NY Sports Day
Andy Esposito

Esposito: Crying For Joy, Cooperstown Welcomes Junior & Piazza

Andy Esposito/NYSD

Turns out, there is crying in baseball, especially when those tears are in celebration of entering the Hall of Fame.

A tremendous turnout of Mets and Mariners fans, and fans of anything baseball, really, descended upon the quaint village of Cooperstown, New York to enjoy the official induction of Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey, Jr. to those hallowed halls. And their devotion was rewarded with an emotional nearly three-hour ceremony as the outfielder and the catcher accepted their plaques that immortalized their careers.

Both of their well-received acceptance speeches were punctuated with multiple moments of heartfelt tears of love and affection.

When asked before the ceremony if he thought he would cry during his speech, Piazza admitted, “I’m definitely going to cry. I went on Jimmy Kimmel, and he said, ‘Don’t worry. Grown men only cry at funerals and when you go into the Hall of Fame.’

“Getting to the Hall of Fame is the culmination of a lot of work and a lot of people looking out for you. My theme was kinda that no one goes into the Hall of Fame alone. A lot of people helped you along the way. And to be with this group…the amount of talent and character in the Hall of Fame is really special.”

Griffey admitted his emotional “error” was looking at his family. “They told me, don’t look at the family (seated in the first row), but I did, like a little kid, what do you do when someone tells you don’t do something, you do it, and I did, and I lost it.”

The two newest Hall of Famers, Nos. 311 and 312 now with plaques on the wall in the Hall, drew a tie for the second highest attendance to the outdoor free event. Crowd estimates were at 50,000 fans, which ranks with the 1999 Induction, that welcomed Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount, George Brett, Orlando Cepeda, Smokey Joe Williams, Frank Selee, and Nestor Chylak. The record for attendance occurred in 2007, when Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. were inducted. They drew an estimated 75,000.

Piazza’s speech touched a lot of bases. He uttered one sentence in Spanish in reference to his Instructional days with the Dodgers when they sent him to the Dominican republic to work on his catching skills and catch their pitchers, among them Pedro Martinez and his brother, Ramon.

The now 47-year-old former backstop also spoke briefly in Italian, “Un Grazie infinito al paese Itaslia che ha fatto il regalo di mi Padre.”

Piazza later translated that he was basically thanking the country of Italy for the gift of his father.

Now an owner of a soccer team in Italy – Reggiano – Piazza also quoted Teddy Roosevelt, the Pope, and Jesus during his speech, one of the classiest ever given at that podium, and he also humbly thanked the many Mets fans in attendance.

“The eight years we spent together too fast,” he proclaimed. “How can I put into words my thanks, love and appreciation for New York Mets fans? You have given me the greatest gift and graciously taken me into your family. Looking out today at the incredible sea of blue and orange brings back the greatest time of my life. You guys are serious. We didn’t get off on the best foot, but we both stayed with it.

“No fans rock the house like Mets fans.”

And of course, a sincere reference to the terrible tragedies from 9/11 and the subsequent first ball game, which lifted the spirits of not only a city, but an entire nation, was proudly recalled.

“Unfortunately, it wasn’t always the ups and downs of a baseball season that we experienced. September 11, 2001, is a day that forever changed our lives. To witness the darkest evil of the human heart and witness that as it tore many loved ones from their families will forever be burned in my soul.

“But from tragedy and sorrow came bravery, love, compassion, character, and eventual healing. Many of you give me praise for the two-run home run on the first game back on September 21st to push ahead of the rival Braves. But the true praise belongs to the police, firefighters, and first responders, who knew they were going to die, but went forward anyway.

“Jesus said there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his family and friends. I consider it an honor and privilege to have witnessed that love. Your families and those left behind are always in my prayers. I pray we never forget their sacrifice and work to always defeat such evil.”

Much was made of the fact that Junior and Piazza came from opposite ends of the baseball draft to reach Cooperstown. Griffey was a top-of-the draft selection by the Seattle Mariners in 1987, and one year later, Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round (the 1,390th selection) by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But after that, both took parallel paths to Cooperstown.

“Both of us actually took the same road to get here,” Griffey said in a pre-Induction presser. “You work hard, you don’t take no for an answer, and you go out there to be the best player you can be.”

Piazza agreed.

