Hall of Fame Weekend

Written by: Bill Francis

Introductions were formally made on July 30 among a quintet of new Hall of Famers and their bronze plaques, a symbol of immortality that will forever reside in Cooperstown for generations of baseball fans to see.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame held its annual Induction Ceremony at the Clark Sports Center. Under ideal weather, with blue skies and temperatures in the mid-70s, the Class of 2017 – slugging first baseman Jeff Bagwell, base-stealing master Tim Raines, five-tool catcher Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez, former MLB commissioner Bud Selig and longtime front office executive John Schuerholz – was presented for the first time their Hall of Fame plaques then addressed the audience, which included an estimated 27,500 at the induction site and hundreds of thousands on live TV on MLB Network.

Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark began by saying, “Every Hall of Fame Weekend has its own special look, its own special feel, but it’s always defined by the Hall of Fame members who return each year to honor the newest members of baseball’s ultimate fraternity.” The addition of this year’s inductees raises the total number of Hall of Famers to 317, with 50 returning Hall of Famers on stage to welcome the Class of 2017.

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Schuerholz, 76, who as general manager helped the Royals and Braves as a team architect to World Series titles, went first this day. And like any good leadoff hitter, set the day off on a positive note.

“How very honored I am to be inducted, joining baseball executive giants and team-building legends like Branch Rickey and Larry MacPhail and Ed Barrow, George Weiss, and my good friend Pat Gillick, who sits behind me in these seats,” Schuerholz said.

“When my cell phone rang at 5:13 p.m. in my room at the Gaylord National Harbor Hotel on Dec. 4, 2016, and Jane Forbes Clark spoke these words: "Hello, John. This is Jane. I'm pleased to inform you, you have been elected into baseball's Hall of Fame. Congratulations."

“Wow. And here I am.”

Class of 2017 members (from left) Bud Selig, Iván Rodríguez, John Schuerholz, Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell pose with their Hall of Fame plaques following the July 30 Induction Ceremony in Cooperstown (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

Up next was Bagwell, who spent his entire career, from 1991 to 2005, with the Astros. With a large contingent of fans from Houston in the crowd, he was soft-spoken, often funny, and humble.

“This is actually a really unbelievable day,” said the 49-year-old Bagwell. “I'm so humbled to be here, to be surrounded by some of the greats that ever played this game. The guys you see on TV, guys you read about and all that, and I'm standing up here and kind of sitting in the background just watching and just trying to figure out what's really going on.

“As I said before, it's an honor to be with all these Hall of Famers, to stand up here and try and talk my story, which I'd much rather be sitting in some of these rooms and listening to stories that they tell. But you know, this is all part of it, and I love it, and I'm humbled and I'm grateful.”

On his 83rd birthday, Selig talked about his job as commissioner, both the challenges and successes. But the underlying sentiment was his appreciation for being recognized by the Hall of Fame.

“The Hall of Fame is the soul of baseball and reaffirms its beauty and timelessness,” Selig said. “The Hall of Fame is a baseball treasure.

(From left to right): Hall of Fame Board Member Thomas Tull, 2017 Buck O'Neil Award recipient Rachel Robinson, 2017 J.G. Taylor Spink Award recipient Claire Smith and Kathleen Lowenthal, daughter of 2017 Ford C. Frick Award recipient King share a moment at the 2017 Awards Presentation. (Milo Stewart Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

“And finally, to these Hall of Famers, I am honored to be in your presence. On your shoulders, this game became part of the fabric of our country, and we are forever indebted to you. For so many years, I sat right behind where I stand now and watched as each new member would stand here and deliver remarks with the kind of emotion that comes with great happiness and fulfillment.”

Rodríguez, the native of Puerto Rico who delivered a portion of his speech in Spanish, began with a self-deprecating story.

“This is such an incredible honor for me to be here in this place to play the game,” Rodríguez said. “Never let anyone take your dream from you. Don't let anyone say your dream cannot be accomplished. Tell them about a short kid who was hanging from the rope when I was a little kid, dangling there, trying to stretch himself and hoping to become as tall as the other boys. And when I step on the side and look at my size, I can say I'm a very tall 5-foot-9. But I got a cool nickname out of it: Pudge.”

Tim Raines waves to fans lined up on Main Street in Cooperstown during the 2017 Parade of Legends. (Jean Fruth / National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

With a good portion of the sea of cheering fans wearing Expos jerseys, Raines took the stage as the event’s final speaker.

“First I want to thank the people that are the reasons that I'm here today, my parents, Ned and Florence,” he said. “Without them, obviously I wouldn't be here, but to my dad, you know, he was a great player in his own right. He didn't get the opportunity to play professional baseball. I got an opportunity to see him play, and I was a proud little three- or four-year-old kid watching my dad roam in center field at some of the back playgrounds in Sanford, Fla.”

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

Highlights from Hall of Fame Weekend 2017

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Class of 2017

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2017 Award Winners

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Voting Rules

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