Unforgettable: Four Newest Hall of Famers Inducted

Written by: Bill Francis

The spiritual home of our national pastime shown brightest today. While the sun was shining, almost 50 of the sport’s brightest stars appeared to pay tribute to a quartet of new luminary legends.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame list of those with bronze likenesses rose to 310 with the induction of greats Craig Biggio, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martínez. The Sunday afternoon affair, held on the great lawn of the nearby Clark Sports Center, featured more than 40,000 cheering fans, a wild wig, the rhythmic sounds of Latin America and even a blimp sighting.

Hosting 49 returning Hall of Famers, one of the largest gatherings of inductees in any one place at any one time, Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark began the proceedings by saying, “Every Hall of Fame Weekend has its own look and feel, but there is always one constant that always makes this weekend so very, very special. That is the Hall of Fame members who come back to Cooperstown to honor the newest members of baseball’s ultimate fraternity.”

Also on stage was MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who grew up about an hour away from Cooperstown in Rome, N.Y., and was attending his first induction since he got the job in January.

“Cooperstown is about baseball and its players,” Manfred said. “As long as I serve as commissioner, I’m sure that my annual visit here for the induction ceremony will serve as a reminder of our obligation to grow, protect and preserve the game of baseball as a tribute to those who have created our history and traditions."

Biggio, the longtime Astros player who starred at catcher, second base and outfield, batted leadoff when it came to the inductee speeches.

“What an incredible honor it is to be standing in front of these great men. I played against a lot of them, I admired a lot of them, but I respected all of them,” Biggio said. “I’d like to thank the writers for the invitation to be part of the greatest team ever, the Baseball Hall of Fame. I truly am honored. “The big question is how do you get to the Hall of Fame? You’ve got to have a little bit of talent and you got to have a lot of help along the way.”

Biggio, whose voiced cracked earlier when thanking his decease parents, ended by saying he gave the game "everything he had every day."

“In baseball tomorrow is not guaranteed and I tried to play every game as if it was going to be my last,” Biggio said. “I want to thank the game for everything. The game has given me everything: my family, my friends, respect, but most of all memories of a lifetime.”

Fans from Houston cheer on Class of 2015 inductee Craig Biggio, who played his entire 20-year career with the Astros. Biggio is the first Astro to be inducted to the Hall of Fame. (Josh Szot / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Smoltz followed Biggio to the podium by talking about four significant phone calls in his life.

“The first was getting drafted by the Detroit Tigers," Smoltz said. "A dream a hometown kid would have. The second one was not the best of phone calls – it was getting traded by the Detroit Tigers to the Atlanta Braves, the worst team in all of baseball at the time.

"The third was very significant … it was a call from Tommy John encouraging me to continue with my career at the age of 34.

“The fourth call was not something I ever dreamed about. I can’t speak for the rest of the Hall of Famers, but on January 6 when I got the call letting me know that I had been elected into the Hall of Fame, well, it was a feeling words and emotions cannot describe. The phone rang and I was just thankful Greg Maddux did not pull off the ultimate prank letting me know that this was not for real. Thankfully they told me quickly that I had made it.”

Smoltz would later don a wild black wig in reference to former Braves teammates Maddux and Glavine’s induction speeches last year.

“The starting rotation will be talked about for the rest of time and maybe always compared to things," Smoltz said. "But to do something and make it come full circle, to talk about the two greatest teammates, the two greatest pitchers that got inducted, I was watching them actually rip me a new one, enjoying every second of it.

"I thought we would go back in time and just do this for a second,” said Smoltz, pulling out the wig. “Glav, Maddux, back when I had hair, we had the time of our lives. It's the only time, Greg, you're not going to be able to talk about my bald head.”

Batting third in the lineup was the 6-foot-10 Johnson, carrying a camera to capture images of the day.

“I never thought I would be on this stage, baseball's greatest fraternity. It's humbling to look behind me and see the best who have ever played this game,” he said. “I had the honor of playing against many of these gentlemen, some I watched on TV. But it would have been really fun to face you, Reggie [Jackson].”

Johnson then spoke lovingly of his mother.

“Then there's my mom, the backbone to our family, working 25 years for General Electric as a secretary. I'm one of six children. She raised six children, still had a fulltime job, and came home and fed us, took care of all of us,” he said. “Thank you, mom. You're the Hall of Famer.

“I love you, mom. I love you so much. You're the most important person in my life."

The Big Unit ended his speech with his thoughts on being a Hall of Famer.

“So many of the reasons that I've been inducted in the Hall of Fame are long gone now. I no longer have a fastball. I no longer have a bad mullet. And my scowl is long gone,” he said. “I'm so happy to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and be in the greatest fraternity of all time. And you the fans to share this great moment with me.”

Hall of Fame Class of 2015 inductee Randy Johnson, who is enjoying a second career as a photographer after baseball, took photos from his prime spot on the stage during the Induction Ceremony on Sunday in Cooperstown. (Milo Stewart, Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Martinez, the cleanup hitter, ended the day with dozens of Dominican flags waving the wind, a Latin beat in the air, and chants of “Pedro! Pedro!”

“Words have the power to build you or break you. I chose two words to describe pretty much how I feel today in this special day with all of you,” he said. “There's so many things I would like to say that I don't know if I will find the words in Spanish or English. But, my God, I'm thankful. I'm thankful for everything.

“The two words I chose today were 'God' and 'thank you'. I chose God because He's the reason we're all here. He is the one that allows us to be here. He's the one that pretty much builds the way for you to make it here, to actually become who you are.”

Thousands of boisterous fans from the Dominican Republic were on hand to show their pride for their native son, Pedro Martínez, at the 2015 Induction Ceremony in Cooperstown. (Parker Fish / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Martinez also spoke of being a sign of hope.

“I would like all of you to not look at me as numbers, as baseball, as achievements. I would like you to actually see me as a sign of hope for a third-world country, for Latin America, someone that you can really look up to, and feel comfortable enough to say, I'm proud of you,” he said. “Today I don't want to roll into numbers and games that I pitched. I just want to make sure that my people get a little message across from me and see me as a sign of hope for a future generation.”

Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Support the Hall of Fame