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His eyes failed - but not his passion

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Gary Carter was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday. Eddie Murray was, too. A large contingent of Baltimore Orioles fans chanted "Ed-die, Ed-die," as he was introduced. Murray gave a nice enough speech, thanking the people who meant the most to him and all that. The former Orioles first baseman even mentioned the baseball writers, his nemesis over a 21-season career, and alluded to how difficult it must have been for the writers to vote him in. "I'll know that was a mark they will all remember, and I appreciate it," he said. So this space should be paying tribute to Murray and what he meant to Orioles fans on the day he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. But I've got no time for Murray today. I'm blowing him off. On the day that Eddie Murray went into Cooperstown, I'm writing about a baseball writer. How about that for a poetic revenge? Hal McCoy made it easy. The longtime baseball writer for the Dayton Daily News was inducted into the writer's wing of the Hall as the recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, presented annually to a sportswriter "for meritorious contributions to baseball writing." He stole the show under cloudy skies yesterday at Cooperstown. The rain didn't start to fall until the end of Murray's speech - the last one of the day - but the tears were flowing early when McCoy began to speak. McCoy, who has covered the Cincinnati Reds for 31 years, has ischemic optic neuropathy. He has trouble recognizing people from more than 10 feet away, has difficult reading small type, or any type sometimes, for long stretches. "It is like looking through dirty glasses all the time, and they never get cleaned off," he said. Two years ago McCoy had a stroke in his left eye, losing vision in it. Doctors said there was a small chance it would happen to the right eye as well, and in January McCoy woke up one morning to find his vision was the same in his right eye as his left. He was now legally blind and facing the end of his career as a baseball writer. McCoy loved covering baseball, and the thought of not being able to do it anymore crushed him. He went to spring training in Florida with the Reds, essentially to say goodbye. But when he told Aaron Boone about his problems and that he would likely have to quit, Boone pulled him into the clubhouse and gave him a pep talk. He told McCoy that he didn't want to hear the word quit and that there would be a way for him to keep covering the team if he really wanted to. And so, with the help of the Reds, his paper and friends and fellow writers, McCoy still covers the team. He uses tools such as a magnifying glass and picks up nuances of the game that he never needed when he had full vision - such as how a batter turns his head immediately toward the field to which he hits. "I've gotten a lot of help from a lot of great people," he said. Yesterday, as he sat nervously on the stage and waited for his chance to speak, the vision started to blur even worse. It does that when he's under stress. Now he couldn't see the words he had typed for his speech, and he was in trouble. "I typed it in 16 point so I could see it, but now it was blurry," he said. "I put on another pair of stronger reading glasses when I got to the podium, but it was still dark and blurry. So I had to wing it. I was hoping I could see a phrase or two I would recognize so I could remember what I wrote." But McCoy spoke from his heart, in words that touched everyone. "Nobody could be more humble and appreciative than me today to be up here," he said. "But this is not about me. It has never been about me." McCoy thanked his father for instilling in him a passion for baseball. He thanked Boone. "This is about a baseball player who cared about a baseball writer," he said. McCoy apologized to his children, his voice breaking, "for all the absences and all the events that I missed." He thanked his wife, Nadine, saying she had become "my guardian angel." The video screen showed her sitting in the audience, crying. Luckily, the rest of us cried in private. He thanked the fans and the newspaper readers. "You are the real people who support this great game," he said. And he also thanked one particular group - an ironic moment on Eddie Murray's day in Cooperstown. "This is about a group of hardworking, dedicated guys who love what they do like I do - the baseball writers of America. I love you guys." It was a tough act to follow, but former player Bob Uecker, inducted into the broadcaster's wing of the Hall, was up to the task. "In deference to Hal McCoy, I was asked to quit many times," Uecker said, breaking up the crowd. As for Murray and his speech, I've run out of space. Maybe another day.

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