Baseball’s annual big day to celebrate its past arrived with the usual fanfare and enjoyed by thousands as two new members joined the ranks in Cooperstown.
Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen are now clocked in as HOF members numbers 341 and 342.
The always-free celebration on the grounds adjacent to the Clark Center Gym on the outskirts of the village drew a respectable but extremely smaller crowd than in years past. Peaking with a record estimate of 80,000-plus the year that Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn was inducted in 2007, this year’s attendance figures were polled to be about 5/10,000. The average in the past decade or so – not counting the Covid years – is usually about 40/50,000.
The weekend is always filled with events and festivities.
Ozzie Smith annually conducts a HOF fundraiser event on Friday mornings, where fans pay a somewhat outrageous amount of money to join the shortstop during infield drills, where they “feed” or “be fed” groundballs to or from Ozzie in simulated double plays.
Many of the Hall of Famers participate in a Saturday morning golf tournament. This year’s proceedings were won by Greg Maddux and his son, Chase. The pitcher shot a 74. Not bad, Mr. Maddux, not bad.
Randy Johnson enjoyed hosting a personal exhibit of his wildlife and African safari photographs at the Fenimore Art Museum, built on the grounds which once stood the home of legendary author James Fenimore Cooper.
“Storytelling With Photographs” is an exhibit that will run through December, and you can easily say that if it were not for his superb abilities on a pitcher’s mound, Johnson could also be classified as a Hall of Fame photographer. Brilliant works of art.
You can find some of his works at: RJ51photos.com.
Rolen was elected via the standard balloting by the BBWAA, and received 76.3% of the votes when 75% was necessary for election. It was Rolen’s sixth year on the ballot. Five years ago, Rolen received just 10.2% of the votes in his first year of eligibility.
Apparently, his statistics and defensive prowess warranted further scrutiny and somehow improved greatly in the past half-decade.
The longtime third baseman does, however, rank in some pretty good company at his position. Rolen, who only ever played third base throughout his career, is one of just four hot corner tradesmen to garner at least 300 home runs, 100 stolen bases, and 500 doubles, teaming that stat-set with Adrian Beltre, George Brett, and Chipper Jones.
McGriff welcomed his new plaque after being brought in by the Contemporary Baseball Era version of the Veteran’s Committee, the 180th member entered by the various iterations of Veterans Committees. An additional 26 members were heralded by Special Committees on the Negro Leagues.
You could debate that McGriff earned a plaque in the Great Hall years earlier were it not for something he could not control. More on that in a minute.
Others were honored this weekend. A remote event on Saturday, that was simulcast on large portable screens at Doubleday Field, presented legendary former Brooklyn Dodger Carl Erskine with the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. Erskine, now 96, wasn’t able to attend, but his son accepted the honor on his behalf.
Longtime Chicago Cubs broadcaster Pat Hughes received the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting. Beat writer John Lowe, who covered several teams in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Los Angeles for over 35 years, received the BBWAA Career Excellence Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.
Frankly, the Hall is shortchanging their patrons a bit by holding this Saturday ceremony at an external site – The Glimmerglass Opera House a few miles from the village. These awards used to be held on a stage at Doubleday Field on Saturday afternoons, and a bunch of years earlier, they were even the undercard to the main event those Sunday afternoons when many honorees gave their acceptance speeches.
So instead of honoring these baseball stalwarts on the mythical grounds where baseball reportedly was pioneered back in 1839 (yes, we know it is a falsehood, but it is an accepted fable), this “bonus” event is now just a TV show, observed by several thousand fans in Doubleday Field.
After this event, the fans crowded Main Street as a parade of Hall of Famers rolled past on flatbed trucks on their way to a private event in the Hall at night.
Rolen earned his HOF stripes playing 17 seasons for the Phillies, Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Reds. His showcases now include: eight Gold Gloves, the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year Award, one Silver Slugger bat, seven All Star appearances, and a World Series trophy with St. Louis in 2006.
Perhaps that was an influential factor as the Hall declared that St. Louis would become the cap logo on his plaque.
Proponents of other Hall of Fame candidates who didn’t make the cut in their various opportunities for election, such as Don Mattingly, or Keith Hernandez, or a Steve Garvey can now point to Rolen and proclaim, “well, if he’s in, why isn’t… fill-in-the-blank.”
Rolen has zero bold type on his 17-year resume, and hit just .220 in 39 postseason games, albeit with five homers and 12 RBIs.
No time today to totally get into the comparable accomplishments of those just mentioned – and others, but their campaigners certainly have a good argument going for them, don’t they.
Speaking of Mattingly, Mr. McGriff kind of owes his career to Donnie Baseball, as the Yankees legend was known.
