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Bodley: New Hall members all touched home

Bodley: New Hall members all touched home

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- God halted the rain, the White Rat entertained in vintage Casey Stengel jibber-jabber and the Hawk sent a powerful message about protecting the integrity of baseball.

On a sometimes rainy, sometimes sunny, but above all meaningful afternoon in Cooperstown, the newest members -- Doug Harvey, Whitey Herzog and Andre Dawson -- took their deserved places in the Hall of Fame.

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For baseball, the sun shone brightly throughout the afternoon for the newest inductees who take their place next to the game's legends.

And as Harvey, the former umpire, proclaimed -- they all "touched home plate."

"As we all know, Cooperstown is the home of baseball," said Harvey. "One of the many duties of the home-plate umpire is to make sure that the runner touches home. If you're a true baseball fan you need to visit Cooperstown. This is home. And you need to promise yourself that you'll touch home before the end of the game."

Pausing, Harvey, always the umpire, added: "And I'll be watching to make sure you do."

Although Harvey was on stage and delivered a few remarks, his acceptance speech was taped in advance because he's recovering from throat cancer.

A light rain began falling as the ceremony got under way, but when Harvey's message began the showers became heavy, almost a downpour, for a few minutes.

As a National League umpire charged with stopping and starting games when it rained, Doug, nicknamed "God," had a knack for knowing when to halt play and when to resume. Sometimes he moved too quickly. Other times, not fast enough.

As his speech neared its end the showers lessened and a bright sun broke through the clouds.

Herzog, the former manager, had his share of run-ins with Harvey, who ejected him more than any other umpire. Herzog followed Harvey to the podium.

"Doug and I didn't see eye-to-eye all the time -- a great umpire," Herzog deadpanned. "I never got in trouble with him over arguments about balls and strikes, safe or out, fair or foul.

"It was always a day like today. He wouldn't put the damn tarp on the field. We'd send a message out to him -- 15 minutes, severe thunder showers and lightning at Busch Stadium. Here was 'God,' and about 15 minutes later they'd put [down] the tarp, but the field was so muddy it took two hours to get the field ready when he took the tarp off.

"So, Doug, I want to say one thing. My sincere congratulations. It's sunny now. Don't put the tarp on!

"And one other thing, Doug. Please don't kick me out of Cooperstown!"

Harvey blurted: "But I stopped the rain."

Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith offered: "Doug and Whitey always had their differences, but it was always fun to watch. Always entertaining."

Herzog, recanting stories about his close relationship with Stengel during his early playing years, warmed the crowd for Dawson, the only former player inducted in the Class of 2010.

Dawson sent one of the strongest messages I've heard at these ceremonies as he played on the theme that he's "living proof if you love this game, the game will love you back."

It came at a perfect time. In years to come, players who've been connected to steroids will be up for election.

Young players, who may be tempted to use illegal performance-enhancing substances, should listen to the Hawk.

As he told me later, he didn't want to be specific, "but you didn't have to read between the lines."

"There is nothing wrong with the game of baseball," Dawson said. "Baseball will, from time to time -- like anything else in life -- fall victim to the mistakes that people make. It's not pleasant and it's not right.

"Those mistakes have hurt the game and taken a toll on all of us. Individuals have chosen the wrong road. And have chosen that as their legacy. Others still have a chance to choose theirs. Do not be lured to the dark side. There's a stain on the game. A stain that is gradually being removed."

Dawson didn't mention steroids, but it was obvious what he was saying.

Instead of indicting the sport, its newest Hall of Famer clarified his remark: "But that's the people, not the game. There's nothing wrong with the game -- there never has been. People sometimes forget why we got involved in the game [in] the first place. When we were 9 or 10 years old, we just loved playing the game.

"And we found if you love this game, the game will love you back. That's why I made it here. And anyone who can hear my voice right now can be standing here, as I am."

That Dawson would indirectly use his speech as a platform directed at those who would cheat the game came as a surprise, but it was perfect.

An hour after the ceremony he said he wanted to, as most inductees do, thank those who made the induction possible, but he also felt it was necessary to use a hunk of his speech to get some pressing thoughts off his chest.

"You control your legacy," he said. "You don't really take the game for granted. That's why my motto was, 'If you love the game, the game will love you back.'"

As the three-hour program dragged to a fitting close Sunday afternoon, with all the feel-good moments over and the new Hall of Famers poised for what is an initiation dinner for baseball's most prestigious fraternity, I left with this thought:

Harvey, Herzog and Dawson played the game the right way -- a tribute to them and the sacred building they're entering.

They all touched home -- before the last out!

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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