HALL OF FAME INDUCTION 2019
Johnny Bench Walks Route;
Rivera Adds Exclamation Mark
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – The Hall of Fame nearly ruined its own parade.
With tens of thousands of fans – close to a record, if not one – lining Main Street and thunder rumbling softly in the distance, the 6 o’clock hour arrived.
The lead pickup in the Parade of Legends, an Induction Weekend high point, rolled down Fowler Way from Doubleday Field, but no one was seated in the bed.
Crouched behind the cab was Hall Vice President Ken Meifert. He waved to the crowd, “The parade’s been cancelled.”
The crowd, perhaps unhearing, continued to cheer as if nothing had happened.
The pickups continued to roll by, no one on the beds. With the threat of rain, the Hall of Famers and their families, it became clear, were inside the cabs, many with tinted windows, barely visible to fans.
Then Johnny Bench saved the day.
In front of the Cooperstown Chamber offices, as his pickup straightened out of the turn onto Chestnut, he hopped out of the cab and marched down the pavement to the “John-nee, John-nee, John-nee” cheers from the fans.
As it happens with Upstate weather, the sun broke through within five minutes, and the sky was clear by the time the Hall of Famers reached the steps of 25 Main.
Cheered the whole way, Johnny Bench, with a bounce in his step that belied his 71 years, walked the three blocks to Baseball’s Mecca, where a private reception is being hosted at this hour in the Hall of Plaques.
It took a while, but as trucks passed the flagpole, the crowd started shouting, “GET OUT OF THE TRUCK, GET OUT OF THE TRUCK.”
The Hall of Famers started catching the enthusiasm.
Wade Boggs hopped out and began waving and signing autographs, followed by Jim Thome, Pedro Martinez and Ken Griffey Jr., as the fans roared.
Then a crowd favorite, Cal Ripken Jr., whose 2007 Induction with the late Tony Gwynn still holds the record for the largest turnout, thrilled the cheering crowd, and spent 20 minutes shaking hands and signing autographs.
By now, this year’s inductees were rolling by.
Loud cheers. Who’s that standing on the back of a pickup – the sole one of 60?
It was the hero of the weekend, famed New York Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera, the first player ever to be elected unanimously and – of course – his first year of eligibility.
(The president of Rivera’s native Panama, Laurentino Cortizo, will be arriving in Cooperstown tomorrow morning to be present at his countryman’s finest hour.)
This time, the crowd packed 12 deep on both sides of the street between the flagpole and the hall broke into new cheers, “Mo, Mo, Mo,” “Mariano, Mariano.” Even an occasional “Mr. Rivera.”
The syncopated drum beats broke out. “Mariano! Mariano!”
The hero of the weekend leaped off the pickup truck and – with a pause halfway through as he was greeted on the Hall’s steps by its chairman, Jane Forbes Clark – Rivera signed autographs and shook hands, reveling in the crowd’s acclaim.
The Induction begins at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow (Sunday) in the fields next to the Clark Sports Center.