Hall of Fame quartet offers blend of insight and inspiration
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- It was only fitting, on the same day the Kansas City Royals seized the initiative in the American League pennant race by acquiring Johnny Cueto from the Cincinnati Reds, that another, far more heralded Dominican pitcher grabbed the Hall of Fame induction ceremony by the lapels and turned it into his own personal fiesta.
Inevitably, and predictably, Pedro Martinez had the crowd at "Hola!"
Martinez was a beacon of charisma before a chanting, flag-waving, drum-thumping crowd at the Clark Sports Center Field on Sunday afternoon. He drifted from Spanish to English and back again, while entertaining fans from Santo Domingo and Boston who flocked to upstate New York for the show. The crowd of 45,000 in attendance was the fourth biggest ever for an induction ceremony, behind just 2007 (Cal Ripken Jr.and Tony Gwynn), 1999 (Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount) and 2014 (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and a trio of managers).
The other three newly minted Hall of Famers all had their moments. Craig Biggio's plaque included the word "gritty," which pleased him greatly. John Smoltz covered everything from his accordion-playing youth to his hair loss to his reverence for former Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox in a speech that lasted 29 minutes, 29 seconds -- an incredible coincidence given that he wore No. 29 during his playing career.
And the normally stoic Randy Johnson snapped off the line of the day when he described his transition from an intimidating lefty to a lanky, middle-aged photographer and USO advocate who has traveled the world meeting the troops in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, South Korea and Cuba.
"I no longer have a fastball. I no longer have a bad mullet. And my scowl is long gone." Johnson said.
Now that the celebration is complete and the parking situation is back to normal in this lovely New York village, it's time to reflect upon some sights, sounds and observations from a long, hot induction day in Cooperstown.
Highlight of the day
Martinez, who joined Juan Marichal as the second native Dominican in the Hall, summoned the Dominican Dandy from behind him on the stage and unfurled a Dominican flag to bring his speech to a rousing conclusion.
It was pure Pedro -- forever the showman. While Biggio, Johnson and Smoltz all opted for dark suits, Martinez wore an electric blue number with a Dominican patch on one shoulder and a U.S. patch on the other. He hatched his grand finale while lying in bed just after dawn at the Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown.
"It was 6:30 in the morning and I was having a hard time catching that last hour or two of sleep," Martinez said. "It occurred to me that today, on Father's Day in the Dominican Republic, there was no better image than me and Marichal clearing the way for others to Cooperstown. It was the greatest gift I could come up with for the Dominican population."
Before each player delivered his speech, he was treated to a video tribute featuring a former teammate or influential person from his past. Glavine introduced Smoltz. Bob Brenly paid homage to Johnson, and Jason Varitek did the honors for Martinez.
Brad Ausmus, who played with Biggio in Houston, summarized everything that people remember about Biggio in a few sentences.
"The first thing I remember about Craig is, every time he left the batter's box, he ran harder than anyone I'd ever seen," Ausmus said. "Every single time, whether it was a chopper back to the pitcher or a ball in the gap. He never relented.
"He was a throwback, blue collar-type player. He always seemed to have dirty pants and ripped knees and his helmet was pulled low with pine tar all over it. He just looked like he should be filmed in black and white."
Best nod to the "little people"
The Hall of Fame induction is a nice time for baseball immortals to hail the contributions of coaches, trainers and others who helped them persevere through an injury, a loss of confidence or other watershed event that made the difference between a nice, productive career and a plaque in Cooperstown.
Biggio traversed that hump in 1992 when the Houston Astros moved him from catcher to second base. The transition would have been impossible if not for the time and effort of Matt Galante, a squatty, dedicated baseball lifer who made it his personal mission to turn Biggio into a competent middle infielder.
Biggio was so grateful, he exhorted Galante to stand up and take a bow during Sunday's ceremony.
"On a typical day with Matty, we would start at 7 a.m., go to a half field when the sun was coming up, work for an hour and a half until 8:45 or so, then go practice with the team from 9 till around noon," Biggio said. "Grab a sandwich, go to the half field again, get some more work done. Then we'd go back and play the game. When the game was over, we went back to the half field again. We did that every day in spring training for six weeks.
