Hall of Famers share awe for Cathedral
Forty-nine baseball greats honored before All-Star Game
NEW YORK -- It was the largest gathering of living Hall of Famers outside the annual gathering at Cooperstown. And it was fitting in two directions, as the members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame paid tribute to Yankee Stadium and fans at this historic ballpark paid tribute to the best players the game has produced.
Forty-nine living members of the Hall were introduced during pre-All-Star Game ceremonies Tuesday night. They were presented standing at the positions they played, amid the introductions of the 2008 All-Stars.
And they were all treated with immense affection by the Yankee Stadium crowd, except, of course, for the Yankees, who were adored, and the Red Sox representatives, who were roundly booed. The latter could generously be interpreted as a variant form of respect, but either way, it doesn't change the essential nature of the tribute. The Hall of Famers were paying their respects to the last All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium by turning out in large numbers. The Yankees fans were basically telling them thanks; thanks for being as great as you were, and thanks for caring enough to show up in the midst of all this greatness.
The members of the Hall are unique performers and unique individuals, set aside by their talent and their will. The Hall of Fame Yankees' connections to the Stadium are obvious. But the non-Yankees Hall of Famers also share in one way or another a common Yankee Stadium bond, an understanding of what this park means in the history of the game.
For Paul Molitor, a splendid all-around player who became even an even better hitter when moving to designated hitter in the second half of his career, every visit to the Stadium was a unique event.
"It was always special to come to New York to play," Molitor said. "The Yankees are still probably the most recognizable franchise globally, at least to a lot of people. You combine that with the facility that they play in, their history and their success, and it's kind of a unique combination.
"I remember the first time coming in as a rookie, going down to Monument Park at 2 p.m., just giving myself a tour, walking around, seeing it from different angles, went up in the upper deck, looked down at the field. And then you're playing a game against Reggie [Jackson], Sparky Lyle and Goose [Gossage], and it's a little bit surreal.
"Twenty-one years, I probably played 150 games here as a visitor, which is a lot. Highs and lows. Being in David Wells' perfect game when I was with Minnesota, it's not fun when you do it, but looking back, it was great to be there, even though I went 0-for-3. I got to play October baseball here in 1981 when we had that mini-playoff after the strike. I had seen so many Yankee October games on television, it was great to be there to see that, to feel the atmosphere.
"Even though there was a period there when they had a down stretch while I was playing, they were tough when I came in and they were certainly tough when I went out.
"It was a hard place to play," Molitor added with a smile, "because umpires were intimidated, too."
The reach of the Yankees is unparalleled. For Don Sutton -- who grew up in the Deep South, became a genuine Hall of Fame pitcher and remains an accomplished broadcaster with the Washington Nationals -- baseball was attached, even at a great distance, to the dream of becoming a Yankee, playing at Yankee Stadium.
"It was almost heresy," Sutton recalls. "I was born in south Alabama. I grew up in northwest Florida. I wanted two things as a kid. I wanted to pitch for the Yankees and punt for Notre Dame. I couldn't go to family reunions and talk about it.
"As a kid when I played catch, I played with Yogi [Berra] and [Moose] Skowron, and Mickey Mantle was running down my mistakes. As a kid in Little League, I worked on the no-lineup because that's what [Bob] Turley and [Don] Larsen were doing. I knew my Yankee history, because I knew one day I was going to be here.
"The first time I ever got to go to Yankee Stadium was the '77 All-Star Game. Sparky [Anderson] told me on Monday I was starting, I pitch three shutout innings, get the win and win the MVP. It almost eliminated the disappointment of never having played for the Yankees.
"The day of the All-Star workout, I walked out to look at the monuments so that I would be able to get over the emotion of the moment. I talked to the ghosts, they were there."
For some players, Yankee Stadium engendered sensations they wouldn't get anywhere else. For people who cared deeply about the game, this is how it would go. It was that way for Robin Yount, who became an American League MVP both as a shortstop and a center fielder.
"You know what? I never felt intimidated by a ballpark, except here, a little bit," Yount says. "For some reason I was never very comfortable playing in Yankee Stadium, even after 20 years of it. I don't know what it was. I loved playing in Fenway, I loved playing against the Yankees. I loved playing at Yankee Stadium, but I wasn't comfortable. I can't give you an answer for it. I didn't really care for the playing surface, maybe that's part of why I wasn't comfortable there as an infielder.
"But it's a shrine. If you let your mind wander a little bit there, you could come up with some pretty cool stuff. Just to think about the people who had walked on that same ground. I get goose bumps just thinking about it while I'm talking to you. If you play baseball and then you get a chance to play at Yankee Stadium, and you think about what has gone on, on that playing field, there's nothing like it. It is No. 1 for history.
"You almost had to catch yourself and make sure that you paid attention while you were playing the game," Yount remembers with a smile. "You couldn't let yourself start to wander and think about who has been there before you. If you really have a passion for the game and you understand what's taken place on that field, you get these weird feelings."
All these Hall of Famers, and one last All-Star time, Yankee Stadium, made for a very powerful combination on a history-making July night in the Bronx.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.