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Rickey, Rice join baseball immortals

Rickey, Rice join baseball immortals

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Having thoroughly soaked this idyllic, tiny, tree-swathed town with a steady downpour for most of Friday, the skies relented as the sun surfaced Saturday, giving way to a pleasantly clear and comfortable climate befitting baseball's version of heaven.

Hall of Fame Weekend 2009 dawned spectacularly, providing the legends participating in the Hall of Famer Golf Tournament with gorgeous conditions in which to drive for show and putt for, well, you know.

It's that other stick-and-ball game, of course, that's expected to bring more than 14,000 people to Baseball Town USA, the immaculately groomed downtown streets coming alive in force on the eve of Induction Sunday.

The Hall of Fame ceremony will air live on MLB.com and MLB Network beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET today, and that's really the main event this weekend. With first-ballot inductee Rickey Henderson, final-ballot inductee Jim Rice and Veterans' ballot choice Joe Gordon taking their rightful places in the sport's pantheon, today will be a beautiful day in baseball, rain or shine -- and with a significant chance of rain.

As always, the entire weekend is an event for Cooperstown, and Saturday's gorgeous day made it clear it's a special one, especially for the two biggest star attractions -- Henderson and Rice.

Fittingly, the former Red Sox slugger officially kicked off the weekend by hitting cleanup in a star-studded foursome in the golf tournament. Hours later, Rice shared the stage in a local middle school auditorium with self-proclaimed "rent-a-player" Henderson, who played for nine teams to Rice's one on the way to Cooperstown.

And what a rent-a-player Henderson was over his 25 seasons. As Rice duly noted, Henderson's basestealing ability frequently turned a walk or single into a double, a double into a triple. He was an unparalleled "igniter," Rice said.

Then Rice, one of the game's most dangerous sluggers and most consistent run producers during his 15-year career, broke up the crowd by saying he told Boston pitchers to dispense with the futility of containing Henderson on mere merit.

"I'd tell them, 'The best thing you could do is hit him in the kneecap,'" Rice said with a smile.

2009 HALL OF FAME INDUCTION
When: Today, 1:30 p.m. ET
Live MLB.com stream of MLB Network starts at 12:30 p.m.
Who: Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice and Joe Gordon will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Tony Kubek will be honored with the Frick Award for broadcasting and Nick Peters will receive the Spink Award for sportswriting.
Where: Clark Sports Center, Cooperstown, N.Y.
Weather: High 70's, 50 percent chance of thunderstorms
Attendance: 14,000 expected

Henderson returned serve, recalling the fear felt by A's pitchers charged with keeping Rice from doing damage.

"We used to go over scouting reports, and with Jim, when his name popped up, it seemed like all the pitchers trembled. They were scared," Henderson said. "I used to call him 'Speakers,' because he didn't hit the wall. He hit the speakers [beyond the center-field wall at Fenway Park].

"We had one pitcher, Mike Norris, he used to hate pitching to Jim, and he asked me, 'What can I do to get Jim out?' I said, 'Just hit him in the kneecap.'"

Also at the news conference was Judy Gordon, the daughter of the former Yankees and Indians second baseman who'll be posthumously inducted as a Veterans Committee selection today.

Judy will speak on her father's behalf today, and if she struggles -- "I cry really easy," she admitted -- she could ask for assistance from Tony Kubek, who did not succeed in convincing his rapt audience that he was worried about his time on the podium today.

"I'm not a speaker," said the Hall's 2009 Ford C. Frick award for, ironically enough, excellence in broadcasting.

After the news conferences, the various honorees dispersed to points all around town, where virtually everywhere you turned was a related event. There was the annual New York-Penn League game at quaint Doubleday Field, where the right-field fence sits a Rice popup -- 250 feet -- away from home plate.

Who won? Who really cares? It didn't take a game story by Nick Peters, the recipient of the 2009 J.G. Taylor Spinks Award for baseball writing, to make it a keeper.

Over at the Clark Sports Center, more than 750 people watched Hall of Famers Goose Gossage, Ryne Sandberg and Dick Williams play "Hall of Fame Feud" against fans in the popular Connecting Generations event, with MLB Network's Harold Reynolds presiding.

Who won that? Come on. Like you need to ask.

And, of course, between trips to Main Street's many memorabilia shops, where Hall of Famers signed autographs for long lines of adoring fans, thousands visited the centerpiece of it all, the unimposing red-brick shrine to all things hardball.

Wrapped up with the red-carpet arrivals of the Hall of Famers at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, it was a day as close to perfect as possible.

Today -- rain or shine -- promises to be every bit as special.

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["hall_of_fame" ] }
{"content":["hall_of_fame" ] }