One Day Away

Written by: Bill Francis

With a single day separating Pedro Martínez, John Smoltz, Craig Biggio and Randy Johnson from forever having their bronze likeness adorn the oak walls of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s prestigious Plaque Gallery, an afternoon chock full of events entertained fans and visitors to Cooperstown.

The busy schedule concluded in the early evening with thousands lining Main Street as the Hall of Fame Parade of Legends returned for its sixth year. With baseball’s greatest icons seated in trucks provided by the Ford Motor Company, the long line of waves and cheers ended with a stop at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Just prior to the parade’s start, the Hall of Fame Awards Presentation was held mid-afternoon at historic Doubleday Field. The event, which had a few raindrops early on, featured the presentations of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters to Dick Enberg and the presentation of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for writers to Tom Gage.

The Awards Presentation also recognized all the ballplayers who served in World War II, with United States Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, speaking on behalf of all military branches. He also made a surprise announcement that the next Freedom-variant littoral combat ship will be named USS Cooperstown (LCS 23).

The future USS Cooperstown will be the first ship to bear the name. It was named to honor the veterans who are members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame located in Cooperstown. All 64 men served in conflicts ranging from the Civil War through the Korean War.

Prior to Mabus’ speech, which ended the Awards Presentation, Gage and Enberg thrilled the crowd with a look back on the careers.

“Wow. Just wow. I can’t believe I’m standing here. What an honor. I am and always will be overwhelmed by it,” said Gage before a large and appreciative crowd.

“When Jack O’Connell of the Baseball Writers’ Association called me in December I recognized the area code so I thought it might be him. So when Jack called the first thing I had to do was sit down and then I needed to make sure he hadn’t called the wrong number.

“Look, I’m not a famous guy. I know that. I’ve joked with friends that in the legends parade later on you’ll find me on the ‘who the heck is that?’ float,” added Gage, the Detroit News’ beat writer for the Tigers from 1979 to 2014. “I’m not a writer that has branched out to television. I’m not a familiar face. What’s worse in this day and age I don’t have all that many followers. But after 36 years as a travelling beat writer hoping to inform and entertain the entire spectrum of baseball readers, I received enough votes to be standing in front of you today – and for that I can’t fully express how humbled I am.”

Enberg, a legendary national voice for multiple sports on both NBC and CBS, has spent nearly 20 years calling big league games. He started his speech with his signature call.

“Oh, my!” he said to cheering. “’Oh, my!’ has been an expression and a great friend of mine for over 50 years of my career and never have those two words expressed more person joy than at this very moment.

“How privileged I am to be in such noble baseball company. I join the thousands of you fans who will enjoy this weekend with a rousing thank you to Cooperstown,” he added. “My friends in high school and college still remind me, ‘Hey Enberg, you only talked a good game.’ I guess it all worked out. And my dream has taken me to a great place: the Ford Frick Award in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Oh, doctor! Oh, my! And how about that?”

The Awards Presentation also featured a tribute to the legacy and contributions of former Reds, Cardinals and Senators outfielder Curt Flood, whose test of the reserve clause via the United States Supreme Court in the early 1970s laid the groundwork for the advent of free agency several years later. Tony Clark, the Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, spoke on behalf of Flood.

“In 1995 I was fortunate enough to make it to the big leagues and when I got there as an active player, and even now as an inactive player, my message is the same to all those who are willing to listen, to all those who put on a uniform,” Clark said. “We are fortunate that our game and our foundation has been laid on the backs of giants. And if we understand and appreciate and respect that, and understand and appreciate the sacrifices that were made, we’ll understand and appreciate the sacrifices that Curt Flood made. We will all be better for it.

“And if Curt Flood were here today, I’d tell him he was one of the most influential athletes of the 20th century. That his commitment, his stance, his willingness to sacrifice for the betterment of the whole fundamentally changed the way business is done in all sports.”

