Historic crowd cheers Griffey, Piazza into Hall of Fame
“My father's faith in me, often greater than my own, is the single most important factor of me being inducted into this Hall of Fame. Thank you, Dad,” he added. “I know he watched every game, cried when I cried, was angry when I was angry, and celebrated more than I could ever celebrate. He is a man deeply devoted to his family and after having suffered a major stroke a few years ago, is stronger willed than ever. We made it, Dad. The race is over. Now, it's time to smell the roses.
“My mother gave me the greatest gift a mother can give a child. She gave me the gift of my Catholic faith. This has had a profound impact on my career and it has given me patience, compassion, and hope.”
Before Piazza left the podium he shared an excerpt from the speech "Citizenship in a Republic" delivered by former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France in April 1910.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Piazza closed by saying, “I have been devoted to this great game of baseball and it is a worthy cause. We players share our love of baseball with millions of fans. That love bridges generation, impacts lives, and helps heal wounds. I want to thank you all for sharing this with me. God bless you and thank you very much.”
Griffey, 46, was elected to the Hall of Fame with record support, being named on 99.3 percent of BBWAA ballots in January. 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. A unanimous American League MVP selection in 1997 – leading the league with 56 home runs, 147 RBI and 125 runs scored - he currently ranks sixth on the career home run list with 630.
Unlike Piazza, Griffey addressed his family early on in his speech and was often choked up talking about those closest to him.
“To my dad, who taught me how to play this game, but more importantly he taught me how to be a man. How to work hard, how to look at yourself in the mirror each and every day, and not to worry about what other people are doing,” Griffey said. “See, baseball didn't come easy for him. He was the 29th round pick and had to choose between football and baseball. And where he's from in Donora, Pa., football is king. But I was born five months after his senior year and he made a decision to play baseball to provide for his family, because that's what men do. And I love you for that.
“To my mom, the strongest woman I know. Raising two boys, having to be mom and dad. Splitting time to go to one another's games, me and my brother. She was our biggest fan and our biggest critic,” he added. “To my brother Craig, my biggest competitor, day and night we had these epic battles, whether it was football, basketball or baseball. But no matter what, you never gave up, never gave in. I just have one problem with you: How come when you won all my friends knew about it? And we didn't even have cell phones back then.
“You're one of the people who pushed me the most, and I will always love you for that.”
Griffey also became emotional talking about his three children. Afterward, in a post-Induction Ceremony press conference, he explained.
“I think once I started looking at the kids made it a little tough,” he said. “I can look at anybody else and I’m good but to see them smile and them start to cry … I think those three are the only ones that can do that to me. But looking at them – they mean everything to me.”
Before Griffey read the final few lines of his speech, he reach under the podium and pulled out a ball cap. To the delight of the crowd, he placed it on his head backwards, a familiar site to fans of “The Kid.” Afterwards, he explained the maneuver was a last-minute suggestion from fellow Hall of Famer Frank Thomas.
“There are so many great things that I could talk about, but we would be here all day,” Griffey said. “So I am going to leave you with one thing: Out of my 22 years, I've learned that only one team will treat you the best, and that's your first team. I'm very proud to be a Seattle Mariner.
“The two misconceptions of me are I didn't work hard, and that everything I made it look easy. Just because I made it look easy doesn't mean that it was and you don't work hard and become a Hall of Famer without working day in and day out.
“I want to thank my family and friends, the fans, the Reds, the White Sox and Mariners for making this kid's dream come true. Thank you.”
The estimated 50,000 fans in attendance tied the 1999 Induction Ceremony crowd for Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, Orlando Cepeda, Frank Selee, Nestor Chylak and Smokey Joe Williams. The largest numbers came in 2007 with the induction of Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn, with an estimated crowd that year of 82,000.
Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum