La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.

A weekend in Cooperstown

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: July 28, 2014 - 9:02 AM

COOPERSTOWN, NY - The speeches have ended, the plaques have been unveiled, the stories have been told,

The 75th Hall of Fame class has been presented, the highlight of a thrilling weekend in this town just off Blackbird Bay. The estimated crowd here was 48,000, the third largest ever. And it was a loud and proud group as a chunk of Georgia showed up to cheer Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Bobby Cox from the Braves; Joe Torre, who managed the Braves; and Frank Thomas, who is from Columbus, Ga. 

The speeches were excellent. The funniest story came from Cox, who went to the mound once to address the infield and ask Tom Glavine to consider walking the batter with first base open. The only problem  was that the bases were already loaded - Cox had missed the runner at first.

"If this gets out to the media, I'm fining each you $1,000,'' he said as the place busted up.

Here are other notes from the weekend:

What am I doing here? 

As president of the Baseball Writers Association of America, one duty is to introduce the person who is entering the writer's wing of The Hall. This year it's Roger Angell, the first non-BBWAA member to receive such an honor. Mr. Angell has long been a favorite of ball writers across the country for his incredible essays about the game.

I was nervous as hell, but I pulled off the speech rather well. Johnny Bench even introduced himself to me later and told me he liked it. Angell's speech was wonderful. But the best moment came few minutes before the ceremony began when I asked him how he was feeling.

"I'm in Valhalla,'' he said.

HOF voting change

The Hall on Friday announced a couple changes to the voting procedure. Candidates will spend 10 years on the ballot before being moved to the ERA committee - instead of 15 years - and BBWAA members will have to register, agree to a Code of Conduct of sorts and have their name listed as a voter. 

I really like the last two changes. The Hall makes it clear now that people who give their ballot away will be dealt with. And I like the transparency. We were moving in the direction anyway, as many voters publish their ballots these days.

I was told three players in the last 30-plus years have been voted in after being on the ballot for more than 10 years, so The Hall felt justified in making the change, This will be interesting to see play out. It forces voters to consider candidates in a shorter time frame, instead of taking a few years to change their minds. It attacks those who feel that there should be first-ballot HOFers, then HOFers. Never been a fan of that.

The BBWAA has a committee looking at changes, too, and we hope to make a couple recommendations to The Hall before the the year is over.

The Big Hurt breaks down

The BBWAA president stays at the Otesaga Resort Hotel - where the Hall of Famers stay. I will allow myself to become a fan here briefly and report that it was WAAAAY COOOOOOL!!!!!!

Goose Gossage is staying across the hallway. Bud Selig and Frank Thomas are down the hall. I actually had a conversation with Eddie Murray, who despised the media when he played. Last night was a blast, as I ended up in conversations with Murray and Joe Torre's grandchildren. I also met Don Drysdale's daughter, who sings R&B music at spots around southern California and was three months old when her father passed away.

Rode down the elevator with Frank Thomas and his family this morning. I asked him, "How long is your speech, man?'  He said, " Fourteen minutes.''

"Did you include time for tears?'' I replied as the women in the group laughed.

I just had a feeling....and Thomas already was in trouble because 14 minutes is in the long range. On a day in which there were six speakers, that could rankle some of the members. Dave Winfield's lengthy speech is legendary, with tales of Hank Aaron badgering him to wrap it up.

(now this is good, I'm sitting in a restaurant writing this, when Thomas walks in. So I was able to get more details on his near-blubbering)

Thomas broke down as soon as he got to the podium and choked up during most of his speech, which lasted 18 minutes. Found out later that his mother rarely leaves her home in Columbus, and the sight of her in the audience made him emotional.

Thomas was not ripped for his long speech. The HOFers believe that long speeches are boring, but they saw that Thomas was speaking from the heart.

OTHER STUFF

Everyone is leaving in good shape, I'm pleased to report. But there were moments.

White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf fainted on Friday and had to be rushed to a local hospital. He was back at the hotel Saturday and able to get through the weekend.

Longtime umpire Doug Harvey had difficulty breathing on Saturday and had to be rushed to a local hospital. Was told he was doing well.

As I talked with Peter Gammons on Saturday behind the stage before the awards presentation at Doubleday Field, Gaylord Perry, 75,  took a wrong step and tumbled to the ground. He was helped up to a nearby seat. Once it determined he was OK, Carlton Fisk yells, "This is NOT the time to practice headfirst slides!!"

A great weekend. I'll never be this close to the action like I was here this year. So I wanted to share with you some stories......

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