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Cooperstown opens its doors to infielders Boggs, Sandberg
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Wade Boggs cried when he acknowledged his father, who turned a scrawny kid into one of the game's toughest outs by teaching him that inside-out swing.
Ryne Sandberg was simply Ryno -- smooth, stoic and flush with reverence for the game.
Four decades after they once dreamed of baseball greatness, Boggs and Sandberg were inducted Sunday into the Baseball Hall of Fame to the raucous cheers of thousands of Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cub fans.
"There were many stops along the way," said Boggs, who began playing minor-league baseball in Elmira, N.Y., in 1976. "But today that train has pulled into Cooperstown, and I've found this family here at the Hall of Fame. My wife and I believe this is the beginning of another baseball journey."
Boggs, who batted left-handed, was an undersized hitter who didn't attract much attention even though he finished his senior year at Plant High in Tampa, Fla., on a 26-for-33 tear. He was drafted in the seventh round by the Red Sox and then spent five-plus seasons in the minors before finally forcing Boston to promote him in 1981 after he led the International League in batting.
"Life is about obstacles," said Boggs, who also played for the Yankees and Tampa Bay. "Our lives are not determined by what happens to us, but how we react to what happens. Baseball is just a game. You should always play the game with passion, play the game with heart, and play the game you love, and possibly one day your dreams can come true just like mine did."
Boggs learned the trademark inside-out swing that produced 3,010 hits from his father, Winfield, a fast-pitch softball star. He learned well, going on to hit .300 or higher 15 times and finishing with a .328 career average. He was the only player in the 20th century with seven straight 200-hit seasons.
And when it came time to pay tribute to his 80-year-old father, Boggs broke down as his dad, too, brushed away tears.
"Daddy, I wouldn't be up here without you, my mentor, my idol," Boggs said. "Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad. That's why I call you dad, because you are so special to me. You taught me the game, and you taught me how to play it right. Without you, I wouldn't be here. Thank you, dad."
The tears continued when Boggs remembered his deceased mother, Susan.
"She couldn't be here today, but she's here in spirit," Boggs, only the 41st player elected on his first try, said as he glanced skyward. "She was the rock of the family. She had to wear two hats, my father being in the Air Force. Mom, I love you. I miss you. I wish you were here."
Sandberg, a darling of Cubs fans because he excelled in every facet of the game as a star second baseman who shunned the spotlight, said he became a Hall of Famer because he respected the game. And the 48 Hall of Famers sitting behind seemed to nod in unison.
"A lot of people say this honor validates my career," said Sandberg, who wasn't picked until the 20th round of the 1978 amateur draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. "But I didn't work hard for validation. I didn't play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that's what you're supposed to do -- play it right and with respect. Turning two is more important than knowing where to find the little red light on the dugout camera."
Although the 6-foot-2 Sandberg began at short, he eventually was switched to second and blossomed in 1984, two years after the Phillies traded him to the Cubs.
The trade gave Sandberg a chance to play every day, and he quickly quieted the skeptics who thought he was too tall to play second. He won the first of nine consecutive Gold Gloves, establishing a major league record of 123 consecutive errorless games over two seasons.
Sandberg won MVP honors in 1984, hitting a career-high .314 with 19 homers, 84 RBIs, 114 runs, 32 stolen bases, and made only six errors in 156 games.
"Baseball wasn't easy for me. I struggled many times," said Sandberg, who was elected in his third year of eligibility. "I had to work hard every day, and I didn't leave many scraps for the writers. I hope you also understand why I would not campaign for this or help to sell this. It's the best award in all of sports, and I think if I had expected anything, if I was thinking about it too much or crunching the numbers, it would have taken away from the prestige of this incredible honor."
Also enshrined were longtime San Diego Padres announcer Jerry Coleman, winner of the Ford C. Frick Award presented annually for major contributions to baseball broadcasting; and veteran sportswriter and broadcaster Peter Gammons, recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, presented annually for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.
Coleman's playing career was interrupted twice because of military service as a Marine pilot during World War II and Korea. He flew 120 missions, received two distinguished flying crosses, 13 Air Medals and three Navy citations, and earned the rank of lieutenant colonel.
For that, he received a standing ovation.
"This is the highest honor of my life," said Coleman, a star second baseman for the Yankees and 1950 World Series MVP. "I'm here because my peers put me here. The journey has been incredible. I feel finally, finally I've come home."
Pete Rose, ineligible for the Hall of Fame because of his lifetime ban from baseball for gambling, originally was scheduled to appear at Pete Rose Ballpark Collectibles to sign autographs. But the sign above the store, located a little over a block away from the Hall of Fame on Main Street, was taken down sometime in the last week -- and Rose never appeared.
Andrew Vilacky, owner of the store and a close friend and business associate of Rose, has pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of felony tax fraud for his part in a scheme that authorities said bilked the U.S. and New York state governments of nearly $3 million in fraudulent tax refunds between 1997 and 2001. Vilacky is scheduled to be sentenced in October and could face up to five years in prison.