While growing up in Western New York, I had the opportunity to make the baseball fan pilgrimage to Cooperstown, New York, many times and to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame. However, I never had the chance to be there during Hall of Fame induction weekend, when the little town in Eastern New York State, quadruples its population.
Each year I’m resigned to watching the Hall of Fame inductions on television, and this past Sunday’s induction was especially of interest to me in that two former players for the Montreal Expos were inducted – Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, along with the Astros Craig Biggio and Atlanta’s John Smoltz.
I’ve written at length in the past about my association with the Expos, having worked for the club’s minor league team in Jamestown, New York, for 11 years. So, I won’t bore you with those details. Nor will linger on about how I first met Randy Johnson when he played in Jamestown – a subject I wrote about last January when it was announced that Johnson would be inducted this year.
But, I would like to share my thoughts on what was a very special Hall of Fame induction and most especially how Major League Baseball Network displayed the event.
The opening montage of the program on television was spectacular with the voice over of Tom Brokaw taking you inside the Hall of Fame. As we were shown the various exhibits and displays the static images and artifacts of baseball players came to life in video form; that was really cool the way they tied that together.
There was an old baseball glove and the fingers began to move. Babe Ruth’s signature began to scrawl across a baseball as if he was writing it while we were watching. There was a photo of Tom Seaver on a wall and then he starts walking out toward the camera and motioning with his glove. Jackie Robinson was standing there looking at the display of his career and watching video of the press conference he did with Branch Rickey when Robinson signed his first contract. Statues of former players came alive, and it closes with the security guard greeting this year’s inductees at the door and then looking to the camera to reveal it’s Babe Ruth. The opening was simply masterful.
Moving on to the induction speeches, Biggio was the first to speak.
“What an amazing class to be a part of,” Biggio said. “Big Randy J. was a teammate and I tell you man he was an incredible competitor. It was amazing to watch. John Smoltz, we had a lot of history together, but most of all I’ll never forget when we finally beat you guys in the playoffs, he had the class and the dignity to come into our clubhouse and wish Jeff [Bagwell] and me good luck in the second round. That’s just class, you don’t teach that. Pedro, you brought your A-game out there every time you pitched. You’re a little guy but you pitched like the Big Unit.
“The big question is how do you get to the Hall of Fame?” asked Biggio. “You gotta have a little bit of talent and you gotta have a lot of help along the way.”
The most poignant moment of Smoltz’s speech came when he admonished parents of young baseball players who push their kids into competitive baseball at a young age and thrust them into learning to several pitches and throwing harder at an early age. Smoltz believes this is setting them up for arm injuries later in their career.
“I want to encourage you, if nothing else, know that your children’s passion and desire to play baseball is something that they can do without a competitive pitch,” Smoltz said. “Every throw a kid makes today is a competitive pitch. They don’t go outside, they don’t have fun, they don’t throw enough – but they’re competing and maxing out too hard, too early, and that’s why we’re having these problems. Please, take care of those great future arms.”
Johnson was known as a fierce competitor who was very emotional on the field. He wasn’t afraid of throwing the ball inside to back a batter away from the plate. He used his size (6 foot 10 inches tall) and his stare to intimidate opponents.
“I no longer have a fastball. I no longer have a bad mullet. And my scowl is gone,” Johnson said. “If you were cheering for me, I’d run through a brick wall for you and throw as many pitches as needed to get the victory.”
Martinez was himself; humorous as always, calling Johnson his “brother from another mother.”
There was a large contingency of fans from his native Dominican Republic in attendance and Martinez gave tribute to his homeland by mentioning the names of many former Dominican major league players. He also showed a lot of love for his fans in “Beantown.”
“I don’t have enough words to say how much I love you Boston,” Martinez said.
As usual, it was a joy to watch the Hall of Fame inductions, and maybe just a bit more special this year because of the players who were enshrined this time around. As I age, I realize how special the honor truly is for these players, and how much their actions on and off the field can keep some great players from ever experiencing this honor.