Early Saturday afternoon inside the Clark Sports Center a press availability was held with this year’s four inductees. With numerous TV cameras, dozens of photographers and hundreds of reporters’ notebooks recording every gesture and word, each new electee was asked about these final hours before they take the stage on Sunday afternoon.

“I’m sorry I didn’t shower for any of you,” Johnson joked to his waiting media throng. “I just got done off the golf course and the course record is still intact.

“Today was a great relaxing day of golf with the Hall of Fame players that chose to come out and play. I guess it’s been a running tradition so I wanted to be a part of that despite not playing much golf recently.”

Johnson, who arrived Wednesday, said at this point he’s very relaxed.

“Yesterday was a great evening with family and friends and hanging out with other Hall of Famers that I’ve crossed paths with and my other inductees,” said Johnson. “The great thing is I’ve been very fortunate that in one or another, a Nolan Ryan or a Tom Seaver or Whitey Ford, I’ve been able to cross paths with them. And the ones that I don’t see on a regular basis and the ones that I’d never met have been really great.

“Last night was very special for me to see my kids interacting with Pedro’s kids and then me and Pedro took pictures, the two of us, with our moms. So it was just a really great evening,” he added. “To see people that I faced like Robin Yount, who I know very well, and I faced Wade Boggs and I faced George Brett, to be in their company now in this very small baseball fraternity is amazing. I’m very calm right now but I think tomorrow it will be very hard to reel all this in.”

According to Martinez, a special bond has formed with the four newest inductees since the January announcement.

“I’ll tell you what. Dealing with Randy, my big brother – he calls me, ‘My little brother’ and I call him ‘My big brother’ – we have been hanging out together,” Martínez said. “It’s great to see the kind of person behind the uniform because if you watch him and watch me competing, you could never tell Randy is the kind of guy he is. And John Smoltz is the same way. You probably didn’t know that John Smoltz was the kind of guy that could pull a prank on you at any moment.

“You look at them as pitchers and they’re so serious, so committed to the game, you don’t perceive whatsoever the kind of person behind that. And I’m the same way. You could never tell that I’m a joker, that I’m someone so happy on days that I’m not pitching. It’s great to see that.”

Near the end of the media session, Smoltz was asked what he wanted people to think when they looked at his Hall of Fame plaque.

“Literally, anything is possible,” he replied after giving the question some thought. “I’m a miracle. I’m a guy who dreamed but was not supposed to have this happen. Whether it’s perseverance or dreams do happen. I came from the most unpredictable situation.

“I believe if you don’t dream big, if you don’t have high aspirations and ignore what everybody else thinks is impossible, you’ll never know.”
For many of the returning Hall of Famers and their guests, Saturday morning began at 8 a.m. with the sunny start of the Hall of Famer Golf Tournament at Leatherstocking Golf Course at The Otesaga Resort Hotel. This year’s champion was Smoltz, a scratch golfer.

“For me and Greg (Maddux) to go in last year was a lot of fun. To come back and watch Smoltzie go in this year is a lot of fun as well. I’m certainly thrilled for him,” said Tom Glavine, who was part of a stellar starting Braves rotation along with Maddux and Smoltz, after teeing off at the first hole. “As far as what he was as a pitcher, look, if you need to win a big game there was nobody better to put out there. He was phenomenal in those types of settings. For him to be as good as he was at two different roles – starter and closer – is pretty unique. I think it says a lot about his ability and a lot about his mentality that he was able to do both roles so well.

“Once you’re all done playing and the resume is complete you hope that someday we’re all going to be here but it’s the kind of thing you don’t really know how it’s all going to play out. But I think for all of us to be here and all of us to be first ballot Hall of Famers is pretty cool. I know it’s something we’re all proud of.”

As for any advice he gave to his former rotation-made, Glavine said it was similar to what he got last year

“Just enjoy it,” Glavine said. “It’s natural that when you get here you have a lot of things on your mind, particularly your family, and then you’re inevitably worried that you forgot somebody or somebody is going to be mad at you. But you can’t do anything about it. Once you’re here all that stuff is pretty much done and there isn’t anything you can do about it other than come here and enjoy it and embrace it and have a blast with it.”

