COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The National Baseball Hall of Fame's annual induction ceremony is Sunday, and with it almost every child's fantasy awaits the Class of 2012.
The ceremony begins at 1:30 p.m. ET behind the Clark Sports Center, as Reds shortstop Barry Larkin and the late Cubs third baseman Ron Santo take their place in the hallowed Hall. Live coverage of the induction ceremonies on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com begin at 12:30 p.m. ET.
Larkin and three members of the Santo family -- Ron Jr., Jeff and Linda, his three children from Santo's first marriage -- all made their final pre-induction public appearance on Saturday at a media conference inside the gymnasium of the Sports Center. It was a day for anticipation and reflections on the first few days of the experience.
"It's everything I expected, and I think it's been a little more," said Larkin, who made his first trip to upstate New York this past May for an initial tour and orientation of the museum on Main Street. "What adds to it is that this time up here there are actually other Hall of Fame players that I interact with.
"[Tigers great] Al Kaline just walked up to me and told me to 'Go get 'em, buddy.' I saw Bob Gibson the other day and said, "Hello, Mr. Gibson." He said, 'I'm Bob!' I came up here for orientation and it was great. At that time, still it was kind of concept. But it's a little more tangible now. So I think it's more special, for sure."
The Santo kids, though sad that their father was not alive to drink in the moment, concluded that they'd celebrate the induction with the same fervor he would've. Santo's second wife, Vicki, is planning on giving his induction speech.
"It's a little strange to be here without my father," said Jeff Santo, 48, the middle child and a filmmaker who created his own documentary about his dad. "He wanted this day. As we walked around the Hall and saw the Cubs fans, we just imagined what it would have been like with my father here. It would have been very special. We're going to honor him and enjoy our time with the Cubs fans that made trek out."
Santo, who retired in 1974 after 14 years with the Cubs and one season -- his last -- with the White Sox, was passed over by the Baseball Writers' Association of America all 15 years he was on the ballot. He missed the cut on numerous versions of the Veterans Committee before he was elected by 15 of the 16 members of the Golden Era Committee last December, joining Cubs teammates Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins and Ernie Banks in the Hall of Fame.
Santo battled diabetes his entire adult life, losing both legs during the period of time he became a beloved Cubs broadcaster. Santo, at 70, finally succumbed to bladder cancer on Dec. 3, 2010.
"I never saw him cry until a few weeks before he passed away," said Ron Jr., the oldest of the three at 51 and a dead ringer for his father. "That was at [my sister's house] for Thanksgiving. That was the first time I'd ever seen him shed a tear. He was just that kind of man. Was he concerned about himself? Sure. He always had to deal with his diabetes. But complain? It wasn't in him."
Larkin was elected by eligible members of the BBWAA in his third year on the ballot, jumping to 86.4 percent. Anyone vying for a place in the Hall must generate at least 75 percent of the vote.
Larkin, who was born and raised in Cincinnati, playing all 19 seasons with his hometown Reds, is the most recent member of that organization to make the Hall. Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez, all members of the big Red Machine that is the last National League club to win consecutive World Series in 1975-76, preceded Larkin into the Hall.
All three of those Reds and Santo's three Cubs teammates are among the 45 living Hall of Famers in Cooperstown this weekend for the induction.
"It's terrific. It's a great honor for the Cincinnati Reds organization, and for Barry himself," Bench said on Friday. "He's one of those few who stayed with the same team. His career speaks for itself: the MVP, the Gold Glove [Awards] and the Silver Slugger Awards, plus leading your club to winning [the 1990] World Series. It's a great day for the Cincinnati Reds, and the Larkin family, in particular."
Bench, the All-Star catcher who gained induction in 1989, has since become the court jester of the Hall, trying to keep the induction-day speech of newer electees in line. His motto: "Be good, be quick, be gone."
Larkin has already been told to keep his speech short, although he's been working on it for months had a draft of it pretty much done at the time of his orientation. He said he'll talk about the ethics that were instilled in him by his parents, early coaches, managers and teammates. But he won't be able to honor the Bench edict to keep it short.
"I'm afraid I'm going to go over the three-minute mark," Larkin said. "And I heard I will pay dearly for it later in the evening."