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07/15/08 1:51 PM EST

Cathedral blessed with pregame honor

Over 40 Hall of Famers grace field to highlight festivities

NEW YORK -- One of the most hyped All-Star Games in baseball history began with a bang, as a packed house at Yankee Stadium witnessed a truly historic tribute to all that is good with the game -- both yesterday, and today.

More than 40 Hall of Famers gathered on the field prior to the 79th All-Star Game, the final Midsummer Classic the Yankees will host before closing their doors following the conclusion of the '08 campaign.

"We present to you, in the House that Ruth Built, the greatest collection of All-Stars ever assembled, all on one field," FOX announcer Joe Buck proclaimed.

Wearing their teams' caps, the Hall of Famers emerged from left-center field, just to the right of Monument Park, and took their respective positions on the field. The pitchers -- Goose Gossage, Whitey Ford, et al -- stood on the mound, while Mike Schmidt and Brooks Robinson and company headed for third, and Cal Ripken Jr. and Ozzie Smith stood at shortstop, and so on.

The outfielders assembled on the grass just behind the infield dirt, while the catchers -- Yogi Berra and Gary Carter -- stood in front of home plate. The Hall of Fame managers -- Tommy Lasorda, Earl Weaver and Dick Williams -- gathered behind the catchers.

After the Hall of Famers at each position were introduced, the current All-Stars at those respective positions ran out to join their predecessors.

The Yankee Stadium crowd reacted as expected. Ear-splitting ovations erupted for the Yankees heroes, past and present. Gossage and Ford. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Mariano Rivera. Reggie Jackson. And it was no coincidence -- and completely fitting -- that the last Hall of Famer introduced was Berra, an 18-time All-Star who, at 83 years young, is revered by all Yankees fans, ages 2 to 102.

Crowd appreciation wasn't limited to Yankees Hall of Famers and All-Stars. Former Yankee and current Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano was showered with a loud ovation, as was Giants Hall of Famer Willie Mays -- "a true 'Giant' in the game,'" Buck said -- and Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, who one night earlier put on a display in the State Farm Home Run Derby that will be talked about for generations to come.

Of course, there were the boos, too. The whole slew of Red Sox All-Stars, from manager Terry Francona to Manny Ramirez, J.D. Drew, Jason Varitek, David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon, received the typical response from the rival Yankees fans. Mets All-Stars Billy Wagner and David Wright were given a hearty round of boos, and as a sure sign of respect, the three Rays All-Stars -- Evan Longoria, Scott Kazmir and Dioner Navarro were given a quieter reception from the Stadium boo-birds.

The ceremony ended with a special appearance from Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner, who was driven on a golf cart from the outfield to home plate, where he was greeted by the four Yankees Hall of Famers -- Ford, Gossage, Jackson and Berra.

Those four then threw out the ceremonial first pitch to the current Yankees All-Stars in the final act of the elaborate pregame celebration.

Forty-five minutes earlier, the ceremony began with a quick, but touching, video tribute to the late Tim Russert, moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press," who was a proud baseball fan and member of the board of directors of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Russert's wife, Maureen Orth, and his son, Luke, watched the video with Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig at their side. As Orth and Luke Russert were escorted to their seats, they received a respectful ovation from the nearby crowd.

Later in the ceremony, the colors were presented by the West Point Cadet Color Guard, followed by the Canadian national anthem and a fly over by the B2 Spirit from the U.S. Air Force 509th bomb wing. Nine-time Grammy Award winner Sheryl Crow sang the national anthem.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.