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Baseball prepares to honor legends

Baseball ready to honor legends

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The heat and humidity that has stifled the eastern portion of the United States finally broke on Thursday, just in time for a breath of fresh air to blow in off Otsego Lake and cool this hamlet where baseball may not have actually been born, but certainly has been enshrined.

On Sunday, the skies are expected to be blue and the sun bright as Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg take their place along with the other 258 players, managers and executives whose plaques already hang in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, a red-bricked edifice that opened in 1939 and stands on upper Main Street.

MLB.com will carry live audio and video streams of the ceremony in its entirety. It's a moment when heroes can be reduced to mere mortals.

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"The goosebumps are remarkable," Boggs said after he toured the Hall of Fame in May. "I was walking down the hall where all the plaques are -- the goosebumps started overwhelming me. I think the wall of plaques is probably the most moving when you walk in there. It's just mind-blowing."

Fifty of the 60 living Hall of Famers -- from Sparky Anderson to Dave Winfield -- are expected to attend this weekend, which begins with Friday's rededication of the revamped museum and continues with various other functions, including a lavish, private cocktail party on Saturday night in the plaque room.

Padres voice Jerry Coleman won the Ford C. Frick Award and was elected to the broadcasters' wing; ESPN's Peter Gammons, who made his mark as a reporter with The Boston Globe, won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award and was selected for the writers' wing, thus rounding out the honorees on Sunday's program, which is usually filled with uncommon emotion and grandiose speeches.

Boggs, a veteran third baseman of 18 seasons who retired in 1999, will go in with a Red Sox cap depicted on his plaque, although he also played for the Yankees and finished his career at Tampa Bay, where he homered to record his 3,000th hit.

The lefty-swinging Boggs won five American League batting titles, all during his 11 seasons in Boston, was a 12-time AL All-Star, collected 3,010 hits -- 24th on the all-time list -- had a lifetime .328 batting average and a .415 on-base percentage. Boggs reached safely in 80 percent of the 2,432 games he played.

He was elected in his first time on the ballot submitted to members of the Baseball Writers Association of America with 10 or more consecutive seasons of experience. Boggs received 91.9 percent of the vote, which means his name appeared on 474 of the 516 ballots cast.

A player must be named on at least 75 percent of the ballots to be elected.

Sandberg came up in the Phillies organization, but in 1982 was traded to the Chicago Cubs, with whom he played for 15 seasons until retiring for good in 1997. He was the premier second baseman in the National League, winning the Gold Glove nine times and the league's MVP award in 1984. He batted .285 with 2,386 hits -- 282 of them home runs.

He was on the ballot for the third time and was named on 76.2 percent, or 393 of ballots cast. In 2004, Sandberg finished third behind electees Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley with 61.07 percent of the vote.

Sandberg said it hardly mattered to him that it took three times to be elected to the hallowed Hall.

"Whether you're elected on the third, fifth or 10th ballot, who cares?" he said during a recent interview. "You're in. That's the way I look at it."

This was the third straight year and the sixth time in the last seven that the writers elected at least two players. The writers have selected at least one player for induction every year after electing no one in 1986.

Since 1997, the recent roster of inductees has been a veritable Who's Who of modern baseball history: Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, Carlton Fisk, Tony Perez, Winfield, Kirby Puckett, Ozzie Smith, Eddie Murray, Gary Carter, Molitor, Eckersley, Boggs and Sandberg.

The group includes three 300-game winners (Niekro, Sutton and Ryan), the all-time career strikeout leader (Ryan), five members of the 3,000-hit club (Winfield, Murray, Yount, Brett and Boggs), a 500-homer hitter (Murray) and one of only four players in history to hit at least 500 homers and accumulate more than 3,000 hits (Murray).

The others who have accomplished 500/3,000 are Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Rafael Palmeiro, who passed the 3,000-hit mark with the Orioles earlier this month.

"It's pretty heady company," Sandberg said. "I've been to a few events already with some of these guys and I really have to pinch myself when I'm around them."

The best, of course, is yet to come.

On Sunday, behind the nearby Clark Sports Center, the 50 living Hall of Famers will take their place on the stage next to Commissioner Bud Selig and the inductees. Stretched out on the lawn and rolling hills before them will be a sea of adoring fans, who are admitted to the festivities free.

The speeches will be of various lengths, invoking images of past childhoods and careers. Family members will be seated in the audience on plastic folding chairs along with friends and former teammates.

They may dab their cheeks. Sandberg and Boggs may choke up. Tears may flow.

"Now they don't have to refer to me anymore as 'future Hall of Famer,'" Boggs said. "Now it's legit. Getting elected dropped that word 'future.' That is probably the nicest part about it."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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