07/27/2003 7:23 PM ET
Hall of Fame inducts Class of 2003
Carter, Murray display emotions upon enshrinement
COOPERSTOWN -- Under threatening skies that wept far less than the men honored, the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of '03 was inducted Sunday afternoon.
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
Gary Carter, delivering part of his speech in French, and Eddie Murray, his speech often interrupted by cries of "Ed-Dee! Ed-Dee," accepted their honors as the 255th and 256th members of the Hall in front of 18,000 filling the green lawn of the Clark Sports Center.
The audience included former President George Bush, present at Carter's invitation as the first former or sitting president to attend any of the Hall of Fame's 58 Induction Ceremonies.
Carter and Murray shared the stage with 44 of the 59 living Hall of Famers, and fellow honorees Hal McCoy, presented with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious sportswriting, and Bob Uecker, given the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcast excellence.
Johnny Bench emerged as another of the afternoon's stars, the former catching great revealing two of his lesser-known talents. Pinch-singing the Canadian National Anthem, Bench surprised everyone with his vocal talents. During a symbolic seventh-inning stretch later, he performed "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" with a knockout impersonation of the late Harry Carey.
During an otherwise typically emotional induction ceremony, the steely resolve of all of the celebrants cracked when their subjects turned to their families, their attempts to express gratitude to loved ones loosening tear ducts.
Well, all but the irreverent Uecker who, the only one ad-libbing his speech without written notes, recalled serving as knuckleballer Phil Niekro's "personal chaser" and being told by Gene Mauch to "grab a bat and stop this rally."
Uecker's side-splitting 18-minute bit was quickly appreciated as relief from the rest of the always-charged, often-poignant 2 1/2-hour program.
Portraying himself as "a kid in a candy store," Carter said he was "humbled to stand before these Hall of Famers" and talked with quivering lips about his late parents, Inge and Jim Carter.
Gary Carter's Hall of Fame plaque
Murray called his first-ballot election "one of the few things you can never dream of, a great honor" and had to collect himself after introducing older brother Charles, the first of four Murray boys to sign pro contracts, and telling him, "You inspired us all. The day you signed that contract, we all wanted to be just like you."
After an anxious morning during which Hall of Fame officials had to decide whether to accede to the gray clouds and move the ceremonies inside tighter quarters, the event proceeded uninterrupted.
As Carter later said, "God wasn't going to let anything rain on this parade."
Following a live interactive presentation of "Casey at the Bat" and John Fogerty's "Centerfield" rattling the speakers, George Grande, emceeing for the 24th consecutive year what he called "one of the greatest weekends in America," began introducing the returning Hall of Famers.
The procession lasted 25 minutes as the legends strolled on stage one by one, from Anderson (Sparky) to Yount (Robin), a thick slice of baseball history in-between.
Rabbi Mark Miller of Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach, Calif., delivered the invocation, citing baseball as "a great pastime worthy of our lifelong connection."
"In the sanctuary of the ballpark," Rabbi Miller said, "we always feel safe at home."
Following a moment of silence for people baseball lost in 2002 -- Steve Bechler, Larry Doby, writer Leonard Koppett, far too many other entries on a sad scroll of names -- the award presentations and acceptances began.
Paul Hagen, national president of the Baseball Writers Association of America, presented McCoy, who called the past two days "the most memorable weekend of my entire life."
McCoy, in his 31st year of covering the Reds for the Dayton Daily News, expressed gratitude to all the people who encouraged him to stay on the beat after a second optic stroke in January robbed him of much of his vision.
"Nobody can be more humbled or appreciative than I am," McCoy said.
Joe Morgan, the former second base great who also is a vice-chairman of the Hall, next introduced Uecker -- catcher, broadcaster, actor, not to be taken seriously in any of those roles.
"In deference to Hal, I, on the other hand, have been asked to quit many times," Uecker began, setting the tone for a marvelous self-effacing routine.
"This isn't sour grapes or anything ... but I still think I should have gone in as a player," said Uecker, a career .200 hitter who recalled being asked how long a supply of his bats lasted.
"Well, based on size and weight ... eight to 10 cookouts."
Uecker's speech left the Hall of Famers seated behind him wiping their eyes of laughter-induced tears.
Soon enough, the real tears came. Carter and Murray, both introduced by Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark while Commissioner Bud Selig recited the inscriptions on their plaques, wore game faces while recounting career highlights and thanking mentors.
Eddie Murray's Hall of Fame plaque
However, when their attentions turned to family, composure fled. A baseball life is harshly nomadic, forcing lengthy separations from wives and children, losing out on many of their milestones.
At times such as these, those lives flash in front of men's eyes, and the pain of those losses is very real.
"I've always thought of baseball as that happy place where you leave all your problems behind," Carter said. "There's nothing quite like the roar of the crowd.
"I know my parents are smiling down on me, because they've got the best seats in the house. I lost my mom when I was 12 (to leukemia, at 37), but I felt her presence throughout my career.
"My father was always there for me," Carter added of Jim Carter, who passed away in late January at 84. "Mom and Pop ... you're missed, but will never be forgotten. I know how proud you are of me today."
After a deep breath, Carter concluded, "I'll always be a kid at heart. I love this great game. I'm so honored to be in Cooperstown as a Hall of Famer."
Greeted by the "Ed-Dee! Ed-Dee!" chorus from the Orioles fans who turned the green lawn black & orange, Murray said, "I'm proud to be here as the first baseman who played more games than anyone in baseball."
"Ted Williams said at his induction 37 years ago, 'I must have earned this, because I didn't win it with my friendship with writers.' Guess in that way, I'm proud to be in his company," continued Murray, as a player notorious for his icy relationship with the media.
"I learned the game and life from good teachers," he added, referring to his late parents. "I know they're watching from heaven, to make sure we are all doing good.
"I feel unbelievable. I've just been blessed. I'd like to close with that chant."
The hills again came alive with "Ed-Dee! Ed-Dee!"
Throughout the afternoon, as the ceremony unfolded, soft breezes brought random sounds from diamonds that skirt the grounds. They were the shouts and shrieks of children playing ball, a comforting cacophony with an unmistakable message.
Another class of legends has passed from uniform into immortality. But the parade will never end.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.