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Hall decked out

Induction suits Rice, Henderson

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By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 27, 2009

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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Their personalities may be as different as two Hall of Famers ever inducted on the same day, but the flamboyant Rickey Henderson and the conservative Jim Rice both delivered powerful and memorable punch lines in their speeches yesterday on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center.

Rice said, “I am a husband called Rice. I am a father called Dad. I am a brother called Ed. I’m an uncle called Uncle Ed. I’m a grandfather called Papa. I am a friend that doesn’t call. Some of my friends know that. Sometimes it’s best to not call at all. Finally, and I do mean finally, I am Jim Rice who is called a Baseball Hall of Famer.’’

The Red Sox left fielder articulated the moment he received the news he had made it into the Hall after 15 years of waiting.

“You always feel that after every great, once-in-a-lifetime moment, there could not be anything else to top it,’’ said Rice. “You find your lifelong partner, that one true love. You have your first child and you spend hours wondering at the perfection of tiny little fingers and toes . . . right when you thought it couldn’t get better, you have grandchildren and new astonishing love blossoms. And then 15 years later, you get a phone call that you thought you’d never get.’’

Rice, who was always one of the most fashionable players, was decked out in a light brown suit and spoke for a little less than 11 minutes. He thanked all of his former coaches, from Anderson, S.C., through the Red Sox system, including Sam Mele, Don Zimmer, Johnny Pesky, as well as scout Mace Brown. He also thanked Dick Bresciani, the former Sox publicist and current vice president whose statistical analysis of Rice’s career compared with others of his era may have helped some voters come around on Rice.

Meanwhile, Henderson’s closing was the show-stopper.

“I would like to say my favorite hero was Muhammad Ali,’’ he said. “He said at one time, ‘I am the greatest.’ That is something I always wanted to be. And now that the Association has voted me into the Baseball Hall of Fame, my journey as a player is complete. I am now in the class of the greatest players of all time. And at this moment, I am very, very humble. Thank you.’’

Rice, who indicated that delivering the speech was easier than he thought it would be, said of his long journey to election, “It doesn’t matter that the call came 15 years later, what matters is that I got it.

“It’s hard to comprehend. I am in awe to be in this elite company and humbled to be accepting this honor. I cannot think of anywhere I’d rather be than to be right here, right now, with you and you,’’ Rice added, pointing at the 50 Hall of Famers on stage behind him and then at the fans. “Thank you.’’

Rice succeeded in keeping his words brief, saying later he had received some coaching from his 1986 teammate, Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, who told him, “Slow it down. Breathe.’’

Rice was an eight-time All-Star and drove in more than 100 runs eight times, batted over .300 seven times, and reached 200 hits four times. He was the only player in major league history with at least 35 homers and 200 hits in three consecutive seasons (1977-79).

While for years it was thought Rice’s poor relationship with the writers kept him out of Cooperstown, he never backed down about his perception of the media.

“The media often asked me about my players [teammates],’’ said Rice, now a NESN analyst. “I refused to be the media’s mouthpiece. I came to Boston to play professional baseball, and that’s what I did. And I did it well.’’

Henderson, dressed in a white suit he said was made for him 10 years ago, opened his 14-minute speech with, “I loved the game of baseball. That’s why it was so hard for me to walk away from the game.’’

Both players mentioned their roots and their paths to becoming professional ballplayers.

Henderson said he dreamed of playing for the Oakland Raiders and that football was his first love because he enjoyed the contact and excitement of scoring touchdowns as a star running back at Oakland Technical High School. He received many scholarship offers from major college programs, but “my mother thought I would get hurt playing football, so she chose baseball for me. I guess moms do know best.’’

Three times Henderson stole 100 or more bases, including an all-time high 130 in 1982. He finished with a major league-record 1,406 thefts. One fan yelled out while Henderson was on stage, “Steal the plaque!’’ Henderson led the league in steals 12 times, scored a major league-record 2,295 runs, and had 2,190 walks. He also holds the record for leading off games with a home run 81 times.

Henderson also spoke of being bribed to play baseball over football. He said a high school guidance counselor would “pay me a quarter every time I would get a hit, when I would score or stole a base. After my first 10 games, I had 30 hits, 25 runs scored, and 33 steals. Not bad money for a kid.’’ He also mentioned his former Babe Ruth coach, Hank Thompson, who “tricked me into playing by coming to pick me up with a glazed doughnut and a cup of hot chocolate. That was the way he would get me up and out of bed.’’

Henderson said Tom Trebelhorn, as a coach in the A’s system, taught him how to steal bases. He called Billy Martin “the best manager I ever played for. Billy always got the most out of me. Billy, I miss you so much and I wish you were here today.’’

One of the most touching moments of the induction ceremony came when Judy Gordon, daughter of former Yankees and Indians second baseman Joe Gordon, who was voted in posthumously by the Veterans Committee, said, “He had insisted against having a funeral. And as such, we consider Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame as his final resting place, to be honored forever.’’

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