COOPERSTOWN–For any fan who thought that Cincinnati Reds catching great Johnny Bench donning big glasses and a Chciago Cubs shirt while leading fans in singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” in imitation of announcer Harry Caray in the middle of Sunday’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony was a little weird, they are probably not alone.
However, there was a bit of history behind Bench’s seemingly out-of-leftfield performance. Throughout the years, at some point during the ceremony, between speeches, a point ahs been declared the seventh inning stretch. Stan Musial, 91, who was not well enough to attend this year’s festivities, used to play the entertainer role by playing the song on a harmonica.
One year Musial could not attend and Bench pinch-hit, so to speak, pulling on period costume and reciting the famous poem, “Casey At The Bat.” Now Bench seems to have inherited the job of becoming the designated hitter of levity. Bench was apparently well-prepared withb the poem because he has recorded a narration of the 1888 poem by Ernest Thayer for the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.
Sunday, in-between the Hall acceptance speech by Vicki Santo, widow of the late Ron Santo, and former Cincinnati shortstop Barry Larkin, Bench put on a blue Santo tribute cap with the #10 on the front, and did a first-rate Caray imiation. Spoofing Caray’s propensity to forget names late in his career, Bench said, “Holy Cow! Can you believe ‘John’ Santo in the Hall of Fame?”
There had been several sobering moments just before Bench took the podium as Vicki Santo recounted the hardships her husband conquered from diabetes to excel on the field for the Cubs and later in his increasingly challenging battles against cancer as he fought to continue in the team broadcast booth.
If anyone believed Bench was being disrespectful or had poor timing, Vicki Santo promptly dispelled that impression after the ceremonies ended. She was asked how she thought Ron Santo would have responded to Bench’s act. Vicki said the two men were very close friends and always kidded one another.
“Johnny Bench was such a great friend of his,” Mrs. Santo said. “He (Ron) would have loved it. He would have thought it was hysterical.”
Bench did Caray, everyone sang, and then Larkin had that act to follow with his serious acceptance speech. But just as at the ballparks where teams pause for baseball’s national anthem, as soon as Bench sat down business resumed.
And some Reds fans in attendance could only bear to see Bench attired in Cubbie clothing for so long. When Bench sat down a Reds fan yelled “Take off the shirt!” Bench did slip out of the alien team top pretty quickly.
Topics: Barry Larkin, Baseball Hall Of Fame Induction, Casey At The Bat, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Cincinnati Reds, Ernest Thayer, Harry Caray, Johnny Bench, Ron Santo, Stan Musial, Take Me Out To The Ballgame, Vicki Santo