Hall of Fame Classic

Written by: Bill Francis

With temperatures hovering around 90 degrees, Melvin Mora proved just as hot as he slugged two home runs to lead Team Knucksie to a 5-4 victory over Team Wizard in the 2016 Hall of Fame Classic.

The Saturday afternoon seven-inning contest, presented by Ford Motor Company and held in front of cheering 6,412 fans at historic Doubleday Field, saw great defensive plays, topnotch pitching, and powerful batting, all traits that made the recently-retired big leaguers the stars they were not too long ago. But when it was over, Mora, the longtime Baltimore Orioles third baseman, the Most Valuable Player.

“I didn’t win the Home Run Derby but I saved some long balls for the game. It made me loosen up,” Mora said with a laugh. “When Jerry Hairston Jr. hit that home run in the sixth inning, I realized I had a chance to win the MVP. But we just wanted to put a good game on for the fans and make sure no one got hurt - that’s the most important thing. And my wife and six kids, including all four quintuplets, were here and I know they were all rooting for me.”

Steve Woodard leads participants through a fielding clinic at Doubleday Field (Jean Fruth/National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Hairston’s homer off LaTroy Hawkins in the bottom of the sixth inning proved to be the game-winning run, but it was Mora, who homered 171 times in 13 big league seasons, who proved most impressive with the bat on this day, going 2-for-3 while knocking in four runs with his two shots over the left field wall. His first two-run homer came in the bottom of the third, off Andy Sonnanstine, the second off Hawkins in the sixth.

  • Brandon Backe
  • Michael Barrett
  • Danny Graves
  • Travis Hafner
  • Jerry Hairston Jr.
  • LaTroy Hawkins
  • Shea Hillenbrand
    (Red Sox)
  • Andruw Jones
  • Terrence Long
  • Noah Lowry
  • Melvin Mora
  • Jamie Moyer
  • Darren Oliver
  • Juan Pierre
  • Todd Pratt
  • J.J. Putz
  • Desi Relaford
  • Kerry Robinson
  • Aaron Rowand
    (White Sox)
  • Andy Sonnanstine
  • Ryan Spilborghs
  • Tanyon Sturtze
    (Blue Jays)
  • Jeff Suppan
  • Alan Trammell
  • Jack Wilson
  • Steve Woodard

“I’d faced both of the pitchers in the past and knew how they used to throw to me in certain situations, but sometimes you have to make an adjustment with age,” Mora said. “And both pitchers were serious, especially LaTroy. I was just trying to make good contact and whatever happened happened.”

“Left field was pretty short but you still have to hit the ball. You could see that in the Home Run Derby.” Outfielder Aaron Rowand, last year’s MVP, represented the White Sox for the third consecutive year. “They keep asking me to come back, so shoot, I’m going to keep coming back as long as they ask me,” Rowand said. “This is a special place. This is the mecca of baseball here. And to be able to enjoy this with my son, Mckay, it’s a special, special time. Since they asked me to come back, I’ve been looking at the calendar waiting for this."

Jamie Moyer and his son, McCabe, hang out outside of the dugout prior to the game. (Jean Fruth/National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Relief pitcher J.J. Putz shared similar sentiments on his first trip to Cooperstown. “Just to be here for my first time and to share it with my son is something that we’ll never forget,” he said. “Something that we’ll always have kind of as our thing.”

This year’s Home Run Derby was won by Hairston, who came out on top of a field that included Travis Hafner, Rowand, Mora, Jack Wilson, Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre. In the final round, Hairston socked four homers in five at-bats, outpacing the efforts of both Hafner and Jones.

“It was a lot of fun,” a smiling Hairston, with 70 career home runs over 16 big league seasons, said minutes after he took the title. “As a kid you watch Home Run Derby and when you’re playing you watch your teammates participate. I knew I’d probably never do that because that wasn’t my game, but I used to always mess with the guys that competed, saying, ‘Hey, I can hit them in BP.’

“It’s tougher to hit them in a game, obviously, but to be in a Derby with guys like Andruw Jones, Travis Hafner, guys that were incredible hitters and players, I just got fortunate today,” added Hairston who turns 40 years old the day after the Classic. “I just was able to get in a little bit of a groove. And it felt good to be in the box, getting some energy again. You do miss that. I don’t miss the running or diving onto walls as a player, but you do miss competing.
Though Hairston couldn’t remember ever having won a Home Run Derby before, the weekend in Cooperstown will stay with him forever. “Having my son Jackson here,” he said, “it’s the best father-son trip ever.”

The night before the Hall of Fame Classic took place, Hairston reflected on his family’s place in the game.

“Only about 18,700 men have played big league baseball in the history of the game,” he said. “You can go to a basketball game and their sellout crowd is 18,000. It really puts things in perspective. And my grandfather, my uncle, my dad and my brother also played, so five of us have been extremely fortunate. It’s not because of our talent, because we weren’t stars by any means, but we just had a passion for the game of baseball.”

Before the Hall of Fame Classic began, the day’s two new managers and captains spoke about their interim roles – with Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith and Phil Niekro unable to fill their familiar roles as team namesakes, Jim Rice called the shots for Team Knucksie while Andre Dawson was helming Team Wizard. Fellow Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg, Fergie Jenkins and Rollie Fingers served as coaches.

“I’m just here to support the Hall, have fun with these guys, and just try and make sure everyone leaves here the same way they came, and that’s injury-free,” Dawson said. “Today’s about having fun, signing some autographs, and making it a pleasurable and enjoyable day.”


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Rice concurred, adding, “You just let these guys play. The main thing is to get everybody in the game. And it’s to have fun and try not to get anyone hurt.”
And both agreed beforehand that their playing days were behind them.

“No, no, no,” Dawson said with a laugh. “I passed the torch a long time ago. This body won’t take that anymore.”

“I have no ambition of coming back,” said Rice. “Those days are over with. The last time I picked up a bat was at the All-Star Game at Fenway Park in 1999 and I have no desire to pick up another bat.”

Following the game, the evening saw the Hall of Fame hold its fourth annual Night at the Museum program, an event where the Hall of Famers and former players involved in the Classic greeted fans throughout the Museum.

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