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'Unbelievable' day as Larkin, Santo enshrined in Hall

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Under a clear blue sky on Sunday in this little town in Central New York, Barry Larkin and the late Ron Santo joined the pantheon of the baseball gods as the newest members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The two-hour ceremony was as poignant as it was disparate. Vicki Santo, Ron's widow, told a story of how the All-Star Cubs third baseman battled diabetes in relative secrecy throughout his playing career, and later as an avid public fundraiser to discover a cure through his years as a beloved club broadcaster.

"For the last 10 years of his life, baseball kept him alive," she said during her short media conference after the ceremony.

Larkin's 35-minute speech was more typical of the annual Cooperstown fare. The Cincinnati native, who played shortstop for 19 years for the Reds, thanked his immediate family, Reds greats who helped him develop as a young player, and Pete Rose, his first manager.

He also thanked fellow Reds Hall of Famers Tony Perez, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan, who were seated behind him as he spoke on the tented stage behind the Clark Sports Center. Former teammates such as Eric Davis, Dave Parker and Tom Browning, and manager Lou Piniella, were also among the estimated crowd of 18,000 decked out in Cincinnati red and Cubbie blue.

"The sea of red, the sea of blue, I saw the intermingling," Larkin said afterwards. "I thought there might be a section of blue over here and a section of red over there, but it wasn't like that. It was awesome. I really did think it was awesome."

Larkin joined the Class of 2012 on Jan. 9 as the sole electee this year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The 12-time National League All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner garnered 86.4 percent of the vote. To gain admittance, any electee has to receive at least 75 percent of the ballots cast.

After the long months of preparation, Larkin couldn't control himself as he stepped to the podium. His 15-year-old daughter and budding music star, Cymber, had sung a rousing rendition of the national anthem, and Larkin didn't take his eyes off of her.

"This is un-stinkin-believable! Unbelievable!" Larkin belted into the microphone and then commenced his long-toiled-over speech.

Two minutes in, he had to step away and compose himself as he started to choke back tears.

"Roberto Alomar told me, 'Just don't look at the family, man, you'll be, OK,'" Larkin said, referring to the second baseman who was inducted last year along with pitcher Bert Blyleven. "I looked down and I saw my mom, she was crying already before I even got started. It was over. I knew it was going to happen."

Larkin's mother, Shirley, had a different story. She said that the speech was less emotional than she expected.

"I didn't start crying until he did," Shirley Larkin said.

Asked which was the true version, Larkin deferred to his mom.

"Mothers always know best," he quipped.

The day also belonged to Santo, who retired in 1974 after 14 years with the Cubs and a final single season with the White Sox. He had waited for the Hall call from either the BBWAA or various permutations of the Veterans Committee through all his years until his death at 70 from the ravages of bladder cancer on Dec. 2, 2010.

Finally, last December, the Golden Era Committee again discussed his candidacy. Needing 12 votes to be elected, Santo received 15 of the 16 votes. He's the 16th third baseman inducted into the Hall among the 207 players elected, 112 by eligible members of the BBWAA.

Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Ernie Banks, who all played with Santo on those Cubs teams of the 1960s and early 1970s, were also on the stage to honor their late friend.

Even Larkin acknowledged the fact that the day presented a unique comparison of a now 48-year-old player and ESPN analyst who retired in 2004 against a man who had become an icon, not only because of his play, but because of his life-long physical struggles that spanned his on-field career.

"It's amazing that all these people come together and that everyone has their own story," Larkin said afterward. "Everyone has their own network. Everyone has their own passion and their own problems to deal with. We're all out there trying to win the game and get 27 outs. To hear his story and how he was able to get it done on the field, understanding the things he went through that were incredibly hard. I told Vicki it was an incredibly inspiring story, and I thought she told the story very well."

Santo, a nine-time NL All-Star, batted .277 with 342 homers and 1,331 RBIs. He suffered through multiple leg amputations, and during his time as a broadcaster, raised more than $65 million for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation to find a cure for the disease, which is now an epidemic among children.

"He loved the game and he loved the broadcast booth," Vicki said during her 16-minute speech. "He wasn't going to let anything prevent him from broadcasting the season. That was Ron. He never said, 'Why me?' He just moved on to the next challenge. The last few years of his life, he had so many things wrong with him and so many different needs that everything we take for granted -- like taking a shower or making a sandwich -- required a lot of different moving parts.

"But he did not complain and he did not want sympathy. He believed that he'd been chosen to go through these things so that he could deliver a message of perseverance. And above all, he felt it was his job to try to find a cure for juvenile diabetes."

Larkin was thrilled by his inclusion as the 11th shortstop voted in by the BBWAA and 24th in the Hall, in his third year on the ballot. He was a nine-time Silver Slugger Award winner with a .295 batting average, a member of the Reds squad that swept the A's in the 1990 World Series, and the National League's Most Valuable Player Award winner in 1995.

As he thanked the fans, his speech built to a crescendo.

"You know, as a player I would always look in the mirror and question myself," Larkin said in conclusion. "'Am I doing enough? Is there more? Can I be doing something different, something better? Can I try harder? Is this the right thing to do?' Yeah, I asked myself [these questions], not only because I took pride in representing myself and my family, but also the Reds organization and the people of Cincinnati.

"I realize I wasn't always the easiest person to deal with. That at times, I acted out. I made plenty of mistakes. I didn't always handle situations as best as I could. I humbly appreciate your acceptance of me and my shortcomings and your continued support for me and my family. And as for those questions I used to ask? No longer do I have to ask them. The answers are forever written on my plaque in Cooperstown."

Barry Larkin, Ron Santo