McGriff was originally drafted by the Yankees, in the 9th round of the 1981 amateur draft. But the big first baseman’s career was blocked by the greatness that was #23 in a Yankees uniform. So the Yankees used their prospect chip in a trade with Toronto, sending McGriff, Dave Collins, and Mike Morgan to the Blue Jays for Tom Dodd and Dale Murray in December of 1982.
Let’s just say that transaction didn’t exactly work out in the Yankees’ favor.
McGriff, who eventually became known as the Crime Dog, enjoyed a modicum of success North of the Border, but was again traded almost exactly eight years later to San Diego, in a deal that netted the Blue Jays Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter.
That deal worked out tremendously for the Blue Jays, resulting in World Championships in 1992 and ’93.
In 1993, the Padres dealt McGriff to Atlanta, where he really found a home, helping the Braves win their World Championship after many grabs at the brass ring, in 1995.
McGriff finished his 19-year career with 493 home runs (and 1550 RBIs) when 500 was generally considered as the ceiling to breach for automatic election. So close, yet so far, as McGriff had to wait out a couple of decades as a Veteran’s Committee finally collectively figured out that McGriff missed a large portion of the ’94 season, and the beginning of the ’95 season due to something he could not control – the player’s strike.
Surely the producer of ten 30-home run seasons, and the only major leaguer ever to bang out at least 30 homers for five franchises would have found enough pitches to his liking to reach the 500-home run plateau had there not been a player’s strike.
McGriff, as were just about all players, was limited to just 113 games played in 1994, and only 144 games in ’95 due to the strike.
And by the way, McGriff batted .303 with ten home runs in 50 postseason games.
McGriff played for six teams – Blue Jays, Padres, Braves, Devil Rays, Cubs, and Dodgers, so it was mutually decided between McGriff and the HOF that his bronzed cap remained blank.
The lanky 6’3” first baseman led off the speeches and first talked about the phone call he received from Jane Forbes Clark, Chairman of the Board of Directors at the Hall of Fame, about his election.
“It was the best phone call of my life.”
He set a new Hall of Fame precedent by going around to shake hands with the 48 previously inducted Hall of Famers on hand as he joined the stage.
Of course, he was deeply honored and respectful of his new status.
“I’m humbled to stand on this stage with the greatest players to play the game.”
His infectious smile was warmly greeted as he reviewed his career.
“My goal was simply to make it to the major leagues. To be recognized for my hard work and to know I have a plaque hanging in the baseball Hall of Fame is unbelievable.”
He recalled hanging out with his friends at minor league games in his native Florida.
“The best part was if you retrieved a foul ball and brought it back, you got a Coke and a hot dog. We couldn’t wait to get a foul ball.”
McGriff was famously cut from his High School baseball team when he first went out for it, but worked hard and made the team the following year.
“To this day, they keep teasing Pops (his coach) about cutting me in the 10th grade.”
Rolen, of course, echoed sentiments and gratitude.
Referencing his election, “It never occurred to me to be standing on this stage, but I’m glad it occurred to you.”
His love of family came from strong values. “I was taught to say, please, thank you, excuse me, and I’m sorry.”
Rolen told a story about his father that exemplified what work and effort can produce.
It was ironically while attending a three-day basketball camp, not baseball, as a teenager, and Rolen was having a rough go of it.
His father came to see him play, and Rolen went to him with what he described as a “minor problem.”
“Dad, I can’t handle the ball, I can’t shoot, and I’m completely overmatched.”
His dad’s short but somewhat sympathetic response was, “Ok.” And when asked what he should do about it, was, “Well, how the hell do I know.” And, “Well, what can you do well?”
“I can rebound.” “Ok.”
“I can defend.” “Ok.”
“I can get the loose balls.” “Ok.”
“I can outhustle.” “Ok.”
Dad’s conclusion was, “Well, do that then.”
And that turned out to be Rolen’s mantra throughout his career.
“It turned out to be that, “Well, do that then” got me to the major leagues and put me on this stage today.”
It is a lesson well shared.
“Speaking to my son and daughter, and maybe to your son and daughter, Dad’s lesson to do that then (means) effort never takes a day off. I believe in the process. I believe in the work. Well, Dad, I did that then.”
Next year’s Writer’s ballot will include a handful of newcomers, including Adrian Beltre, Joe Mauer, Chase Utley, and David Wright. In two years crowds in Cooperstown might set new records when Ichiro Suzuki becomes eligible, along with CC Sabatahia, Brian McCann, and Troy Tulowitzky. Make your plans now. It’s gonna be a big one.