Thanks, Ed. That was a wonderful introduction. I feel very much at home here tonight -- after all, I am a former Washington Senator.
Well, following Ed Stack is a tough job, but not as tough as the job I had last month. I threw out the first ball down in Atlanta. That's tough -- especially when you're wearing a twenty-five pound bulletproof vest. But I practiced. And we had a great time. I was with two of my children, Albert and Sarah. We went through the locker rooms, then out on the field where some of the players gave us batting tips. Just before I walked to the mound I turned to my kids and asked if they had any last minute advice. "Dad," Albert said, "just don't embarrass us."
I'll try not to embarrass myself tonight -- and not just for their sake. Because I'm a fan. When I look out over the ballplayers tonight I remember every single one of you. I've seen each of you perform. The least I can do is try not to strike out.
I must say, I don't remember all of you with great affection. Because when I was growing up my Spring and Fall was spent in Washington. Most of my friends rooted for the Senators. Not exactly the best team in baseball. So my friends weren't too happy when Yogi or Ted Williams were in town. The Senators were owned by Clark Griffith. I'm sure you remember his sardonic sense of humor -- a little like Bob Dole's. And one day, after he saw his team getting pounded again, he said, "The fans like home runs. And we have developed a pitching staff to accomodate our fans."
But whoever we rooted for -- whatever team you played for -- all of you are heros, and deserve to be. These days, there are people that attack baseball. "Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?" asks the cover of last week's Sports Illustrated. Ridiculous. That was a good song but a dumb question. Joe is right here. Our admiration for him and his life should be no less than it was back in 1941.
And what about the larger point? Are there still Joe Dimaggios -- and Bob Fellers and Roy Campanellas and Stan Musials? Just ask my children and their friends -- maybe as they're looking at baseball cards of Cal Ripken jr., or Jim Abbott or Dave Dravecky, or Kirby Puckett. The heros are still around. Lots of them. There are many who see reflected in baseball, the entire fabric of American life. Certainly those of us in politics see it. During the last few months -- especially during that jobs bill debate -- we kept reminding ourselves, "Babe Ruth struck out 1330 times." And as we have tried to get the new Administration to work together, I think of Jack Morris, after one of the World Series games two years ago, when a reporter asked how "he" had won it. "'I' didn't win it," he said. "There's no 'I' in team."
But with all due respect to those who are here, baseball is not just the great ballplayers. It's not even the majors. It is a Little League coach, walking halfway to home plate to throw underhand so a six-year old can get his first hit. It's parents taking off early to show up at a game, attache case between their legs, shouting "Good eye, good eye," when their kid takes a pitch. It's seeing a kid step into the box, knocking imaginary mud off his cleats in a way that is the product of a thousand watched games. Or just out in the back yard by himself, throwing a ball into a chalked off strike zone, announcing each pitch exactly the way it would be done by Phil Rizzuto or Ernie Harwell or Harry Carey or Mel Allen. And it is a trip to Cooperstown which -- thanks to the foresight and generosity of the Clark family -- so many families do each year, visiting a part of New York they would never otherwise visit. It's also one of the strongest bonds between parents and their children.
I say children because it's not just boys that play baseball any more -- especially in the Gore household. I was reminded of this yesterday when I read Tom Boswell's piece about Damon Buford. He's playing for the Orioles, and when the Blue Jays came in there were four other players on the field whose fathers had played big-league ball: David Segui, Todd Stottlemyre, Dick Schofield and Roberto Alomar. It says something nice when a child wants to follow a father's footsteps.
But the bond goes deeper than that. You start out sitting on the couch with a three-year old, watching games on tv. Then you're throwing popups, hoping desperately the ball won't hit your kid on the head. At some point most of us become spectators again.. But the link is still there. I know families down in Tennessee where even in the throes of adolescence, when father and son aren't talking for days, they can still say "How'd the Braves do?" and sit down to watch a game.
Some of you know, that my son was hit by a car coming out of an Oriole's game. We will never forget how, during his stay in the hospital, Brooks Robinson came by to help lift his spirits. And one of the best things about his recovery was seeing him run and climb and jump -- I remember seing his grandmother try to pull him off a tree down in Tennessee when he was still in a cast. Now, every time we go out to throw a ball around it's a reminder of what a wonderful privilege it is -- playing baseball with your child. And I'm confident that as Albert grows and plays with his own children, he will form the same kind of bond, one deeper than words -- even deeper than those balls that Yogi or Ted or Joe used to hit off Senator pitching in Griffith Stadium all those decades back.
Thank you for having me tonight. And thanks to every Hall of Famer for thrilling me and millions of Americans with your sheer excellence, great competitive spirit ... and grace under pressure.