Griffey, Piazza reflect the day before induction

Written by: Bill Francis

For Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza, their moment in history has arrived.

On Sunday afternoon, the five-tool center fielder and slugging catcher will be forever linked when they join the most exclusive team in baseball history. On a Cooperstown stage, in front of fans in the tens of thousands attending and potentially millions witnessing the action on live TV, they will be the guests of honor at the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Induction Ceremony.

During a press availability with the duo held inside Cooperstown’s Clark Sports Center on Saturday afternoon, both appeared genuinely humbled with their day in the sun only hours away.

“Obviously there’s an amazing high standard to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame,” said Piazza. “It’s a truly special moment for me. I’m very grateful. I’m excited to share this with my family and a few of the guys that I played with and was coached by in the past.

“It has truly been an amazing experience so far. I’m thrilled. I’m definitely nervous about tomorrow, but I’m looking forward to it. If we have the weather we have right now, I don’t think we’re going to have to do the short version of the speech.”

The weather Piazza was referring to on Saturday saw sunny skies and high temperatures in the low 80s. The forecast is for similar beautiful weather on Sunday.

“Not to put down any other sports Hall of Fames, but my wife and I met when it was later on in my career and she was like, ‘Man, this Hall of Fame is a big deal.’ And I go, ‘It’s the ONLY one people care about,’” Piazza said with a laugh. “But I know there are some amazing athletes out there so I don’t want anybody to take that the wrong way. I say that in jest.”

Arguably the greatest offensive catcher in the sport’s history, Piazza burst on the national scene with the Dodgers in 1993. The 12-time All-Star would later continue his success during a productive tenure with the Mets. The 10-time Silver Slugger Award winner retired having hit 427 home runs, 396 of which set a record for backstops.

Early Saturday morning, Piazza took time off from a round of golf to talk about a number of other topics surrounding his Hall of Fame induction.

“I went over it (speech) again last night, and I don’t want to get where I read it too much, but I like it and I think the fans will enjoy it,” Piazza said. “There’s a lot of very good stories and some funny stories in there.

“This is the culmination of a lot of work and a lot of people looking out for you. Nobody really goes in the Hall of Fame alone. You have a lot of people who have helped you along the way. For me it starts with my family but I don’t want to give away too much of my speech away, but that’s the theme.”

Piazza made special mention of the Mets fans who supported him during his tenure with the team from 1998 to 2005.

“There’s going to be a lot of Mets fans here, obviously, and I’m glad. We’re close to New York City, so I’m really thrilled to share it with them,” Piazza said. “It’s just amazing when you get embraced in New York. It’s like being part of a family. And for me at first there was a little bit of a feeling out period, but it has come full circle now. So to go in as a Met is something amazing.”

And then he let the cat out the bag: “I’m definitely going to cry.”

“I went on Jimmy Kimmel and he said, ‘Don’t worry. Real men only cry at funerals and when they get elected to the Hall of Fame.’”

Piazza even told a funny story about a recent Cooperstown jog.

“I was running and I saw these kids in Mets hats and I was like, ‘Hey guys,’ and the kids came up and said ‘Hi’ and the dad came running out. I guess he thought I was, you know, he was a little scared,” a smiling Piazza said. “He’s like, ‘Who is this guy talking to my kids?’ then he was like, ‘Mike.’ He was a guy from Long Island.”

Griffey, elected to the Hall of Fame with record support, brought an exuberance to the game that only enhanced a superior skill set exhibited for more than two decades. Spending most of his career in center field for the Mariners and Reds, the 13-time All-Star could do it all on a ballfield, winning 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards as well as seven Silver Slugger Awards.

Mike Piazza and his wife, Alicia Rickter, wave to the crowds lining Main Street during the Hall of Fame's Parade of Legends. (Milo Stewart Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

“This is such an honor,” said Griffey to the media Saturday afternoon. “I’m overwhelmed and excited at the same time. I’ve got friends and family that have traveled not only from throughout the United States but one of my friends came from Israel to be here. This is something that I can’t describe. The last four or five months have been just nonstop; it’s been a blur. I think my dad has a bigger grin that I do.”

“And it’s an honor to be going in with a Mariners cap on my plaque. The Mariners did not have a whole lot of history when I was drafted. But once you get past a certain point in your career when you finally realize you have a chance to be a Hall of Fame member and I might be able to choose what team I wanted to go in as is something special. And obviously it was going to be the Mariners because of the history I have with the team.”

While Hall of Famers Piazza and Griffey will wait until Sunday to be inducted, the Ford C. Frick Award and J.G. Taylor Spink Award winners were honored during the Hall of Fame Awards Presentation. held mid-afternoon on Saturday at historic Doubleday Field.

The event, which featured a stage filled with Hall of Famers, saw the posthumous presentation of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters to Graham McNamee and the presentation of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for writers to longtime Boston Globe writer Dan Shaughnessy.

