COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The sea of Reds is here, seemingly in multiples of 1,000, saluting Barry Larkin and also Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Sparky Anderson, Hal McCoy and all the others with Hall of Fame credentials the Queen City annually lends to this special and bucolic burg.
Pete Rose is here too, quite unofficially though, signing his name more often than Bill Gates and Warren Buffett endorse their checks. Eric Davis and Lou Piniella came, as well. Though half of Sunday's stage is to be belong to the late Ron Santo and the Santo family, the weekend is largely Larkin's.
A slightly different hue of the color was prominent on Saturday afternoon, if not in T-shirts and caps, then in concept and atmosphere. A different sea of red -- Cardinals red. The Hall markets itself as an institution that connects generations. Seldom has it done so as well as it did Saturday when it saluted Red Schoendienst, Whitey Herzog and Tony La Russa, the men who managed the four most recent Cardinals World Series champions.
No induction ceremony, of course. Schoendienst and Herzog already have plaques here, and La Russa's likeness is likely to be molded just as soon as eligibility rules allow his candidacy. Recognition of their Cardinals successes was merely a good idea. Timely, too. They won the World Series last year. So what better time?
La Russa (with substantial input from David Freese) directed last year's postseason conquest -- 11 victories for the franchise's 11th Series championship in 2011. Five years earlier, he had brought the trophy to the banks of the Mighty Mississippi for the first time since 1982, the year The White Rat and the "Show Me State Sprinters" ran past the American League Brewers. And 15 years before that, Schoendienst and a team that Tim McCarver says "never made mistakes" made the final sequence of New England's "Impossible Dream" fully impossible.
Three managers, three Busch Stadiums, six Clydesdales, four trophies and, here Saturday, one hat trick testimonial for the guys who initiated the signs, pulled the pitchers to enhance the legacy of the Yankees of the National League. Now, the Cardinals' run stretches from Dizzy to Izzy and beyond.
So the Hall decided to strike before the flood of mental images from autumn faded. After Tim McCarver, himself a critical piece of Cardinals history, and Toronto Sun columnist Bob Elliott, a monumental influence in Canadian baseball, accepted awards for their work in television and publishing, the Hall hailed Red, Whitey and La Ru.
No speech per se, not from Schoendienst, who remains microphone-uncomfortable, not from Herzog, who has a standing preference for fishing and not LaRussa, who wasn't going to speak if the others didn't. The three responded to a few soft inquiries about the Cardinals, their well-red fans, the Cardinals way, and then they were off. McCarver's speech, sharp, gracious and entertaining, lasted longer than the three-in-one-ceremony.
The ceremony was acknowledgement for jobs well done, far more than it was a forum for the three. But some perspective was needed. So who better to speak of the three managers responsible for the Cardinals' last four World Series championships than the former Cardinals manager who won none during his six-season sequence in St. Louis. Not that he is unfamiliar with the World Series championships, we give you Joe Torre.
• "I probably learned more about managing and dealing with players from Red than from any other manager I played for," Torre said early Saturday afternoon. "And I'm probably more like Red than Whitey or Tony."
Torre's manager throughout his six-summer tenure with the Cardinals was Schoendienst. "He trusted his players," Torre said. "He let us play."
McCarver expressed the same Friday afternoon, chatting at a reception for Elliott. "Red'd come out to the mound and ask us 'Whatdaya want to do?' We'd tell him. And he'd listen. That's what we did."
"We liked Red. He was such a gentleman," Torre said. "He didn't hit us over the head with rules. In that regard, he was easygoing. But he disciplined us when it was needed. When I got to the Cardinals ... they were a team that had played in the last two World Series. They had great players and good men. I realized it was time for me be more responsible. Some of that came from Red."
• "Whitey was a bright baseball man, you knew that before he got to the Cardinals," Torre
said. "When he worked for the Mets in player development, you saw what he helped put together in the '60s. He knew exactly what he wanted. When he was the manager and GM with the Cardinals, he'd find a way to get what he wanted and just about force you to take the package he wanted you to take. He was a rebel as a GM. His understanding of the game and what would work for his team was exceptional. And he always got along with the manager."
• "I'm proud to say we [the Dodgers of 2009] beat Tony's team in the playoffs. That was an achievement. He had his way. I had mine. He was nothing like I was. Or should I say, I was nothing like he was? Tony controlled the game. That wasn't within my ability. Sparky [Anderson] had that great bullpen in '76. Tony didn't copy it, he took it to another level. When you watched him manage in the World Series last year, you knew he had a lot of it figured out."
Torre, of course, would have cherished a World Series championship in St. Louis -- as a player or manager. Not that he would exchange any one on the five rings he won with the Yankees. But St. Louis remains special to him.
"I had my best year as a player there," he said. " When you're a member of the Cardinals and you have success there, you're remembered as royalty in St. Louis, you're automatically embraced."
Torre still is when he returns to the site of his 1971 MVP season and where he managed from late in the 1990 season through mid-June, 1995. "It's still a comfortable place for me, " he said. "They treat me well, even though I never won there."
He would have enjoyed a place on the dais Saturday. "Those guys did a lot of winning," he said. "They cut me some slack."