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After induction, remembrance and relief

After induction, remembrance and relief

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y -- A day after the big ceremony, the feelings of this year's inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame were summed up eloquently by Andre Dawson.

"I can breathe a sigh of relief," the Hawk said on Monday. "It was a phenomenal weekend. But it went by pretty fast. I enjoyed it. It got a little bit tiring, but I was on adrenalin, so I was able to persevere to this point."

"I'm relieved," Whitey Herzog said. "I'm very happy to be a member of the Hall of Fame, but I'm glad it's over. I thought I'd have a little bit more time this weekend to spend with my friends and family, but I didn't have any time. It was just go, go, go, go, go."

"I'm numb," said Doug Harvey, his voice even more hoarse than usual because of the ravages of throat cancer. "That something like this could happen to a country boy like me: It's unbelievable."

Now that the speeches are over and the plaques have been hung in the museum on Main Street for eternity, it takes a little bit of time for it all to sink in, as it does every year.

Each inductee left an indelible mark on Sunday's crowd of 10,000, which watched the festivities through three hours of sunshine and rain.

Harvey's last phrase was one for the ages.

"Cooperstown is the home of baseball," said the 80-year-old Harvey, concluding his prerecorded speech. "One of the many duties of the home-plate umpire is to make sure that the runner touches home. Well, if you're a true baseball fan, you need to visit Cooperstown. This is home, and you need to be sure you'll touch home by the end of the game. I'll be watching to make sure you do."

Asked on Monday how he conjured the image of Cooperstown as home, Harvey said he was struck by the fact that he donated the plate from his last game as a National League umpire, at the Astrodome in 1992, to the Hall.

"We gave it to them, and I was kind of hoping that they'd bury that home plate right at the entrance way [to the museum]," he said. "I think the people would get a kick out of coming here and actually touching a home plate. I really do, and that's why I said it."

Herzog cut his speech almost in half, to about 11 minutes, because the ceremony was already 35 minutes longer than anticipated when he went up to the podium.

Herzog's speech was by far the shortest of the five, which also included Jon Miller of the Giants and ESPN, and winner of the annual Ford C. Frick Award, given to the top broadcaster; and Bill Madden of the New York Daily News, elected by the BBWAA as the J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner for his excellence in baseball reporting.

Still, the former manager of the Cardinals, Royals and Rangers closed his address with a line equally as poignant as the one delivered by Harvey.

"Ever since December, every question anybody ever asked me was what it felt like to be a Hall of Famer," said the 78-year-old Herzog. "I said that I didn't know. I kept saying, 'I won't know until July 25.' Well, now I can tell you what it feels like: Being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame is like going to heaven before you die."

The genesis of the thought?

"I kind of felt like that," he said on Monday. "I probably should have just said that it's a pretty nice thing to have happen while you're still on this side of the grass."

Harvey and Herzog were born in small-town America, but Dawson hails from Miami, where he still lives, working as an executive for the Florida Marlins. The 56-year-old played outfield for four teams, including the Expos and Cubs.

While expressing gratitude and love for his mother, who passed away four years ago, Dawson got in a few zingers for his friends and, now, Hall of Fame brothers: Forty-seven of them were on the stage behind the Clark Sports Center on Sunday to welcome the inductees.

Here's a quick sampling:

"Ryne Sandberg: He was a teammate of mine for six years, and I didn't even know that he could speak until he got up here [for his acceptance speech] five years ago."

"I see Tom Seaver sitting back there. I saw him this morning at breakfast, too. He wanted to make me feel comfortable, so he threw a breakfast roll past my head."

"Tommy Lasorda, he taught me how to get a free meal. He said, 'Eat half your steak, then send it back and complain, and get a whole new free one.' "

Dawson said on Monday that he wrote those lines himself and that it was all done in the spirit of camaraderie and good tidings.

"That was the fun part of the speech," he said. "All I had to do was remember the guys I played with and against and some of those stories that can be associated with those individuals. Some of the guys who weren't here I took out, but that was the easy part."

So was Monday, a day of remembering and relief.

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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