“It is the passion of the fans that make the whole thing go,” Shaughnessy said in his acceptance speech. “Baseball has provided me with a timeline of my life. Baseball connects us to our past and our future.”

In an earlier interview with the Hall of Fame, Shaughnessy said, “It’s an honor beyond all honors and I’m thrilled to death to be here. It makes the hair stand up on your forearms. I’m really appreciative that the Hall is so nice to the baseball writers and the fact that this great institution still honors the hard work that the writers do. It’s a great honor to join the part recipients of this award.

“I love baseball the most. I know most about it. I was a beat guy for the Orioles for five years, covered the Red Sox for a million years. Growing up it was the one I played the most and I read about the most. That’s what’s so daunting about the people who are here. I just saw Brooks Robinson in the lobby here and I used to pretend I was him when I was a kid. It’s the best game. I know there are things wrong with it but it’s still the most perfect game and here we are in the most perfect place to celebrate it.”

The Awards Presentation also featured an appearance by New York City Fire Department Battalion Chief Vin Mavaro, who shared his thoughts and memories about baseball’s role in helping both New York City and the nation to recover from the 9/11 attacks.

Prior to Saturday afternoon’s media availability with Piazza and Griffey, Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson held a press conference at the Clark Sports Center regarding a series of announcements from the Hal of Fame Board of Directors. In addition to Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith being elected to the Board, there has been a restructuring of the Era Committee’s elections and changes to the Frick Award balloting and election process.

“He (Smith) is a great addition to our board,” Idelson said. “When you think about the type of people you want on your Board, you want people who are invested in the institution. There’s nobody invested more in this institution than Ozzie Smith. He’s there at every turn, he’s at every Hall of Fame Classic, and starting with his induction year when he founded his PLAY Ball with Ozzie Smith event to raise funds for our education program and the Ozzie Smith Diversity Scholarship Program, it’s been nonstop. I can’t tell you, on behalf of the Board, how thrilled we are that he’s accepted the position. I have no doubt that he’s going to make a phenomenal Board member.

Mariners fans weren't in short supply along Main Street this Saturday, during the Hall of Fame's Parade of Legends, as Ken Griffey Jr. made a special appearance. (Larry Brunt / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

“Other news out of our Board over the last couple of meetings are some changes to the Era Committees. As you know, if you’ve been covering the Hall of Fame for a while, that that is not unusual. It’s about staying relevant. The Board made some changes … most notably you’ll see a stronger look for more modern players of those who have fallen off the BBWAA ballot. No group of candidates has been shut out.”

As for the Frick Award, categories now include Current Major League Markets, National Voices, and Broadcast Beginnings.

Saturday afternoon at the Clark Sports Center also had a press conference with Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who suffered a heart attack last September and has been making great progress in his recovery since then.

“I never thought that I wasn’t healthy,” said Carew in an opening statement to the media. “I always looked at myself as a healthy person, eating right and doing the right things. I was always told if you’re having a heart attack there’s going to be a sense, somethings going to happen. The only thing that happened to me was that I felt like Joe Frazier took a good right and hit me in the chin and put me down.

“I felt like I was given a second chance – a second chance to help other people and let people know that it’s very important to take care of their hearts. So my job now, along with my wife, is to try and travel the country as much as we can and letting people understand how important their heart is and they have to take care of it.”

Hall of Fame Membership

There is no simpler, and more essential, way to demonstrate your support than to sign on as a Museum Member.

Carew has connected with the American Heart Association to start the Heart of 29 Campaign, named for his longtime jersey number.

For many of the returning Hall of Famers and their guests, Saturday morning began at 8 a.m. with the start of the Hall of Famer Golf Tournament at Leatherstocking Golf Course at The Otesaga Resort Hotel.

Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk was asked what being a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame fraternity mean to him.

“There’s only 69 of us living right now,” Fisk said. “I don’t think there is any other profession where you have that many guys that are considered that talented to be involved in such an exclusive fraternity.”

George Brett, the Hall of Fame third baseman, said he’s come to every Induction Ceremony but two since he was elected in 1999.

“I always look forward to coming,” Brett said. “It’s a beautiful place.”

The busy Saturday concluded in the early evening with thousands lining Main Street as the Hall of Fame Parade of Legends returned for its seventh year. With the national pastime’s greatest living legends seated in trucks, fans cheered, waved and clapped with each glimpse, the procession coming to a halt in front of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

The Sunday, July 24 Induction Ceremony will take place at 1:30 p.m. on the grounds outside of the Clark Sports Center, which is located on lower Susquehanna Avenue, unless severe weather cancels the event. Follow the Hall of Fame on Twitter @BaseballHall for the latest updates.

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

2016 BBWAA Career Excellence Award Winner Dan Shaughnessy

2016 Ford C. Frick Award Winner Graham McNamee

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2016 BBWAA Career Excellence Award Winner Dan Shaughnessy

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