Class of 2017 overwhelmed by honor

Written by: Bill Francis

With their eternal immortality assured less than a day ago, the trio Jeff Bagwell, Tim “Rock” Raines and Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez found themselves in the Big Apple, together for the first time as the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s newest members.

At a midafternoon press conference held at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City on Thursday, Jan. 19, Bagwell, the slugging first baseman, Raines, the swift outfielder, and Rodríguez, the stalwart defensive catcher, spoke with the assembled media about their journey to joining the sport’s most exclusive fraternity.

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The Hall of Fame announced its newest members, as selected by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, the previous day. The Class of 2017 also includes Today’s Game Era electees John Schuerholz and Bud Selig, who were elected in December.

After Jack O’Connell, the secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA kicked off the event by joking, “I want to ensure our three new Hall of Famers that the Russians had nothing to do with their election.”

Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson shared with the crowd the long odds a big league player has of one day having a bronze plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“One of the most difficult career paths in the world is the ascent to the major leagues,” Idelson said. “In the long history of professional baseball there have been just about 19,000 players who have been talented enough and privileged enough to wear a major league uniform. And of those 19,000, only one percent, one out of 100, get to the Hall of Fame. It just tells you how difficult it is to get here and how special the Hall of Fame election is. And these men … are among the select few.

“All three of these guys individually put up Hall of Fame numbers and now they all have a home in Cooperstown. But more importantly, they’re now new teammates.”

Idelson and Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark would soon outfit the Class of 2017 with their new uniforms – white jerseys with a red-lettered “Hall of Fame” across the chest and blue caps with the Hall of Fame logo in front.

Jeff Bagwell (far left), stands next to Tim Raines (center) and Iván Rodríguez (right) after a press conference held at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City following their election to the Hall of Fame. (Milo Stewart Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Of the 442 ballots cast in this year’s BBWAA election, 332 votes were needed for the 75 percent threshold needed for election. For Bagwell, it was his seventh year on ballot and he received 86.2 percent of the vote; Raines was in his 10th-and-final year on the ballot and received 86.0 percent; and Rodríguez, in his first year on the ballot, received 76.0 percent.

In his opening remarks, an overwhelmed Bagwell said, “I’m really excited to be here. It’s kind of surreal. I really have no idea what I’m doing but enjoying every moment of it. To be with Pudge and Rock, I couldn’t be more happy. Great dudes, having a lot of fun together, just laughing at each other.

“It really, truly is an honor to be here. To be in this situation, to be in the Hall of Fame, it’s just crazy, man. I’m just trying to take this all in.”

Bagwell, who played 15 seasons with the Houston Astros, was a four-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger Award-winner. The unanimous choice for National League MVP in 1994, he finished in the Top 10 of NL MVP voting five other times. The 1991 NL Rookie of the Year went on to lead the league in runs scored three times, his 449 home runs are the most in Astros franchise history.

We’re the only sport where you play every day. People always say baseball is easy, but we’re the only professional sport that plays seven days a week. And we travel a lot. It might look easy but it’s a tough grind – 162 games as well as Spring Training. That’s what baseball is all about and why I love it so much.

Tim Raines on why he loves baseball

Raines started out with a funny line, saying, “This is my 10th year, my last year of eligibility, and the writers finally got it right.”

Raines was an All-Star selection in seven straight seasons (1981-87), leading the NL in stolen bases four times. He hit at least .300 in seven full seasons and scored at least 100 runs in six, owns the second-highest stolen base percentage (84.7) of any player with at least 300 attempts and compiled the fifth-most stolen bases (808) in major league history.

“It was very emotional yesterday,” Raines added, “I was at home with my kids – I have twin daughters that are six years old – and my wife. It’s probably the first time I think anyone had seen me that kind of emotional.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. When this first started I had black hair, a lot of hair, and now my beard is so white my kids call me Santa … and I have no hair anymore. It took a while, better late than never, and yesterday I think I was one of the happiest guys in the world.”

Raines also talked about the special bond he has with Bagwell and Rodríguez.

“I’m very proud to be up here with these two guys,” Raines said. “I remember when I played against this guy to the right here (Bagwell). I used to go to first base and I’m one of those guys that always liked to talk to first basemen. He’s one of the few guys that never said a word. This is the first time I ever heard his voice.

The new inductees were all smiles Jan. 19 during a jam-packed day of press conferences and interviews. (Jean Fruth / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

“I met Pudge when he was a kid in what I think was the first game he played in the major leagues against the White Sox. When you’re a veteran guy you and catchers don’t get along too well. But I remember Pudge being behind home plate when he first started. And I remember him making a throw down to second base for the first time and I was like, ‘Wow.’”

According to Raines, his career path may have gone a different way if not for a fellow Hall of Famer.

“I’m so proud to be here. It’s actually something I never really expected as a young kid,” Raines said. “Football was my game when I was a kid and I never really dreamed about being a baseball player. I used to dream about being a NFL player. I’m not one of the biggest guys in the world, so when I saw Joe Morgan win MVP two years in a row (1975-76) that made my decision for me when it came to baseball.”

Rodríguez was a 14-time All-Star and 1999 American League MVP who played 21 seasons for Rangers, Marlins, Tigers, Yankees, Astros and Nationals. He won 13 Gold Glove Awards and seven Silver Slugger Awards as a catcher. The 2003 NLCS MVP with the Marlins, he appeared in 2,427 games as a catcher, the most in history.

“I’m very happy just to be here,” Rodríguez said in his opening remarks. “Being together with two good friends, even though we never played together, but as a baseball player we are like a family. And being in a room wearing this jersey at the end of your career, you cannot ask for anything more than that. This is an honor and pleasure just to be here.”

It really, truly is an honor to be here. To be in this situation, to be in the Hall of Fame, it’s just crazy, man. I’m just trying to take this all in.

Jeff Bagwell on his election to the Hall of Fame

Raines would later share his thoughts on the game and why he loves it.

“We’re the only sport where you play every day,” he said. “People always say baseball is easy, but we’re the only professional sport that plays seven days a week. And we travel a lot. It might look easy but it’s a tough grind – 162 games as well as Spring Training. That’s what baseball is all about and why I love it so much.”

Bagwell would later reflect on his two new Hall of Fame teammates.

“A lot of times in this game people don’t appreciate the small things. It can be a groundball to short where he (Raines) scores. I still might go 0-for-4 but I got a ribbie. A good day. That that’s what makes your team better. It’s sac flies, it’s stolen bases. I guarantee you in 808 stolen bases there was a stole second and then stole third and somebody hit a fly ball. That makes for a nice day. I think it’s the little things guys like me really appreciate,” Bagwell said. “And I can go on and on about Pudge. What he has been as a catcher and as a hitter. I’m still mad at Pudge because he picked me off in an exhibition game. I was at first base and wasn’t really paying attention and I just don’t think that’s right.

“I can’t think of two better guys to be going into the Hall of Fame with. They’ve done just so much for their clubs and their organizations to just make baseball better. I just think these two guys just epitomize what it is to be a Major League Baseball player and a Hall of Famer.”

The trio of the Hall of Fame’s newest members added some special news during the press conference when each announced the cap they would be sporting on their new Hall of Fame plaques: Rodríguez – Rangers; Bagwell – Astros; Raines – Expos.

The three BBWAA electees will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 30, at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown along with Today’s Game Era electees John Schuerholz and Bud Selig, who were elected in December. Ford C. Frick Award winner Bill King and Spink Award winner Claire Smith will be honored during Induction Weekend at the Awards Presentation on Saturday, July 29, at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown.


Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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