Of the 12,000 fans who attended, at least half hailed from Maryland, Hall officials said. Fifty busloads came from Baltimore, as did 12 private planes, one of them trailing a banner that read, "Viva Le Brooks!"

Though four men were inducted that summer, "it was basically Brooks' day," said Ted Spencer, chief curator of the Hall.

It was a benchmark year for the museum, which had never coped with crowds greater than the 10,000 who shepherded the New York Yankees' Mickey Mantle into the Hall in 1974.

"There was consternation among management over those 50 buses that would arrive from Maryland," Spencer said. "Everybody was freaking about that.

"Basically, it was the first day of the rest of our lives as far as crowds were concerned."

Accommodations were limited, but Robinson's fans made do. They slept in motels 40 miles away or in their cars or in sleeping bags in farm fields near the village.

Come Sunday, they flocked to the rear of the Hall, where the ceremony was then held. There was William Donald Schaefer, the unabashed mayor of Baltimore, leading an O-R-I-O-L-E-S cheer. And "Wild Bill" Hagy, the team's unofficial mascot, spelling B-R-O-O-K-S with his potbellied body.

"You could hardly move around Cooperstown without seeing people you knew from Memorial Stadium," said Don Hutchinson, then Baltimore County executive.

Earlier, Hutchinson had toured the museum with John Steadman, sports editor of The News American.

Said Hutchinson: "As we walked through the Hall, John stopped and turned to me and said, 'Just imagine, tomorrow the most gracious baseball player of all time will have his name and face on that wall.'"

Playing in the major leagues and being recognized at the Hall of Fame is more than any one human being could ask for. ...

At the ceremony, Robinson batted cleanup. The other inductees - manager Walter Alston, pitcher Juan Marichal and third baseman George Kell - were introduced first. Kell, in fact, ended his career with the Orioles in 1957, when he yielded to Robinson, his ultimate successor.

"It was unbelievable that Brooks and I would [be enshrined] on the same day," said Kell, who, like Robinson, is from Arkansas.

When Kell rose to speak to the crowd, he whispered to Robinson: "I'm going to take advantage of this because I played in Baltimore, too."

With that, Kell basked in the biased applause.

"I rode Brooks piggyback that day," Kell said.

Finally, it was Robinson's turn. On the podium, commissioner Bowie Kuhn applauded his career.

"Just how good was he?" said Kuhn, preparing to answer his own question. He never got the chance.

"THE GREATEST!" the crowd roared as a host of orange balloons was released overhead.

I thank God for giving me the talent and the help to reach the top of this profession. ...