Joe Torre gave the longest speech (about 28 minutes) and failed to mention George Steinbrenner -- an oversight that he apologized profusely for after the ceremony. But Torre ended his speech with an artfully crafted ode to baseball that would have made former commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti proud.
"Baseball is a game of life,'' Torre said. "It's not perfect, but it feels like it is. That's the magic of it. We're responsible for giving it the respect it deserves. Our sport is part of the American soul, and it's ours to borrow -- just for a while. [It's ours] to take care of for a time and then pass it on to the next generation.
"If all of us who love baseball are doing our jobs, then those who get the game from us will be as proud to be a part of it as we were -- and we are. This game is a gift, and I am humbled -- very humbled -- to accept its greatest honor.''
Players invariably mention former teammates in their speeches. Thomas, who had already thanked all the trainers, managers, coaches, traveling secretaries, media relations directors and team doctors who supported him in his career, did a rapid-fire recitation that included about 130 of his 850 teammates in Chicago, Oakland and Toronto.
"I had to cut 50 guys, and I felt bad,'' Thomas said.
During the ceremony, Hall of Fame chairman Jane Forbes Clark revealed that Hank Aaron and Tom Seaver had donated their entire personal baseball collections to the shrine in conjunction with its 75th year.
A Braves fan wearing a Bobby Cox jersey held up a sign that said, "Try to throw Bobby out of this one!'' It was a reference, of course, to Cox's record 159 career ejections.
Each inductee's speech was preceded by a 3-minute taped segment featuring a person who was instrumental in his career. Leo Mazzone introduced Glavine, Dave Duncan spoke on behalf of La Russa, and Ken "Hawk'' Harrelson, who famously coined the nickname "Big Hurt,'' introduced Frank Thomas.
During his taped segment, Harrelson listed Manny Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera and Thomas as the "three best right-handed hitters in baseball'' over the past 50 years. That's an impressive list, to be sure, but some St. Louis Cardinals fans might contend that Harrelson should have expanded the group by one and mentioned Albert Pujols' name as well.
Cox began his speech with a reflection on how he was sitting with broadcaster Steve Stone at an Arizona Fall League game several years ago when a fan came up and asked for Stone's autograph. Stone obliged, then asked the fan if he might like Cox's autograph as well.
"The guy just stared at me,'' Cox said. "Then he says, 'Yeah, I know you! You're that guy from Atlanta that gets thrown out all the time!' I said, 'Yeah, that's me. But Tommy Lasorda had to quit too early in his career, or he would have had the record.''
"I had one accomplishment with the Mets as a player,'' Torre said. "I hit into four double plays in a game. But I have to share the credit. I couldn't have done it if Felix Millan hadn't hit four singles in front of me.''