COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The first pitch of the annual Hall of Fame induction weekend was tossed early Friday morning on a baseball diamond adjacent to the Clark Sports Center.The event was Ozzie Smith's "PLAY Ball." It has raised about $125,000 for the National Baseball Hall of Fame's educational outreach programs and the Ozzie Smith Diversity Scholarships since its inception in 2002, when the Cardinals shortstop was inducted. On Friday a couple of dozen fans donated money for the cause and were given on-field instruction from Smith and fellow Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and Paul Molitor. The scholarships are presented annually to members of the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development.
"This is all about education and helping the education department," Smith said, just before the event took place under gray skies on an unusually cool morning in upstate New York. "We're trying to raise money to educate young people and keep this game alive. I try to get a different group every year and these guys have been very gracious with the time to help out."This was the second such event for Molitor -- who played third base, second base and was a designated hitter -- and the first for Bench and Fisk, a pair of Hall of Fame catchers. "It's not what you can do for me, but what can I do for you," said Bench about the time and energy put into the event by Smith. "He helps support this himself. You can tell it's his event because he's got his own special [Hall of Fame] uniform with his name on it and we don't. I guess you have to show up for several years to get that." Smith's fellow shortstop Barry Larkin is entering the Hall this Sunday with Ron Santo, the legendary Cubs third baseman, who was elected posthumously in December by the Golden Era Committee. Santo's widow, Vicki, will represent him at all the weekend functions and give his acceptance speech on Sunday. Ford C. Frick Award winner Tim McCarver and J.G. Taylor Spink Award electee Bob Elliott will be honored in a separate ceremony on Saturday at Doubleday Field. As part of that event the Hall will also recognize three World Series-winning Cardinals managers -- Red Schoendienst (1967), Hall of Famer Whitey Herzog ('82) and the recently retired Tony La Russa (2006, '11). Larkin is the second shortstop since Smith to be elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America and first since Cal Ripken Jr., who played most of his career at that position for the Orioles and was inducted in 2007. Smith and Ripken were elected their first times on the ballot, while Larkin made it in on his third. The careers of Smith and Larkin dovetailed with Smith retiring after 19 seasons -- his last 15 with the Cardinals -- in 1996 and Larkin retiring in 2004 after 19 seasons, all with the Reds. "The end of the 1996 season was when we passed the torch," Smith said. "I can remember the last day of that season in St. Louis when Cincinnati was in town. He had some great years in the late 1980s. He was one of the first shortstops to hit 30 home runs. When you see a player of his caliber, it's not hard to figure out that he would be a Hall of Famer. It's something that finally came true for him this year."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.