Esposito: Six-Pack of Plaques Well-Received in Cooperstown

The second greatest collection of fans perched their lawn chairs and spread their blankets to welcome the six new entrants into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on Sunday. A police estimate of 53,000 enjoyed seeing Chipper Jones, Alan Trammell, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Jack Morris and Jim Thome accept their plaques and platitudes with well-received speeches that spoke of the emotions and bonds of family and their universal love of baseball. The only Induction Ceremony to top that gathering was when a record 82,000 fans and family attended the 2007 celebration of Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn.

Jones led off, as his “due-any-moment” pregnant wife, Taylor, was on hand, and there was at least some concern that both might have to rush off to the Cooperstown Hospital for a very special birth. Chipper has already announced it’s a boy, and his name will be Cooper, in honor of the occasion and location. Well, it’s only fitting, as Jones already named one of his sons, Shea, in respect to the stadium where he tortured the Mets for so many years in their annual division rivalry.

Among the many remembrances Chipper smilingly recalled was when he first “met” fellow inductee Thome as minor leaguers in Richmond, Virginia. Seems there was a brou-haha of some sort in the game and a benches-clearing brawl ensued. Jones said he remembered he felt “the hands of God grab me around the throat and pressed me up against the netting, and all I could hear was, “Don’t move.” And JT said, “You done?” I said, “Yes, sir.” Glad to share this day with you, buddy.”

Trammell “batted” second, admittedly amazed at finally being elected. “Honestly, I didn’t think this day would ever come.”

The 20-year Tiger shortstop was, of course, grateful for the honor, and respectful to “Mr. Tiger,” Al Kaline, who was sitting nearby on the stage. “Thank you for being the role model you have become.”

And remembering that the fans are the reason they played the game. To Tiger Nation, “Today is as much about you as it is for me.”

With a nod to the late long-time Tigers broadcaster, Ernie Harwell, “Like Ernie Harwell said when the Tigers turned the double play, you get two for one with myself and Jack Morris going into the Hall of Fame.”

Trammell and Morris, who were both drafted by the Tigers in 1976, became the first pair of players drafted by one team in the same draft to both go into the Hall of Fame.

Trammell noted that Ozzie Smith was also drafted by the Tigers in ‘76, but the eventual Hall of Fame shortstop for the Padres and Cardinals chose to go back to school instead of signing with Detroit. That might have led to an embarrassment of riches at the position had the Wizard of Oz and his Gold Gloves wore a roaring feline instead of a red bird on his jerseys, but Tram merely smiles now and admits it’s a question that can’t be answered at this point.

But he did put in a plug for his infield teammate, Lou Whitaker, who also made the journey to congratulate his longtime friend. “Hope you’ll be up here, someday.”

Tram and Whitaker might have been more appropriate as Twins, as their careers traveled eerily exacting paths. For 19 years, with Whitaker stationed at second base, they were a constant double play combo for the Tigers, a record for the longest DP combo in the history of baseball. They were teammates in Double A, and were both called up to the Tigers on the same day. They each made their major league debut in the same game. They both got their first major league hit off the same pitcher in the same game – Reggie Cleveland – and both got their last hits in the majors off the same pitcher in the same game at the end of their careers. Geez, did they even brush their teeth at the same time after every game?

It would have been more amazing had Whitaker was elected to the Hall in the same Veteran’s Committee election – and some say he may have the credentials – but his recognition will have to wait, if he is ever again considered. His eligibilty on the writer’s ballot has long since expired. It would take a future version of the Veteran’s Committee to bring him aboard.

Guerrero’s speech was relatively short, perhaps five minutes, and which was given in Spanish accompanied by a translator. His translator, Jose Mota – son of legendary Dodger Manny Mota – is currently an Angels broadcaster, and has accompanied Guerrero throughout his Cooperstown experience, from the first press conference when it was announced in January he had earned enough votes by the BBWAA for election, through the weekend and Induction.

Hoffman began his speech with a reference to the sunny and warm conditions. “Hope you’re enjoying a little of San Diego weather today.”

He also referenced the late longtime Padres broadcaster, Jerry Coleman. “Allow me to drop an “Oh, Doctor,” on you.

Hoff was grateful for his time in San Diego, after having been traded there early in his Florida Marlins career. “Fifteen years in one spot, and that spot is San Diego – jackpot!”

He acknowledged he may have rushed his speech a pinch in order to get through it without spilling his nerves or getting too emotional.

“Bud Selig told me, “If you don’t have those butterflies, you’re not on your game.’”

Morris began his speech with an elongated bellow, “Helllooooo, Cooperstown.” It wasn’t an attempt to mimic Robin Williams in “Good Morning, Vietnam.” He admitted in the post-Induction presser it was an intentional mode to settle into the situation. “It was a way to give me a breather, a way to relax.”

The well-respected big-game pitcher is now the first Hall of Famer to have won World Series with three different clubs – Detroit, Minnesota, and Toronto.

He concluded his speech with a comment about life and faith.

“Baseball is a team sport played by individuals, and so is life. No analytics can define them. God gave me a gift made to be shared with others. Praise be to God.”

Thome recalled his first attempts at hitting. “For a kid who first was hitting rocks with an aluminum bat in Peoria, Illinois, (that beat-up bat is now among his artifacts in the Hall)…this is amazing.”

He didn’t spend much time in college, and was grateful his parents allowed him to pursue his dream of playing ball, as he called his new brethren, “the ultimate fraternity.”

And he was also philosophical about the journey being greater than the destination. “Baseball will forever be defined by its timeless nature. Baseball is still played between the lines. The best part is not the results, but taking the journey with the people you love. It was a privilege to have played the game.”

If you’d like to make plans for future Inductions, don’t delay. Mariano Rivera is among those who will be up for election in 2019. Derek Jeter is another automatic in 2020. And David Ortiz is up for election in 2021. The Hall is expecting huge crowds and accommodations will be at a premium.

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