Five legends of the game are being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, and they gave their speeches in a time-honored summer tradition on a beautiful day in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Players Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez plus executive John Schuerholz and Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig were feted in front of a crowd of thousands and a group of 50 returning Hall of Famers, including last year's inductees, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mike Piazza.
Tim Raines Looking out at the crowd, with 50 Hall of Famers behind him and nothing but baseball eternity in front of him, Tim Raines knew Sunday afternoon was more than worth the wait.
The legendary leadoff man and switch-hitter who sparked lineups and flew around the bases and the outfields of the National and American Leagues for more than two decades, was welcomed into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on a beautiful day in Cooperstown, N.Y., and he delivered a heartfelt speech during the Induction Ceremony.
Raines was known for stealing bases, and he earned every minute of his speech with a remarkable career that was deservedly honored with Hall enshrinement in his final year of eligibility after a 10-year wait.
"We've been waiting for a long time," Raines said. "And that day has come."
Looking at the numbers, it's hard to believe it took as long as it did.
Raines had 2,605 hits, drew 1,330 walks, batted .294, drove in 980 runs and compiled an on-base percentage of .385 in a career that spanned from 1979-2002. He reached base more times than Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn, Honus Wagner and Roberto Clemente.
He is the only player in MLB history with at least 100 triples, 150 home runs, and 600 stolen bases. He has the best stolen-base percentage (84.7) among players with more than 400 attempts. And the eye-opening list of stats goes on.
While fighting off tears at times, Raines thanked the writers, then got on to thanking everyone else who had a role in making him who he is: his parents, his wife and children, his friends, and his many teammates, including fellow Hall of Famer Andre Dawson, who was his mentor on their Montreal Expos teams in the 1980s and eventually the namesake of one of Raines' sons.
"He actually forced me to name him Andre," Raines said of the fierce competitor known as "Hawk."
"No. Just kidding."
Before Raines' emotional speech was over, he had also made sure to thank writer Jonah Keri, who grew up an Expos fan and campaigned hard over the past decade among the baseball writing community to get Raines to where he rightly belongs and now stands: as a proud Hall of Famer.
"For the past 10 years people would always ask me, 'Why aren't you in the Hall of Fame?' Raines said in his speech.
"Thank God I don't have to answer that question."
Ivan Rodriguez He was steady, reliable, brilliant and everlasting. It's only fitting that Ivan Rodriguez would also become a baseball immortal, and that's what happened Sunday.
Rodriguez, the legendary catcher with the cannon arm and the lightning-quick feet, was officially welcomed to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he checked as many boxes in his speech as he did on the field.
The man known as "Pudge," who grew up in Puerto Rico, lovingly delivered his speech partially in English and in his native tongue of Spanish, thanking his baseball idol, Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, for giving him the inspiration to play the game he loves.
"[I'm] the little kid from Puerto Rico with a big dream," Rodriguez said in his speech.
Rodriguez was as much of a first-ballot no-brainer as any Hall of Famer. He appeared in 14 All-Star Games and won 13 Gold Glove Awards, both the highest totals for any catcher in Major League history. He threw, moved behind the plate and ran better than any catcher anyone could remember.
He caught more games -- 2,427 -- than any player in MLB history. And by the time his career was over, he had hit better than .300 in eight consecutive seasons, won the 1999 American League MVP Award, led the league in catching basestealers nine times, become a Texas Rangers icon, won a World Series with the Marlins in 2003, and led the Detroit Tigers to a Fall Classic appearance in 2006. Overall, Rodriguez hit .296 with 311 home runs, scored 1,354 runs and drove in another 1,332.
He compiled thousands of stories, too, and told a few in his speech Sunday.
One memorable one was a tale of being young and working with the sage veteran future Hall of Fame right-hander Nolan Ryan in the latter stages of the great fireballer's career. Rodriguez didn't do much but observe and listen, and those skills served him well.
All these years later, he, too, has a well-deserved spot in Cooperstown for eternity. And it all started with something very simple, as he explained.
"Never let anyone take your dream from you," Rodriguez said in his speech. "Don't let anyone say your dream can't be accomplished."
Bud Selig He oversaw so many changes to baseball and steered the game through so many waters that it was more than appropriate that Bud Selig's shining moment came on the same day as a personal milestone.
In other words, happy 83rd birthday, Commissioner Emeritus. And welcome to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
That was the mood around Cooperstown, N.Y., as Allan Huber Selig was formally enshrined in the Hall during the 2017 Induction Ceremony, and his speech spanned his remarkable life in the game, from his purchase of the Seattle Pilots out of bankruptcy court and move to Milwaukee to call the team the Brewers and begin play in 1970 to his eventual groundbreaking run as MLB Commissioner from 1992 until 2015.
Selig didn't hesitate to thank Hall of Famers Robin Yount, Rollie Fingers and Paul Molitor, who played for his Brewers team that made it to the World Series in 1982.
"I was able to do something every day that I loved with great passion," Selig said in his speech. "I loved the baseball life. I loved living and dying with each game. I loved watching players come in as nervous rookies and grow and mature to become winners in all sorts of ways, and to take their place on this stage."
