COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Three pitchers who became dominant after trades and a rock-solid catcher-turned-second baseman entered the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.
Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio basked in the moment, with at least 40,000 fans cheering them one more time. It was the first time in 60 years that four players were inducted in the same year.
Each of the four represented different facets of the game – even the pitchers; each with a different story to tell about his journey to Cooperstown.
Following are excerpts from four columnists who covered the ceremony, highlighting each of the four newcomers to the Hall of Fame.
Three hours into a long Sunday afternoon walk into baseball immortality, Pedro Martinez decided he was going to break protocol. He called Juan Marichal forward from among the 49 seated Hall of Famers.
Sunday was Father’s Day in the Dominican Republic, Martinez explained. He would call on the great Marichal to help send his final message. And with that, 32 years after the high-kicking pitcher became the first man from his island country inducted into Cooperstown, he helped Pedro unfurl the Dominican flag for the thousands gathered to cheer and cherish.
“I would like all of you to not look at me as numbers, as baseball, as achievements,” Martinez said in a speech delivered partly in English and partly in Spanish. “I would like you to see me as a sign of hope for a third-world country, for Latin America, as someone you can really look up to and say, ‘I’m proud of you.’ ”
Pedro made us feel. He always made us feel.
As a pitcher, Pedro Martinez was defiant and ruthless. As a man, he is generous and caring. He could be dead serious and an unrepentant jester. He was a head hunter and a kind heart. This is a guy who callously threw a 72-year-old Don Zimmer to the ground in a brawl and built two churches in his Dominican hometown. Plenty of relatives and good friends have homes thanks to Pedro. He helped build a school.
It was no surprise Dominicans descended on Cooperstown in the thousands. From Jamaica Plain, from all the Dominican enclaves in the Northeast, they came armed with big smiles and hundreds upon hundreds of Dominican flags.
“I don’t know if I can find the words in Spanish or English,” Martinez said, “but my God, I’m thankful.”
Even Randy Johnson’s shiny new bronze plaque shows him cracking a smile. The Big Softie delivered a sweet, nostalgic, often patriotic, 15-minute speech Sunday reflecting on a baseball career that began when his mother, Carol, took the 7-year-old by the hand and trotted him out to sign up for the Livermore, California, Little League.
Carol was in the crowd Sunday, on a sweltering New York afternoon, as Johnson stood on a stage that included Sandy Koufax, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan and other idols of his youth.
Johnson, who has made seven tours with the USO, invited two veterans from the Wounded Warriors Project, Roy Halvorgen and Kenji Knee-ha-Poll, among his honored guests. He is a strong backer of the organization that enlists the public’s help for injured service members.
“Without your service to this country, nothing would be possible,” Johnson said. “I’m so grateful to you. Thanks so much for being here.”
Johnson credited his mom for starting his baseball career. Carol worked as a secretary at General Electric for 25 years. Because both parents worked – while raising six kids – Johnson recalled that he was on his own to sign up for Little League. But he couldn’t find the proper location.
When his mom got home from work, and heard what happened, “She took me by the hand, took me to my first Little League practice, making sure that baseball would start for me on that day,” Johnson said. “I love you, mom. You’re the most important person in my life.”
The Braves and Cooperstown have their new three-man rotation. It doesn’t matter how you stack John Smoltz, Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine – by their power, command, long-term success, big-game performance or ability to paint corners. They spent 10 seasons together with the Braves and six in the starting rotation. Their reunion in Cooperstown on Sunday was long anticipated and richly deserved.
The pecking order? Glavine had a thought.
“We each get three innings, but John has to close,” he said.
Smoltz also used his platform to address the “epidemic” of pitching injuries, sending a message about Tommy John surgery to parents, youth coaches and the “institutions guaranteeing scholarship dollars.”
He drew loud cheers from fans, saying, “I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there that it’s not normal to have surgery at 14 and 15 years old, that you have time, that baseball (need not be) a year-round sport.”
Biggio gave everything he had to the speech, which meant he approached it the way he did every ballgame. With deep emotion, he spoke of his late parents, his coaches, even his old newspaper route. All of it added up to a message that said you absolutely can get there from here, with “there” being anywhere you want to go, including the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Among the families on that newspaper route he mentioned in Kings Park, New York, were the Albens, who lost a child to leukemia. He said that the interest he took in their family led to a lifelong concern for children with cancer, which led him to be national spokesperson for the Sunshine Kids charity, which led him to settle in Houston to work on it.
It is all a part of getting there from here. Houstonians clearly appreciate it. They showed up in huge numbers with strong voices. They loudly chanted “Big-gee-oh!”
“I can tell you this: He has brought a lot of pride to the Houston market, the entire region, the state of Texas – even though he’s from up north,” said Craig Atkins of Houston, one of hundreds wearing Astros jerseys.
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