Class of 2019 prepares for Sunday’s Induction Ceremony

Written by: Bill Francis

With overjoyed fans flooding Cooperstown from across the country on Saturday, even oppressive heat and humidity couldn’t dampen their enthusiasm.

With the hours dwindling until their Induction Ceremony, the members of the Class of 2019 celebrated in style at several events. Harold Baines, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera and Lee Smith will soon find themselves in front of almost 60 returning Hall of Famers, thousands of fans and before a national television audience receiving the greatest honor the game can bestow.

The late Roy Halladay, the sixth member of the Class of 2019, will also be honored on Sunday.

During a Saturday press availability on the gym floor of the Clark Sports Center, the five living members of the Hall of Fame Class of 2019 shared their thoughts on the day the National Pastime’s greats are honored.

“Just come and enjoy,” said Rivera, responding to a questioner asking for his thoughts on the big occasion. “You’re meeting the whole world. It’s something special. Something that you as a player weren’t looking for, but when you end your career you wonder if you have a shot or not. I can’t speak for other players, but I wasn’t thinking about any of this stuff. I was just thinking about trying to help the New York Yankees win as many World Series as we can.”

Hall of Fame outfielder Tim Raines, while participating in Saturday morning’s Hall of Fame Golf Tournament at Leatherstocking Golf Course, said of his Yankees teammate from 1996 to ’98:

“It’s awesome. To be the first 100 percent guy to get in, very deserving. I played with him for three years and every time he took the mound we knew it would be three up and three down. Great guy, great family. No one deserves it more. He was perfect for those teams, perfect for the city, perfect for the organization.”

Fellow closer Lee Smith was known for his menacing glare and imposing 6-foot-5 frame. During an 18-year career, he first developed his reputation during an eight-season stint with the Cubs before later stops with the Red Sox, Cardinals, Yankees, Orioles, Angels, Reds and Expos. The all-time saves leader at the time of his retirement with 478 – holding the record from 1993 to 2006 – he now ranks third behind fellow 2019 Hall of Fame electee Mariano Rivera (652) and Trevor Hoffman (601).

“I wondered sometimes if this day would ever come, but all the work payed off,” said Smith. “I was never one of those guys that wanted to put my stats up against someone else. I always felt if it was going to happen it was going to happen. I tried not to get into the negativity with something I couldn’t control.”

As for his upcoming induction speech, Smith joked: “I’m trying to keep my speech away from Wade Boggs and Greg Maddux. It’s weird to be 61 years old and be called a rookie. Goose (Gossage) told me he doesn’t want to hear about my third grade teacher. He said when you get up there with your speech, keep it short and get out of there.”

Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux, at the Hall of Fame Golf Tournament, said of former Cubs teammate: “His Hall of Fame election was well deserved. I was lucky enough to play with him in Chicago. He was at the time the best closer in the game and he was for a very long time. So it’s nice to see him get in. He was fun to play with. I talked to him briefly the other day and he’s still the same.”

Martinez was a consummate hitter who called Seattle home for all of his 18 major league seasons. He joins Baines as the only members of the Hall of Fame to spend the majority of their careers as a designated hitter. Martinez ended his career in 2004 with a .312 batting average – hitting at least .300 10 times – while adding 514 doubles, 309 home runs and a .418 on-base-percentage. Martinez twice led the American League in batting, hitting .343 in 1992 and .356 in 1995.

“I’m looking forward to getting off it,” is what a smiling Martinez said when asked if he was looking forward to getting on the induction stage on Sunday.

“The last few days, it’s been okay. Obviously I’m a little more nervous being in this setting. I’ve even had some people say, ‘You seem pretty calm for what is coming.’ But so far I’m okay.”

This year’s other DH, Baines, remained stoic and thoughtful in answering questions from the media, a trait familiar to those who saw him on the diamond.

“I’m very humbled,” Baines said. “Tomorrow, with all the hoopla going on, will be a day I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. This has all been fun. Everyone has been very gracious and welcoming into the fraternity.

“I would say I’ve been reading my induction speech over at least twice day, but it doesn’t matter once you get there. When your emotions start going it doesn’t really matter how often you practiced. I’ll know the words, but then the emotion comes in.”

Mussina was a consistent and reliable starting pitcher for 18 big league seasons, the first 10 spent with Baltimore before moving to New York and becoming a Yankee stalwart. A five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove winner, “Moose” finished his career with a 270-153 record – winning at least 10 games 17 times – and 2,813 strikeouts, which ranked 19th on the all-time list when he retired. He became the oldest first-time 20-game winner when he reached the milestone at age 39 in 2008, his final season in the majors.

“It’s been going pretty well. It gets busier as we go. But it’s been a lot of fun,” Mussina said. “I met a lot of guys I’ve never had a chance to meet before and I’ve seen some guys I haven’t seen in a long time. It’s been a good first couple days and I’m sure the rest of the weekend will be even better.

“I’m hanging out and talking to guys that I watched on television when I was growing up and that’s just a strange experience. It was interesting enough doing it when I played but now there’s guys that I never got to even see when I played that I get to meet and shake hands with. It’s been a great couple of days so far.”

A former Yankees teammate of both Rivera and Mussina, Bernie Williams, traded in his outfield glove after his playing career and has been for years an accomplished jazz guitarist. At the induction ceremony on Sunday, the veteran performer on concert stages across the country will be playing The Star-Spangled Banner and Take Me Out to the Ball Game on his chosen instrument.

“The jitters are going to be there. It’s going to be a matter of mastering them hopefully,” said Williams during a media availability on Saturday. “It’s kind of like baseball – you play and practice so when you’re facing a guy in front of 50,000 people the jitters are there, but you rely on your preparation. I’ve been preparing for this. And more than that, I’m just very happy to be here supporting my teammates in probably the greatest day that they could have in their career. So I’m really proud to be here.”

The 2019 Hall of Fame Awards Presentation took place in the late afternoon at historical Doubleday Field. Jayson Stark of The Athletic was on hand to accept the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing, while Al Helfer was posthumously honored was as the Ford C. Frick Award winner for baseball broadcasting excellence.

“This would be the honor of a lifetime even if it wasn’t voted on by the baseball writers,” said Stark. “But that makes it more special. Because all I ever wanted, from the time I was a kid, was to be one of you (baseball writers).”

Immediately following the Hall of Fame Awards Presentation, a busy Saturday continued with the Parade of Legends, now in its 10th year, which concluded in the early evening with thousands of chairs lining Main Street. With baseball’s greatest seated in pickup trucks, fans clapped, waved and cheered at the passing procession, the parade winding its way to front of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

The Sunday, July 21 Induction Ceremony will take place beginning at 1:30 p.m. on the grounds outside of the Clark Sports Center, which is located on lower Susquehanna Avenue.

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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