There were trials and tribulations during Selig's tenure as Commissioner, which ended up being the second-longest for a Commissioner behind only Kenesaw Mountain Landis, but his strength through adversity and his expertise as a "bridge-builder" helped him endure. This term was specifically used on his Hall of Fame plaque, powered him to a truly prolific era that lifted baseball to new heights.
Selig entered the Commissioner's chair during a time in which labor and management were not at peace, but the 1994 strike and cancellation of that year's World Series led to a lasting labor peace that continues today. And the scourge of performance-enhancing drugs that stained the sport has led to stringent testing policies that have cleaned up the game with the toughest anti-drug regulations in all of sports.
"I can tell you that having the buck stop at your desk is not necessarily a good feeling, but it is a responsibility that comes with positions of leadership," Selig said.
Before Selig handed the reins to current Commissioner Rob Manfred, baseball had universally retired Jackie Robinson's No. 42, expanded with new teams in 1993 and 1998, expanded to three divisions per league, added two Wild Card teams, created Interleague Play, and MLB Network, the World Baseball Classic and the use of instant replay for umpires.
The sport had grown from a $1.2 billion industry in 1992 to a sport that has annual revenues of $9 billion now.
"Success came from working together," Selig said of the game's resurgence into the perennial labor peace that enables it to thrive today.
"The unprecedented success we've achieved over these past 25 years has come from ending the divide, from building harmony, from working as one for the good of the game."
Jeff Bagwell Jeff Bagwell's arrival with the only Major League team he'd truly ever know came about as the result of a trade.
On Sunday, in front of an adoring crowd and a select group of his sport's immortals, the great first baseman's arrival in the sport's ultimate shrine was honored, and the soft-spoken slugger wouldn't have traded the moment for anything.
Bagwell was officially welcomed as a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and he regaled his onlookers, many of whom were decked out in Astros gear, with tales of his 15 years of dominance in the big leagues.
"Something my father instilled in me at a young age was to never quit," Bagwell said in a very personal speech. "And I pretty much stuck to that."
His numbers show it.
After the 1990 infamous trade that sent the native New Englander from his favorite organization, the Boston Red Sox, to the Astros for journeyman reliever Larry Andersen, Bagwell started hitting and he never stopped.
"I thank Larry for being such a great reliever that the Red Sox wanted you," Bagwell said Sunday.
"Larry used to always get on me when I'd be in Philadelphia. He'd say, 'Hey man, you've got to step it up. People are not talking about me anymore.' So I did the best I can, I played my entire career, Larry, and I'm here. Is this good enough for you? You got enough props?"
Bagwell ended up as the 1991 National League Rookie of the Year, the 1994 NL MVP, and when it was all said and done, he had 449 home runs, 1,529 RBIs, a .948 OPS, 1,517 runs scored and 202 stolen bases.
And now he's in Cooperstown, where he admitted several times throughout his speech that the overwhelming honor had not hit him and did not seem entirely real.
Fortunately, the laid-back perspective that seemed to work so well for Bagwell throughout the years allowed him to keep his cool during this monumental moment.
"No matter what you do as a player," Bagwell said, "just play as hard as you can."
John Schuerholz John Schuerholz, the longtime baseball executive and general manager who steered the Kansas City Royals to the 1985 World Series title and then oversaw an unmatched run of success at the helm of the Atlanta Braves for 17 years, was officially enshrined at the Hall and gave a speech in front of an adoring crowd and in front of 50 returning Hall of Famers, including the triad of pitchers that came to symbolize Braves success: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
"I love baseball," Schuerholz said. "I've loved it all my life. I remember my dad rolling me a ball as young as I can remember. … He instilled in me the love of our game."
Schuerholz's speech ran the gamut of his life in the game, from his childhood in Baltimore playing stickball and Wiffle Ball to his days as a high school and college player until he realized that playing professional ball just wasn't in the cards.
After a job with hometown Orioles, he joined longtime executive Lou Gorman to the front office of the expansion Kansas City Royals in 1968.
"Lou was right," Schuerholz said in his speech. "Going to Kansas City with him was a great decision. In fact, I met my wife, Karen. Enough said."
Schuerholz helped craft the Royals nucleus of homegrown talent including Hall of Famer George Brett and Frank White before being named the team's GM in 1981. The team won it all in 1985 and Schuerholz was named Sporting News Executive of the Year, but his career was only getting started.
Schuerholz really took off with the Braves, taking the job in 1990 and embarking on a stunning run alongside manager Bobby Cox that resulted in 14 consecutive division titles and a World Series championship in 1995. Schuerholz took over as team president after the 2007 season and still holds the job.
Schuerholz, who, according to his Hall plaque, rode his "steady hand and eye for talent" all the way to Cooperstown, was the first general manager to lead teams to World Series titles in the American League and National League, and on Sunday he reflected nobly upon his whole remarkable ride.
"I really, really did like my seat out there on that lawn," Schuerholz said in his final remarks, pointing out at the crowd.
"But I must confess I love my new seat up here on this stage a lot more."
Doug Miller/

Comments are closed.