MIDDLEFIELD — Blues skies and occasional cloud cover graced the Clark Sports Center Sunday as an estimated 55,000 people watched the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum welcome six new members.
Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, Harold Baines, Lee Smith and Brandy Halladay, wife of the deceased Roy Halladay, each delivered an acceptance speech as the class of 2019 formally entered the Hall of Fame in front of the event’s second-largest crowd ever.
Jane Forbes Clark, chair of the Hall’s board of directors, opened the proceedings before master of ceremony Brian Kenny introduced 52 returning Hall of Famers. After the introduction of the six new entrants, former New York Yankee and accomplished musician Bernie Williams played the national anthem on guitar and the class of 2019 presented their respective speeches.
Below are capsules of each speech, in the order or presentation.
Mussina started by telling a story of his first organized baseball practice, and how in his excitement he rode his bike to the field so early that nobody else was there. He then rode his bike home, prompting his mother to ask him: what are you doing here?
It’s the same question that Mussina asked himself as he took the podium Sunday.
“I’m standing up here with the best to ever play the game. Some are my former teammates, some are former opponents, some I grew up watching on television,” Mussina said. “So the obvious questions are: what am I doing here, and how in the world did this happen?”
Wearing the same stoic expression that Joe Torre credited him with in a video tribute prior to his speech, Mussina recounted memories from his baseball career. From his passion for whiffle ball as a child and taking in his first major league game at Yankee Stadium to winning championships in high school and at Stanford, Mussina’s story is one of constant improvement.
He recalled his first 10 years in the majors, spent with the Baltimore Orioles, saying he “loved pitching in the orange and black.” He thanked Yankee fans for their support during the last eight seasons of his career, which he spent in the Bronx, before expressing more thanks for friends and family, calling them “pieces of a giant puzzle.” Mussina did not choose to represent either club on his plaque, citing the importance of both clubs in his career.
He called his election “incredible and surprising,” thanking the voters that got him elected during his sixth appearance on the ballot, with special thanks going to those that provided him the necessary votes in previous years to stay on the ballot. Typically restrained, he did show signs of emotion late in his speech.
So what is he doing in Cooperstown? His plaque speaks for itself.
“With command of both sides of the plate and a diverse repertoire, delivered consistent excellence in the powerhouse A.L. East Division,” the plaque reads.
“How did a kid from small town and rural PA play enough whiffle ball to make it to the Major Leagues and pitch there for 18 years? “I was never fortunate to win a Cy Young or be a World Series champion. I didn’t win 300 games or strike out 3,000 batters,” Mussina asked. “Maybe I was saving up from all those ‘almost’ achievements for one last push. This time I made it.”
In the wake of Mussina’s stoicism, Brandy Halladay wiped away tears at the conclusion of Roy Halladay’s video tribute, featuring his former teammate Chris Carpenter.
Carpenter called him “one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game,” as well as a “Hall of Fame pitcher and a Hall of Fame man.”
Brandy Halladay received the most solemn applause of the day as she spoke for her deceased husband, calling it “not her speech to give.” Roy Halladay passed away in 2017 in an aviation accident.
Fittingly, she focused on her husband as a man, and less as a baseball player.
“I think Roy would rather be remembered by who he was, not by what he did on the ball field,” she said. “He was a very private person, often quiet and introverted, but he was also generous and caring.”
Like Mussina, Halladay will not represent either of his clubs in the plaque gallery after playing for the Toronto Blue Jays from 1998-2009 and the Philadelphia Phillies from 2010-2013. Halladay said she knew “without a doubt” that it was the decision her husband would have made.
Halladay enjoyed great moments with both teams, but waited until his 12th season to appear in the postseason. That 2010 season, his first with the Phillies, saw him throw a perfect game during the regular season and the second postseason no-hitter ever in the divisional round against the Cincinnati Reds.
Brandy Halladay said his retirement at the end of the 2013 season saw him commit to youth baseball and his family. She also spoke about the support offered to her by the baseball community in the wake of her husband’s passing and in preparation for induction weekend.
“Anyone who thinks baseball truly isn’t a family has never been involved in baseball,” she said. “I know how honored Roy would be sitting here today with such accomplished men who have represented this game so well over the course of all your careers.”
She reiterated the importance of that support network in a press conference after the ceremony.
“I think I might be the luckiest person on the planet because the men that I have been around this week are literally the most genuine, kind, supportive, loving, affectionate people. I’ve gotten more support, hugs and pick-me-ups...I was not as prepared as I thought I would be able to be.”
Former teammate Carlton Fiske offered a fair summation of Baines during a tribute video.
“He’s so quiet and so unassuming. You didn’t notice him until he got you, and he got a lot of people,” Fiske said. “Maybe because of his personality he wasn’t recognized for how great he was.”
Baines was elected via the Today’s Game committee, one of several era-specific groups that can vote players into the Hall after failing to earn election on the typical baseball writers’ ballot. Baines joked early in his speech, saying, “Somewhere along my career I acquired a reputation for not saying much. I’m not sure why.”
But Baines’ speech seemed to support Fiske’s supposition as he spoke mostly about others and little about himself. Much of his speech centered around the support he received as a child growing up on Maryland’s eastern shore in his hometown of St. Michaels.
“I owe a great debt of gratitude to the entire close-knit community for help raising me as a child and teenager,” Baines said. “St. Michaels, for me, I would not be where I am today in baseball or in life without so many people from St. Michaels.”
Baines went on to thank the Chicago White Sox, with whom he broke into the majors and a club with which he spent three stints. He recognized his his family, calling his wife, Marla, “the Hall of Famer in our family,” before closing with a lesson learned from his father.