“(Griffey) had unique challenges being a first round pick.,” said the 15th catcher to be inducted (16th, if you count Joe Torre, but who was really inducted as a manager, not for his catching career). I had unique challenges being a last round pick. There was pressure on him. There was pressure on me. But ultimately it comes down to the people who support you, the people who coach you, the experiences that you have, and learning from the veterans is what makes it special. It’s a testimony to this game that you can never be afraid to reinvent yourself, and never be afraid to learn, never be afraid to do something to help your team win.”

Much also was made of the new record Griffey established, now the highest percentage of vote for the Hall of Fame, receiving 99.32% of those who submitted ballots. This new strength of support bests Tom Seaver’s long standing record of the highest percentage, 98.84. Seaver was voted to the Hall in 1992.

And Piazza now stands side by side with Seaver as the only two Famers who will forever wear Mets caps on their bronze plaques. There are over a dozen hall of Famers who have worn the Mets uniform at one point or another (see below), but only #41 and #31 have the Mets’ version of the NY.

When you’re a new inductee, you’re a rookie again. Subtle hazing by the “veteran” Hall of Famers induced Piazza to sing in the bar in the Otesaga Hotel where most of the Famers are quartered.

“I got on the drums,” Piazza said, “but they told me to sing, it’s a tradition, but (as the singing ensued) my wife said, ‘Quick, get him back on the drums.’ (Wade) Boggs tried to sing, “Nights in White Satin,” by the Moody Blues, and it got a little weird.”

Griffey bailed. “I made believe I had to go to the bathroom.”

Induction weekend is a festival of events. Some 48 of the 69 living Hall of Famers returned to Cooperstown to welcome their rookie brethren. Unfortunately, Tom Seaver had to withdraw from attending due to illness, and others were last-minute cancellations. Among the Hall of Famers on hand who once wore Mets uniforms include: Rickey Henderson, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, Eddie Murray, and Joe Torre. Other former Mets who made the journey include Original Met Frank Thomas, Ed Kranepool, Dwight Gooden, Howard Johnson, Mookie Wilson, George Foster, Art Shamsky, Ron Swoboda, Cleon Jones, Jesse Orosco, and Lenny Dykstra.

Mets owner Fred Wilpon also attended.

Dykstra sat at a folding table right on Main Street signing his new book, “House of Nails: Memoirs of a Life on the Edge.” Got to admit. It’s kind of an accurate title.

Shamsky was signing copies of his book, “The Magnificent Seasons,” which highlights how the city of New York came alive in 1969 when all of the major New York sports teams rose to championships. Sham is also involved with Teresa Taylor and her innovative healthcare products, one of which are walking canes featuring major league team logos. Ruben Tejada used one of their canes after Chase Utley broke his leg in last year’s NLCS.

Autographs were the hottest commodity. Just about every store on Main Street sold autographed items, and the Famers and many of their All-Star friends who made the trip earned extra money by signing autographs at tables in front of these same stores.

Prices were not for the thrifty. To get a Hall of Famer’s signature on just about anything ranged from about $69 to as much as $189 for a Piazza autograph, $199 for Randy Johnsons’ scribble. And then you had to pay extra if you wanted that ink on a glove, or a jersey or a bat, or even if you wanted him to add, “To…so and so.”

A major aspect of the autograph hobby is getting them certified. James Spence, the leading authority on authenticating signatures from virtually any level of celebrity (JSA Services, www.Spenceloa.com), was on hand to ensure that process.

But the latest gimmick with players signing for a few which was a little disconcerting was that the promoters who bring them in were now charging to have you take a photo with them, ranging usually from $5-$10 per photo, sometimes more, if for a charity. It’s one thing to pay to watch your favorite player sign his name on a ball or photo or bat or whatever. But to pay the promoter a fee to stand next to them for a quick pic. Com’ on. For real?

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P.S. Hall of Famers who have been associated with the NY Mets include: Roberto Alomar, Richie Ashburn, Yogi Berra, Gary Carter (who wears a Montreal Expos logo on his cap), Bob Gibson, Tom Glavine, Whitey Herzog, Rogers Hornsby, Pedro Martinez, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Duke Snider, Casey Stengel, Joe Torre, George Weiss, and now, Mike Piazza.


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