As for Wade Boggs, the former star third baseman, his comments were centered on the pitchers.

“When you look at how dominating he (Martínez) was during his tenure there in Boston, that little run of six or seven years that he had, he was virtually unhittable,” Boggs said. “And Randy Johnson was probably one of the most intimidating guys that I ever faced. Probably Nolan Ryan was one and Randy was probably two. I’m just glad everybody wasn’t 6-foot-10 or otherwise I wouldn’t be here today. He was the intimidator. That was his ace in the hole. You don’t know when that ball is going to be over your head and then the next thing he does is drops a slider on the outside corner and strikes you out.”

Jim Rice also wanted to talk about Martinez, a fellow Red Sox legend.

“Pedro reminded me of some guy we had called Roger Clemens that we knew when we were in a situation that we needed a win we could count on him,” Rice said. “He protected his players and when you have a guy like that you know you’ve got a chance to win a ballgame.

“Pedro is almost like Big Papi [David Ortiz]. He’s not as big as Papi but he’s a Red Sox favorite. He went out there even when he didn’t have his best stuff. That’s one thing about Pedro – if his best stuff is not there he can get you with his second-best stuff and that’s what makes a great pitcher.”

This still does for me feel like coming home.

MLB Commissioner and Rome, N.Y. native Rob Manfred

Bert Blyleven, winner of 287 big league games, shared his thoughts on the newest trio of pitchers to enter the game’s pantheon.

“Randy Johnson? How someone can intimidate a hitter as well as he did,” Blyleven said. “Not only his size but his angle that he came toward the plate, especially against left handed hitters, his nasty slider, his overpowering fastball. I think between him and Steve Carlton, two of the best lefties I ever saw.

“As for Pedro, his desire and determination to be competitive the way he was throughout his career. A guy that went right after the hitter, wasn’t afraid to pitch inside, and led by example,” he added. “Smoltz was a workhorse. A guy that was a starter, reliever, had success both ways, and a guy that definitely deserves to be here in the Hall of Fame.”

Major League Baseball’s new commissioner, Rob Manfred, who took office earlier this year, was also a participant in the golf tourney.

“It’s another great first,” he said about attending this year’s Induction Weekend. “We have such a great class this year. The four new inductees are just really great guys, great players.

Manfred is familiar with Cooperstown, having been born and raised in nearby Rome, N.Y.

“I came to the Hall of Fame for the first time when I was less than 10 years old, I can’t tell you exactly when, and I’ve enjoyed coming back here every single time. This still does for me feel like coming home,” he said.

Class of 2015 inductee Pedro Martínez enjoys the annual Awards Presentation on Saturday at Cooperstown's Doubleday Field. (Milo Stewart, Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

The quartet of new Hall of Famers also have a number of former teammates in town for the festivities this weekend, including Dan Wilson, a Mariners catcher who served as the primary backstop for the southpaw Johnson between 1994 and ’98.

“A lot of the things that I remember are just the way he could dominate a game, dominate a lineup,” said Wilson during a break from touring the Museum on Saturday morning. “I always felt his presence was known before the game even started. Managers’ lineups were so different when Randy would pitch. It would be almost all right-handed hitters – none of the lefthanders wanted to get in there, and rightfully so.

“He was the quintessential power pitcher. There wasn’t a lot of guess work in what he was going to come with – it was either the fastball or the slider. He’d come right at you. Intimidation was part of his game. Six-foot-10, standing up on top of a mound. It was just fun. You knew you had a really good chance to win a ballgame when he was pitching. You always knew something very special could happen when he took the mound.”

On Sunday, 53 Hall of Famers are scheduled to be in Cooperstown to honor the Class of 2015. The Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, honoring the four newest members, will be held Sunday, July 26, at 1:30 p.m. ET at the Clark Sports Center – located one mile south of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

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

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