Class of 2016 Reflects on Election
“In 1987, Ken Griffey Jr. was the first player selected in that year’s first-year player draft. The very next year Mike Piazza was the 1,390th player taken in the draft,” O’Connell said. “Yet here they are today, shoulder to shoulder, heading into the Hall of Fame.”
Griffey and Piazza would combine to collect 25 All-Star Game invitations, finish in the top 10 in MVP voting 14 times, capture 17 Silver Slugger Awards, slug 1,057 home runs and play 38 big league seasons for eight different franchises.
Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson put the recent announcement in perspective, explaining that one of the most difficult career paths in the world is to the major leagues.
“In the long first of professional baseball there have been just over 18,500 players who have been privileged enough to wear a major league uniform. And only one percent, one out of a 100, make it to Cooperstown,” Idelson said. “That’s really how special the Hall of Fame election is. And these men here on the dais today are among those select few.
“Gentlemen, you combined to wear the uniforms for eight different teams during your careers and now you’re teammates on the greatest team ever assembled, the Hall of Fame team. And we’re going to give you both lifetime contracts – you’re not going anywhere – and we’re absolutely thrilled to welcome you to Cooperstown.”
It’s something that you can only dream of. I knew I could play baseball but I didn’t know at this level until later in my career what I was able to do. At age 19 it’s pretty much trying to survive day in and day out.
Idelson and Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark would soon outfit the Class of 2016 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.
Griffey, whose father ended a 19-year big league career in 1991 after playing alongside his son for two years, was known for his five-tool ability during 22 seasons spent mainly with the Mariners and Reds. With a memorable left-handed swing, he blasted 630 home runs, which ranks sixth all-time, and he still ranks 13th overall in total bases and 15th in runs batted in. A 13-time All-Star, he won game MVP honors in 1992, as well as 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards and the 1997 American League MVP.
“I’m very honored and humbled by this tremendous … wow,” is how an emotional Griffey began his opening remarks. “It’s something that you can only dream of. I knew I could play baseball but I didn’t know at this level until later in my career what I was able to do. At age 19 it’s pretty much trying to survive day in and day out. As I got older I think I started realizing around 35 my place in baseball.
"There was no place he would rather be than patrolling center field and taking his turn in the batter's box. Willie agreed with me."
Piazza set a standard behind the plate, hitting for both power and average by launching 427 home runs, including a record 396 among catchers, while posting a .308 lifetime batting average. An incredibly durable catcher, he led the National League in putouts four times and assists twice. A 12-time All-Star with the Dodgers and Mets, winning the Midsummer Classic MVP honors in 1996, he earned 10 Silver Slugger Awards and was the 1993 N.L. Rookie of the Year.
“First and foremost I would like to thank God for this blessing. I’m really honored. It’s really overwhelming,” said Piazza at the start of his opening address. “It’s so rewarding to be recognized by those who cover the sport and know the gravitas of this Hall and the history of the sport. It’s truly a special club.
“I remember signing with the Dodgers in 1988 and one of my first games was against the Instructional League team of the Seattle Mariners,” Piazza said. “I remember watching you and being awed by your athletic talent. And I knew that I was the complete polar opposite of you. But I knew I had one thing that I could do – get the bat to the zone and hit.”
The new Hall of Fame electees also made some news when they revealed what team’s cap they would be wearing in the Cooperstown institution’s Plaque Gallery. The plaques will be unveiled Hall of Fame Weekend this summer – Griffey’s bronze likeness donning a Mariners hat and Piazza sporting a Mets hat.
“I want to be very clear and say that as much as I loved coming up with the Dodgers and will always cherish my time there, I’m going to go in as a New York Met,” explained Piazza, who spent eight seasons with the Mets and seven with the Dodgers. “Again, I enjoyed coming up with the Dodgers and had an amazing career there as far as getting to know Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale and the Hall of Famers, but fortunately for me I eventually ended in New York and became a New York Met and truly have a special relationship here with the fans of the Mets.”
Piazza, who played in just 246 more games for the Mets than the Dodgers, added that his special connection with the passionate New York fanbase was a deciding factor.
Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum