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07/26/09 5:01 PM ET

Rickey, Rice take rightful places in Hall

Pair joins baseball's elite on grand stage at Cooperstown

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice stood on the same stage as baseball's all-time greats on Sunday, taking their rightful places among them as the newest inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Amid a few droplets of rain at Clark Sports Center in baseball's historic burgh, the two left fielders -- Henderson, the quintessential leadoff hitter; Rice, the perennial power man -- saw their status as legends cemented at the annual ceremony, which this year was attended by 50 members of the Hall of Fame's 65 living members.

In front of an announced crowd of about 21,000, Rice and Henderson were joined in the hallowed Hall's Class of 2009 by former Yankees and Indians second baseman Joe "Flash" Gordon, who was honored posthumously.

With broadcaster Tony Kubek and sportswriter Nick Peters also receiving honors for their achievements, the ceremony rolled on through threatening skies that never quite followed through on the threats.

In fact, the sun occasionally broke through with impeccable timing as Induction Day once again became a beacon of light into baseball's grand history.

There stood Rickey, smiling that familiar smile, and Rice, smiling a newly familiar smile almost never seen on the field, among the greats literally and officially.

"It's like being welcomed at home plate after hitting a walk-off home run," Rice said, beaming throughout most of his gracious speech. "I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be than right here, right now."

Henderson -- whose loose, fun personality made his induction speech a highly anticipated one -- played it mostly straight and finished in a sincerely respectful tone, once again invoking his idol, Muhammad Ali.

"My journey as a player is complete," he said. "I am now in the class of the greatest players of all time. And at this moment ..."

Henderson paused, and the crowd's laughter made it clear that they expected him to finish with, "I am the greatest."

They were hardly disappointed, though, when he went in the opposite direction, ending his speech with, "... I am very, very humbled."

With Henderson dressed in a cream suit reminiscent of his playing days with the A's and Rice in a dapper suit with a colorful tie, they fit right in with the other 50 members of the club to which they now belong.

The 50 HOF members in attendance were given their due at the outset of the ceremony, with longtime broadcaster George Grande listing them from last year's class of Goose Gossage and Dick Williams, back through time.

Through the Big Red Machine, through Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, and finishing off with a flourish with Bob Feller, the great pitcher and military man. Aaron received the longest ovation, with Mays and Feller not too far behind, and Carl Yastrzemski hearing fondly from the Red Sox faithful gathered.

Again in the company of so many of the great players they spoke and wrote about during their careers, the honorees for covering the game also had their due. Kubek, the Yankees player and broadcaster who also brought the game to a national TV audience, was presented the Ford C. Frick Award. Peters, who covered the Giants and A's for decades, was presented the J.G. Taylor Spink Award.

"This place," Kubek said during his colorful, unscripted speech, "is magical."

As the first inductee to the Hall of Fame honored, Gordon was represented by his daughter, Judy Gordon. Decades after her father's playing and managing career came to an end, Judy brought her speech to a poignant conclusion, discussing his death in 1978.

"He insisted against having a funeral," she said, "and as such, we consider Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame as his final resting place."

As if on cue, the clouds parted while everyone stood and many wiped their eyes, the sun literally providing the day with its brightest moment.

Elected by the Veterans Committee in recognition of an 11-year playing career with the Yankees (1938-43, 1946) and Indians (1947-50) that was interrupted by his service in World War II, Gordon made nine trips to the All-Star Game, won five World Series rings and was named the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1942 -- beating out Ted Williams, who won the AL Triple Crown.

Then the two stars of the day took center stage. The accomplishments that preceded this day explain why.

Henderson brings the all-time runs, steals and unintentional walks records with him into Cooperstown's museum, along with one of the more intriguing personalities. A Gold Glove left fielder, a 10-time All-Star, the 1990 American League MVP, and the AL single-season leader in stolen bases 12 times, Henderson had amassed 3,055 hits with a .401 on-base percentage, 297 home runs and 1,115 RBIs.

Rice was a .298 career hitter with 382 home runs, 2,452 hits and 1,451 RBIs in 16 seasons. He had four seasons of more than 200 hits, led the AL in home runs three times, RBIs twice, once in hits, twice in slugging percentage, was the AL MVP in 1978 and was an eight-time All-Star.

For Henderson, the wait for his first-ballot entrance to the pantheon of greats was more a matter of getting him to stop playing to start his Hall of Fame clock.

"I love the game of baseball," Henderson said at the start of his speech. "That's why it was so hard to leave."

For Rice, the wait was taken to the wall as big as the Green Monster -- all 15 years a player is allowed to stay on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot.

And with Rice's induction, and fitting with the theme of history spanning across generations, the link was complete from Ted Williams to Yaz to Rice.

"Fifty years of Hall of Fame left fielders for the Red Sox," ceremony emcee Grande pointed out.

Rice made it clear that joining that thread of greatness is really not an issue of when it happened, but that it did.

"To me, it didn't matter that I got this call," Rice said. "What matters is I got in."

Henderson, the game's most perfect leadoff hitter, took the final swing at the podium for the inductees. Having worked on his speech at a local college in his beloved hometown of Oakland in recent weeks, Henderson was determined to sprinkle his address with the reverence he has for the game.

"When you think of me, I would like you to remember that kid from the inner city that played the game with all his heart and never took the game for granted," Henderson said. "And to all the kids put there: Follow your dream. Believe your dream. Because dreams come true.

"Thank you to everyone here for making my dream come true today."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.