Legends recall their own inductions 48 hours before the newest members are honored

We’re down to only a pair of days before the National Baseball Hall of Fame raises total of elected members to 329, with the upcoming enshrinement of a half-dozen new members to the sport’s greatest team.

The official start of the 2019 Hall of Fame Induction Weekend began early Friday morning with a longstanding Ozzie Smith fundraiser that included the help of three fellow members of the Cooperstown squad who only a year ago were receiving their bronze plaques. For the 18th consecutive year, Smith, the Hall of Fame shortstop, spearheaded an event whose origins coincided with his 2002 induction: PLAY Ball.

Along with the Wizard of Oz, Class of 2018 Hall of Famers participating this year were closer extraordinaire Trevor Hoffman, slugging first baseman Jim Thome and longtime Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell. With their decades of diamond experience, the heralded quartet shared their wisdom with 38 participants during a sun-drenched session at a baseball field at the Clark Sports Center. With the stage that will be hosting this year’s induction ceremony only a long throw away, the generosity of the Hall of Famers and those fans attending helped raise almost $30,000 for the Hall of Fame’s educational mission.

“I’ve been doing this ever since I got inducted in 2002 and I want it to just keep going. I’ve got the guys that were inducted last year and it just kind of continues,” said Smith prior to the start of the on-field portion of the event. “It’s nice that these guys all agreed to come out and be a part of it. I think the goal here is to give the fans an opportunity to visit with the guys one-on-one, up close and person, the guys they’ve admired for years.

“This has just been a continuation of the kind of things I was doing as a player. It was only natural that we continue it here. There’s no better place to continue it than right here at the Hall of Fame. It’s baseball heaven. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Smith had every right to be a bit groggy, having arrived in Cooperstown at 3:30 a.m. on Friday due to travel delays.

“It’s okay to get in late, but you’d like to have your luggage. I got my golf clubs but I didn’t get my luggage. This is my uniform the rest of the weekend,” a smiling Smith said, sporting a “Hall of Fame” baseball uniform.

According to Thome, he was invited over the winter to help Ozzie with this year’s event.

“To go into the Hall of Fame is an honor and a wonderful opportunity, but then to be invited by Ozzie Smith with this is great. I get to be around guys that were in my class – Trevor and Tram – and I get to bring my son (Landon) out here today and let him run around,” Thome said. “This place is magical. It is. I’ve said it. You come here for three or four days, there’s always people you meet, there’s always something new.”

Power personified, Thome’s impressive left-handed swing struck fear in pitchers and fielders for almost two dozen big league seasons. The slugger, who entered the majors at the hot corner before shifting to first base and designated hitter, spent 13 of his 22 years in the middle of often very successful Indians lineups before later tours with the Phillies, White Sox, Dodgers, Twins and Orioles. One of nine members of the 600-home run club, his 612 long balls places him eighth all time while his 1,747 walks ranks seventh. The five-time All-Star, who clubbed 40-or-more homers 12 times and had nine seasons of at least 100 RBI, ended his career with 17 postseason round-trippers.

“This year I get to see these guys get inducted and the emotion that not it gives not only them but their family. That’s the best part,” Thome said. “I lost Dad in March and this is going to be really hard, looking back, to have Dad here a year ago for my induction. It means so much to the people around you to be able to share these moments. It gives me chills thinking about it because that’s what it’s about. It’s great, it’s great.”

Hoffman, a premier closer, will be joined by a pair of 2019 inductees with their unique skills at the position: Mariano Rivera and Lee Smith.

“It’s a reliever type of induction year. The last couple of years we’ve been able to get some guys in. I wouldn’t say ‘Year of the Reliever,’ but I would say that it’s been pretty well represented the last couple of years of the relievers in the game,” Hoffman said. “Mo’s the standard-bearer. I think getting 100 percent of the vote says, in my opinion, he’s the Babe Ruth of our role. I think it’s well-deserved. His numbers speak for themselves. I’m looking forward to seeing him be enshrined.

“And Lee Smith was great. He’s somewhat overlooked because of the era he pitched in and the role itself kind of changed so quickly in the last 30 years. He was so valuable to his teams. A guy that warrants being here.”

For 16 seasons, the Padres had the comfort in knowing that with Hoffman they had one of the most accomplished closers in big league history in their bullpen. In an 18-year career, which included short stints with the Marlins and Brewers, the former minor league infielder with the tantalizing but deceptive changeup finished with 601 saves, a total that ranks second all time.

