Separate but an equal

Observations, insinuations, ruminations and downright opinions . . .

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - When Michael Corleone was hiding out in Sicily and he saw a chaste maiden named Appolonia walking through a meadow, one of his bodyguards observed, "You just got hit by the thunderbolt . . . "

20110729_dn_Z1CONL29S

That is basically what happened to me last weekend in this pastoral village where lakes, one Main Street, a museum and baseball - lots of baseball - converge on a magical weekend each summer.

The best and the brightest, men who have been through the drill, tried to tell me what it would be like, the days when the 102-year-old Otseaga Resort became a living, breathing, pulsing - and often hungover - petting zoo for seam heads gathered outside the guarded gates.

They gathered with autograph pads, bats, gloves, waiting for a glimpse, a nod, a few pen strokes from the 52 legends who came back to celebrate once more the defining moments of their great careers.

Some are now old and feeble. Almost all have the tell-tale NFL limp that testifies to the number of days and nights they threw, swung at or pursued the sacred object of their employment, a ubiquitous, official major league baseball. Many took a great number of walks. Now, they could use a walker.

Jack O'Connell, the secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America, is the voice an anointed player hears after the ballots have been counted and the latest class has been certified. The calls last winter went to Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven and Pat Gillick. Two great players. One great executive.

This was the first year the folks who run the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum decided to make a clear distinction between inductees and honorees and created a Saturday afternoon awards event in Doubleday Field around the corner from the museum.

The J.G. Taylor Spink Award, as voted by the BBWAA, and the Ford C. Frick Award, as voted by the game's broadcasters, were joined by a Lifetime Achievement Award in the name of Negro League champion and pioneer Buck O'Neill.

Our day would be separate from the Sunday induction ceremony on the meadows of the Clark Center.

The initial fear was that we would be denied the honor of sitting on the same dais as the 2011 inductees, backed by the dazzling array of the living enshrined. They would all be off playing golf at Leatherstocking. Not to worry . . . When Frick winner Dave Van Horne and O'Neill honoree Roland Hemond and I (the J.G. Taylor Spink winner) filed to our places on the dais, 44 Hall of Fame members were seated behind us.

And that is where the clap of thunder rocked me . . . .

The night before, first at a reception on the veranda overlooking shimmering Lake Otsego where the BBWAA acknowledged me over cocktails, finger food and congratulations, the returning Spink winners all had the same message: It was repeated later at the raucous Founder's Dinner, where a dancing bear named Earl Weaver walked away from an epic dance floor face-plant.

"Just go with the flow . . . It's all going to be a blur from here on. You will not in your wildest dreams be prepared for what is about to happen to you . . . "

That was the message.

Well, OK. But, hey, I was going to be handed a framed tribute. I would speak for about 10 minutes and then there would be a parade down Main Street to the museum, where a private reception would be held in our honor . . . OK, all good stuff. But a blur? A life-changing experience? The Baseball Channel deleted my warmup line in the delayed tape broadcast of our ceremony Sunday before the Main Event. When I speak to strangers, I like to get their attention with an early laugh. So this is what you missed when Jane Forbes Clark, the Chairman of the HOF Board, introduced me.

I fumbled to set up the teleprompter app on my late, great, iPad (more on that later). When it finally started to scroll, I said, "I don't want to say it's hot, but there's a report that Pete Rose is on Main Street selling autographed Slurpees - $5 for the signature, $20 for the Slurpee . . . " It got a laugh . . .

In closing, I did my best Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall imitation: "Commissioner Selig, tear down that an . . . " Trouble was, there was no Pete Rose context for TV viewers to latch on to. And maybe that is the way they wanted it.

After Van Horne and Hemond gave their speeches, it was over. I turned and started up the stairs to exit the stage. But I was blocked by a wall of Hall of Famers coming down. Robin Yount, man-hug and handshake . . . Sweet Lou Brock, "Welcome, Bill. You're one of us forever" . . . Rickey Henderson, always so aloof as a player, with warm words and firm handshake . . . Paul Molitor . . . Fergie Jenkins . . . Orlando Cepeda . . . Frank Robinson . . . Gaylord Perry and Phil Niekro . . . Don Sutton . . . Ryne Sandberg . . . George Brett, "You covered my brother, Ken. Welcome to the club" . . . Many, many of them.

It was all a blur after that . . . The Thunderbolt had been resounding. Van Horne and I led the Parade of Legends in a red Ford pickup truck, seated on a bench. "Benchwarmers again," I cracked . . . We turned left out of Doubleday, and drove slowly up Chestnut Street, which parallels Main. Fans lined both sides of Chestnut. "Didn't expect so many people here," I observed.

Then we made a slow turn onto Main and I caught my breath . . . dense crowds all the way down to the museum. I started snapping pictures of the fans - they were attired in Blue Jays, Twins, Pirates, Phillies, Yankees, Mets, Red Sox attire, the Pastime's colorful array of hues and logos. Some blocks they were lined 10-12 deep on both sides. If I had fallen out of the truck at that time, I'm sure I would have floated to a soft landing.

My family and support group of 21 or so bosses, '50s pals, Michael Barkann, were part of the blur of people gathered alongside the Hall. The Hall of Fame Museum was jammed with people. My plaque was already hung in the Scribes and Mike Men section. It will be featured until next July, when I'll be moved down with the other 51 Spink winners and replaced by the 2012 honoree.

After that, it was on to the Philllies reception for Pat Gillick in the Farmer's Museum, where there appeared to be two people for each degree of heat. I was graciously introduced by Phillies President Dave Montgomery.

That is where the long dazed journey into night ended . . . on a bummer note. A clap of stupidity:

 

Missing iPad alert

A bunch of us, including my Daily News bosses, Pat McLoone and Josh Barnett, moved to folding chairs on the grass outside the main tent. I probably laid my iPad on an empty chair next to me. I went to a bus with a couple of family members for the ride back to the Otesaga Resort. I never noticed the iPad was missing until the next morning. I have unsuccessfully attempted to track it using an Apple GPS App, but no dice . . . $100 reward with no criminal complaint filed.

 

Trivia

Who were the two former players who threw out first balls before David Cone's perfect game on July 18, 1999?