“Words are easy. Deeds are hard. Words can be empty, but deeds are silent, and sometimes they echo forever.”
While players for New York teams can expect a sizable crowd, Martinez owned one of the loudest cheers of the day as Seattle Mariners fans visited Cooperstown en masse.
Martinez spent all 18 seasons of his major-league career with the Mariners, prompting one fan to claim a 2,879-mile trip to see Martinez inducted. Slow chants of ‘Ed-gar, Ed-gar’ drifted over the crowd throughout the afternoon.
Martinez began his speech in Spanish, thanking fans from Puerto Rico and his home neighborhood of Maguayo in Dorado, Puerto Rico.
He drew laughs during his congratulations of others in the class of 2019, but was solemn when describing his youth. He recalled listening to Hall of Famer Tony Perez, who was in attendance, on the radio. He also described the inspiration of watching the late Roberto Clemente, a member of the class of 1973.
“It is hard to believe that a dream that started when I was about 10 years old would take me on an amazing journey,” Martinez said. “Since the first time I saw Roberto Clemente on TV and some highlights from the World Series, I was hooked on the game of baseball.”
Martinez also gave thanks to Ken Griffey Jr., who was also in attendance, before thanking the Mariners and their fans.
“Mariners fans, I am so fortunate to have two homes, Puerto Rico and Seattle,” Martinez said. “Since 1987, you gave me unconditional support, and it was even more prevalent in the last 10 years.”
Enthusiastic applause after the speech prompted Kenny to congratulate Mariners fans on the size of their contingent.
Like Baines, Smith was elected via the Today’s Game committee, and also like Baines, he focused his speech on his youth and those that helped him reach Cooperstown. He opened by recounting a story of a school administrator getting him the gear he needed to join the baseball team after Smith originally declined, knowing his family could not afford it.
“If you think Cooperstown is small, you’ve never been to Castor,” Smith said. “What I’m trying to say is, it wasn’t just my arm that got me here, it was a whole community of Castor, Louisiana. I’m thankful to each and every one of you.”
Signed to the Chicago Cubs by legendary Negro League player and manager Buck O’Neil in 1975, Smith said he almost quit baseball in 1979 after he was made a reliever instead of a starting pitcher. But with the help of Hall of Famers like Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins, he returned for the 1980 season and reached the majors later that season. He spent his first eight years in the majors with the Cubs before playing with seven other clubs in the last 10 years of his career.
“Chicago is where it all started. They gave me my first opportunity to play in the major leagues,” Smith said. “Even when I left, I knew I wanted to come back because I love it.”
He noted that the Yankees, with whom Smith played in 1993, ended up not needing a closer in the long term. But after bouncing around late in his career, he reiterated that he wanted more than to be remembered as a great player.
“No matter where I pitched, I always wanted to embody my two traits: loyalty to the team and my teammates, I never wanted to disgrace the uniform, and dependability as a teammate and as a pitcher.”
In a class with a variety of interesting stories, it was undeniably Rivera’s day as the former Yankees closer closed out the speeches, receiving a roar of support from a crowd.
“First of all, I don’t understand why I always have to be last,” Rivera said at the beginning of his roughly 25-minute speech, about twice as long as the second longest, belonging to Smith. “I keep saying that for the last 20 years. Last 17 years of my career, I always say, ‘Why I have to be the last one?”
Last, but certainly not least for the man that needs just two letters to be recognized, and three digits for the percent of votes he received. “Mo” enters the Hall as the first player to be unanimously selected, and began by showing his thanks to god, the Steinbrenner family, former manager Joe Torre and the Yankees organization, as well as his family and friends.
“Baseball is a team sport. You cannot do it alone. This honor is always the same. You cannot do it alone,” Rivera said.
He also had plenty of thanks for Yankees fans, for whom he played all 19 years of his major-league career.
“All those New York fans, when I was at Yankee Stadium, pitching, it felt like I was pitching with 55,000 people next to me throwing one pitch after another,” Rivera said. “You guys are the best. Man, without your support, I cannot do it.”
He said that as a youth, he got permission from his father to go to a Yankees tryout in his native Panama, and did well despite not having a glove and holes in the toes of his shoes. The challenges did not stop coming when he entered the U.S. for the first time in 1990, over the next five years working his way through the minors while learning to speak English.
After an unsuccessful trip to the majors in 1995, which resulted in him being sent back to the minors with another prospect named Derek Jeter, Rivera became a reliever. By the 1997 season, he was the closer for the Yankees and Torre, the Yankees manager, gave him a vote of confidence. It was then that ‘disaster’ struck.
“A few days after that, the Lord gave me the best pitch in baseball,” Rivera said. “The cut fastball. I was playing catch with Ramiro Mendoza. I’m throwing the same way I’m throwing it since I was six years old. Now the ball is moving. I was afraid, I don’t know what to do.”
Fast forward 17 years and Rivera had collected 652 saves, five World Series championships, 13 All-Star appearances and a reputation as the greatest closer ever. In his final game at Yankee Stadium, longtime teammates in Jeter and Andy Pettitte removed him from the game to a round of applause.
“My two brothers came in to take me out of the game. That moment was special for me,” Rivera said.
Rivera, just the second player from Panama to make the Hall of Fame after Rod Carew in the class of 1991, finished his speech by speaking to a contingent waving the white, blue and red flags of Panama.
“I’m so humbled and blessed to receive this honor. God bless you all and I love you,” Rivera concluded.