The first pitcher to reach both the 500- and 600-save milestones, the durable righty was a seven-time All-Star who finished in the Top 10 in NL Cy Young Award voting four times. Hoffman, who led the league in saves twice, is tied at the top of the all-time list with Rivera with their nine seasons with a least 40 saves.

“I’m much more relaxed this year and I’m looking forward to seeing this year’s class and taking it in from this perspective. I can’t believe it’s been a year. The year has flown by,” Hoffman said. “I’m still pinching myself. Just trying to wrap my head around the magnitude of it. Just the way the town embraced us and the way the other Hall of Famers embraced us, it’s mindboggling how wonderful it was.”

A hot and humid village of Cooperstown was also getting prepared for Induction Weekend on Friday, with Main Street closed off to traffic and fans walking around sporting jerseys of their favorite teams and players. Even the Hall of Famers arriving for the occasion were overjoyed to be back for the celebration.

“It’s an honor to be back year after year. I was inducted – some people say I was indicted – in 2011. This is my ninth time back. I knew I would have to get a suit out and have to wear a tie,” Bert Blyleven joked. “Just coming back and seeing the greats of the game, the guys I played with and against, as well as some guys you dream about playing with or against because they were so good.

“And we’re actually heading over to see my plaque now. We’ll go to make sure it’s still there. I always take a picture with it so I can prove to people that it’s actually me.”

Asked for his thoughts on his own induction, Blyleven got serious for a moment.

“I think of my mother. My mother was there; my dad had passed. My mother sitting there in the front row with the flowers that I got her,” he said. “That definitely is always in the back of my mind. When I get introduced this year I’ll look down at that chair and I’ll see my mother.”

It will be the 15th induction ceremony for Wade Boggs.

“It’s always a pleasure to be back. It’s exciting. We have six new guys going in and I’m looking forward to it,” Boggs said. “Memories of my induction probably are of Stan Musial playing his harmonica. That was wonderful.

“But just the whole experience. That’s what I tell all the new inductees. Just try and slow everything down because the pace is so fast. You get here on Wednesday or Thursday and Monday arrives in a blink of the eye. Take a deep breath, slow everything down, and enjoy every moment because there’s so many little things that you’ll look back on. You don’t want to miss a thing.”

According to Ferguson Jenkins, he enjoys sitting on the induction stage and listening to the new inductee speeches and who they thank.

“I got inducted with two great other guys: Gaylord Perry and Rod Carew. Both great competitors,” Jenkins said of his 1991 induction. “Gaylord and I pitched together with the Rangers for one-and-a-half seasons and I pitched eight seasons against Rod and believe me he was a tough out. I was very happy that I got inducted with two other great guys.”

Randy Johnson, elected to the Hall of Fame in 2015, looks forward to seeing who is coming back and welcoming them.

“I really make a point of seeing everyone here,” he said.

“The weekend goes very quickly and the next thing you know you’ve got to wait another year.”

Asked about his own induction, Johnson referred decades in the baseball’s past.

“I’ve always felt that I would have loved to have played in the generation where things were a little bit rougher, travel-wise, equipment-wise. I had the great fortune of meeting several Hall of Fame pitchers that I have great admiration for because I think what they did at the time that they did it is unheard of,” Johnson said. “To meet Warren Spahn, to meet Bob Feller, to meet Sandy Koufax, it doesn’t get any better than those guys. Obviously I would have liked to have met Christy Mathewson. I feel honored to have met those people. I don’t feel like I’m in the same category. I hold them in a high esteem. That’s just the way I am.

“I’m very fortunate and so honored to be a member of the Hall of Fame. Much like I would have liked to have played against that completion back then, I would have loved to have gotten inducted back then. Just go back in a time capsule and seen what it was like.”

On Saturday, July 20, the Hall of Fame Awards Presentation will be held at 4:30 p.m. at Doubleday Field. The Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting will be posthumously presented to Al Helfer. Jayson Stark will be honored with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing. The Awards Presentation is free and open to the public.

Also on Saturday, immediately following the Awards Presentation and scheduled to start at 6 p.m., the Hall of Fame Parade of Legends returns for a 10th year to provide fans with more thrills. Hall of Famers will ride down Main Street in trucks provided by Ford Motor Company en route to a private reception at the Museum.

On Sunday, July 21, the Induction Ceremony will take place at 1:30 p.m. on the grounds outside of the Clark Sports Center, which is located on lower Susquehanna Avenue – located just one mile south of the Hall of Fame.

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

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