-- Legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas
In a significant departure from the usual protocol, Smith's son Dustin presented him with his plaque, rather than Commissioner Bud Selig. Selig said very few words, and though he was received with boos from the crowd, the assembled Hall of Famers stood and applauded him.
Smith dominated the day, but he was not the only person in the spotlight on Sunday. The first person honored was Phillies broadcaster Kalas, who received the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting. Hall-of-Famer Tom Seaver, now a broadcaster himself, introduced Kalas.
"With his uncanny ability connect with his listeners, he became a household name to Phillie fans everywhere," Seaver said. "Kalas' voice is one of the most popular and recognizable ones in broadcasting history. His understated enthusiasm and journalistic excellence are his trademarks. ... His play-by-play accuracy, combined with his dedicated and compelling historical accounts, have allowed him to build him an undying trust and a national fan base across the United States."
Kalas shared stories of his time with the late Richie Ashburn, himself a Hall-of-Famer and Kalas' longtime partner in the broadcast booth. He was genuinely touched by the Cooperstown experience.
"This is the ultimate honor in the game that I have loved since I was 10 years old," Kalas said. "It's very special to be inducted with the most acrobatic shortstop I ever saw play this beautiful game, Ozzie Smith, and the legendary Joe Falls from the Motor City. I now join my two partners, with whom I worked when I first came to Philadelphia in 1971, By Saam and Richie Ashburn."
The voice of the Phillies thanked Philadelphia's fans with a poem, and added a special note to those who contribute in other fields than sports.
"We come here to Cooperstown to laud our baseball heroes each year," Kalas said. "But all of us laud America's heroes from all walks of life, whose selflessness is on display daily. Those who lay their lives on the line for our safety, you are in our hearts."
Falls, a columnist and former beat writer from Detroit, was introduced by Paul Hagen, the vice president of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
"Joe Falls communicated more directly with his readers than most others," Hagen said. "The personable scribe earned the respect of his peers and his audience alike with his straight-to-the-point approach. He became a legend in Detroit for his in-depth coverage of sports during the last six decades."
Like Kalas, Falls seemed overwhelmed by the opportunity to be honored in Cooperstown.
"I want to express my great, great appreciation for the privilege, the privilege, the privilege I've had in my life to write about these guys back here and to get to know them," Falls said of the 47 Hall-of-Famers sitting behind him on the stage. "It's just magnificent for me to be here and just be close to them."
Falls gave a special tribute to one of the game's greatest, Ted Williams, who passed away recently. It was no secret that Williams greatly disdained formal attire, so Falls removed his tie on stage in a gesture honoring the legendary hitter.
A video tribute to Williams, Jack Buck and Lou Boudreau, the three Hall of Famers who passed away this year, was shown early in the ceremony. Following that, the names of all the Major Leaguers who have died in the last year were shown on the screen.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.