Legends need a voice -- one that can carry a tune

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 23, 2011 - 6:09 PM

During the pre-induction socializing, the late Kirby Puckett bowled his peers over with a Louis Armstrong classic that no one's been able to touch.

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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Now that Bert Blyleven is about to join one of the world's most exclusive fraternities, the living members of baseball's Hall of Fame have a request.

Could he learn to sing?

When Kirby Puckett was alive, entertainment wasn't a problem. With the Hall of Famers gathered in the Hawkeye Grill in the Otesaga Hotel for induction weekend, Puckett would grab the microphone and imitate Louis Armstrong, singing "What a Wonderful World."

"Seriously, for those of you who don't know, Kirby did that song as well as anybody has ever done it," Ozzie Smith said Friday in Cooperstown. "He just had it. Like Satchmo."

Wade Boggs tried to replace Puckett as the Hall of Famers' primary entertainer last year. "It ain't working," Smith said. "Wade Boggs is trying to replace him, and it's not quite working out yet. I hope he's a little better than he was last year."

If Blyleven's induction into baseball's Hall of Fame on Sunday promises the pomp and ceremony of a big wedding, the Hall of Famers' dinners over the weekend represent the rough equivalent of a bachelor party.

And if seeing his face on a plaque in the Hall represents the greatest honor of Blyleven's life, being included in the dinners with the other Hall of Famers might become the favorite moments of his life.

"I think the next best thing is the dinner we have Sunday nights with all of the Hall of Famers," former Twins great Rod Carew said on Friday. "We have fun with each other. Every corner of the room ... Ozzie, myself, we've got the line-drive hitter's table. Then you've got the 300-game [winner's] table, the power hitter's table, the manager's table..."

Blyleven might not fit in with the other pitchers. "They all think they're connoisseurs of fine wines," Smith said. "All of them bring fine wines from different parts of the world. We just sneak over and steal a bottle of wine and sneak back to our respective tables."

Smith said this with the requisite contempt everyday players hold for pitchers.

"You kidding me?" Carew said. "Sutton? Seaver? Carlton? ...

"Bert will be sitting at some other table, talking about something else."

Former players often say they miss baseball's camaraderie more than they miss the game itself, and there is no greater camaraderie in the game than that shared by Hall of Famers during induction weekend.

Carew and Smith said there is a table for slap hitters like themselves, whom they call "The Judys," referring to the phrase "Punch and Judy," or singles, hitters.

"There's more fun at the Judy's table than any other table in the room," Carew said. "We just pick at each other, don't we?"

"Yeah," said Smith. "We talk about how we couldn't hit the ball out of the park."

Whitey Herzog said he sits with other managers at the "big shots" table. "There aren't many people at that table," Herzog said. "Because nobody wants to sit with us."

Puckett and Smith used to spend months before Hall of Fame weekend arguing over who would dress better. Now Smith says he looks forward to hearing Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal recounting "some of the battles they had."

"Cha-Cha sits at our table," Smith said of Cepeda. "He was a real power hitter, but he sits at our table."

The year Paul Molitor was inducted, he followed Puckett's "What a Wonderful World" with a rendition of Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days."

Sunday night, Blyleven will carry on those sentiments even if he can't carry a tune.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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