"I thank God for Matt Galante, and I'm so grateful. I'm not here without that man."
Best goodwill ambassador
During the recent All-Star Game, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred left open the possibility of baseball expanding at an undetermined date down the road. While Montreal has some major stadium issues to resolve, mayor Denis Coderre recently met with Manfred in New York to express the city's interest in landing either an expansion franchise or a relocated team.
Montreal has a high-profile advocate in Pedro Martinez, who pitched for the Expos from 1994 through 1997 and won a Cy Young Award in his final year with the club. In '94, the Expos were 74-40 and poised to make a World Series run before a strike ended the season and ultimately prompted a sell-off.
More than two decades later, Martinez sounds like a one-man Chamber of Commerce brochure in his praise of the city.
"We need a team as soon as possible in Montreal," Martinez said. "I think Montreal was robbed of an opportunity to have a franchise that would probably last forever. It was probably the safest city I've ever played in. For people to play baseball and see baseball and have family time, I think Montreal is the perfect place."
Smoltz, who grew up in Lansing, Michigan, as a Tigers fan, was selected by Detroit in the 22nd round of the 1985 draft only to be traded to Atlanta before he had a chance to pitch for his hometown team. But he spent enough time in the Tigers' system to file away a moment to remember.
"I remember sitting in the locker room at Tiger Stadium, a fish out of water," Smoltz said. "I was scared to death when a Hall of Famer, in my mind, made the first impression in my pro career. He came up to me and said, 'Hi, I'm Alan Trammell. Anything I can do for you, don't hesitate to ask. This house is your house.' I will never forget that."
Trammell, who is entering his final year on the Hall ballot, is a major long shot to make it to Cooperstown. But Smoltz's story substantiated the belief among everyone in the baseball community that he's a Hall of Fame person.
A call to arms
Smoltz, the first Tommy John surgery patient to make the Hall, made an impassioned plea for baseball to find a way out of the current mess that's claiming so many young pitchers with arm injuries.
Smoltz, a former multi-sport athlete in high school, expressed concern that too many teenagers are apprenticing in a structured environment rather than playing baseball for the pure joy of it.
"I want to encourage the families and parents out there to understand that it's not normal to have a surgery at 14 and 15 years old," Smoltz said. "Baseball is not a year-round sport. You have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports. Don't let the institutions that are guaranteeing scholarship visits and signing bonuses [make it seem] like this is the way.
"We have such great, dynamic arms in our game that it's a shame that we're having one, two, three Tommy John recipients. Know that your children's desire and passion to play baseball is something they can do without a competitive pitch. Every throw a kid makes today is a competitive pitch. [Kids] don't go outside, they don't throw enough. They're competing and maxing out too hard too early. That's why we're having these problems. Please, take care of those great future arms."
Most improbable bromance
Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez couldn't have been more different during their playing days. Johnson stood 6-foot-10, threw from the left side and carried himself with enough of a glower that his teammates were often hesitant to approach him -- especially on game day. Martinez, a compact 5-foot-11, was a chatter bug who could be such an annoyance on the days he wasn't pitching that his former Boston teammates once taped him to a pole and wrapped tape over his mouth as a joke.
But a new, softer side of Johnson emerged on induction weekend. He and Martinez hung out together with their families and joked that they're "brothers from another mother."
"It's great to actually see the kind of person he is behind the uniform," Martinez said. "If you watched him competing, you would never tell what kind of guy that Randy is."
Along with some occasional wit, Johnson provided one of the most poignant moments of the induction ceremony when his voice cracked as he recalled the impact that his parents made on his life during his youth in California. His mother, Carol, was in the crowd at Sunday's ceremony. His father, Bud, died of a heart attack in 1992.
"Growing up in the Bay Area, I would be out in the front yard throwing a tennis ball against our garage door, a wooden garage door," Johnson said. "My dad would come out after about half an hour with a hammer, put the hammer down and say, 'When you're done playing catch against the wall, make sure you pound all those nails in.'
"He also took the time as a police officer when his shift was over to come in his police uniform and watch me pitch in high school. I never forgot those moments."
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