MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

HOF Weekend brings magic to Cooperstown

HOF Weekend brings magic to Cooperstown

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- They are here to celebrate greatness. They are here to celebrate pioneers. They come from across the map, young and old, drawn by baseball's timeless appeal.

Frank Robinson and Bob Gibson are back again. Sandy Koufax and Hank Aaron are as well. In all, 55 of 73 living members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum are on hand for this induction weekend.

They are here to laugh and to remember. To see them together is to feel a simultaneous rush of memories and joy. They come to joke and golf and to catch up.

They come simply to be around one another because, in the end, they've been places and heard cheers that only they understand. They're also here to honor a new induction class.

This one includes three former players -- Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez and Tim Raines -- and two executives in former Commissioner Bud Selig and John Schuerholz of the Braves and Royals.

Bagwell on always being an Astro

Jackie Robinson Foundation founder Rachel Robinson, sportswriter and editor Claire Smith and late A's broadcaster Bill King will be honored as well for lives that blessed an entire sport with good work, courage and dignity.

On this weekend, a tiny village of beauty and tranquility bubbles with energy and anticipation. On Friday morning, a man sat on a stool across Main Street from the Hall of Fame playing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" on a banjo as visitors filed by happily.

Every induction weekend is unique in its own way, because every inductee has his own story to tell. And some years, the honorees, those who are saluted by the Hall but not actually inducted into the Hall of Fame, have some of the best stories.

On a busy Saturday, Hall of Famers will begin the day with a golf tournament that's a little about golf and a lot about laughter and reminiscing.

On Saturday afternoon, the new induction class will hold a news conference to discuss Sunday's ceremony. After that, all the Hall of Famers will gather at Doubleday Field to salute this year's Hall of Fame award winners, including Robinson, who will receive the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award for seven decades of service to the game. The ceremony will be broadcast live on MLB.com and then again on MLB Network at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday.

After her husband's death in 1972, she worked tirelessly with the Jackie Robinson Development Corporation to manage housing for low-income families and with the Jackie Robinson Foundation to award college scholarships to high school students.

Smith, now an editor with ESPN and a former baseball writer with The New York Times and Hartford Courant, will receive the J.G. Taylor Spink Award from the Baseball Writers' Association of America, becoming the first woman to receive this prestigious honor.

Smith was one of the first women to serve as a Major League beat reporter, covering the Yankees for the Hartford Courant for five years starting in 1983. She was then a columnist for The New York Times from 1991-98 and The Philadelphia Inquirer from 1998-2007. Like Rachel Robinson, Smith's friends know her for her strength and dignity.

Also being honored is the late Bill King, who was the voice of the Oakland A's for 25 years and will receive the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting.

Raines on getting elected to HOF

Afterwards, the Hall of Famers will be honored with a parade down Main Street and a private reception at the Hall of Fame. At the center of this weekend is the Hall of Fame itself.

It's where cynicism melts away, where baseball's story is told and its history celebrated through artifacts, words and art. Old-timers are made to feel young again. Youngsters feel the greatness of Babe Ruth.

There's no place else on earth like it. There's also nothing like an induction weekend in Cooperstown.

MLB Network's exclusive live coverage of the 2017 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony -- simulcast live on MLB.com -- will begin with MLB Tonight on Sunday at noon ET, followed by the ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Prior to Sunday's live coverage, MLB Network will televise the 2017 Hall of Fame Awards Presentation at 11 a.m., featuring Rachel Robinson (Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award), Claire Smith (the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for writers) and the posthumous honoring of Bill King (Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters). The presentation will also commemorate the 25th anniversary of the release of the film "A League of Their Own."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.