Brett, Ryan, Yount express mutual respect after first-ballot elections
George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount were unquestionably three of the most iconic ballplayers in the late 20th century. And on Jan. 6, 1999, they became first-ballot electees to the Hall of Fame.
The trio gathered in New York to speak with the media the day after their election. It was a fitting site of reflection for Brett, whose Royals had held a bitter rivalry with the Yankees.
“To this day, whenever I see Lou Piniella or one of those Yankees, we talk about how I hated those guys,” Brett told the Kansas City Star. “It was the way baseball was meant to be played.”
Brett enjoyed a prolific career across 21 seasons, all in Kansas City. He hit .305 with 3,154 hits, 665 doubles and 317 home runs. A West Virginia native who grew up in Southern California, Brett’s accolades included a Gold Glove Award, three Silver Slugger Awards, three batting titles, 13 All-Star selections and the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1980, when he hit .390 with a 1.118 OPS.
Brett, selected on 488 of 497 BBWAA ballots, even managed respectable numbers – a .287 average and six extra-base hits in 101 at-bats – against the often unhittable Ryan.
Ryan, too, had earned the favor of more than 98 percent of voters in his first year on the ballot (98.78), coming within a fraction of Tom Seaver’s then-record of 98.84 percent.
“We’re going to be looking for the six writers who must have never seen him pitch,” said George Bush, then the governor of Texas, referring to Ryan’s mark of 491 votes out of a possible 497.
“Nolan Ryan had been elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame, and he took the news with the same flat acceptance of events that had carried him through 27 major-league seasons, 324 wins and 5,714 strikeouts,” wrote the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The right-hander from Alvin, Texas, had displayed astounding longevity as he pitched to age 46, spending time with the Mets, Angels, Astros and Rangers. Nobody has ever struck out more batters or thrown as many no-hitters as Ryan’s seven. Nor, arguably, has anyone intimidated batters more than Ryan, whose blazing fastball and sharp curveball made the batter’s box a dangerous place.
“I faced both of them when they were rookies,” Ryan told the Associated Press of his fellow electees. “I remember Robin was only 18 but he choked up and stood up on the plate. You couldn’t intimidate him. He’d hang in there.”
“I wasn’t intimidated?” Yount responded. “I must have hit it well. It took three or four years for me to catch up with that fastball. If you didn’t turn it up a notch, you were in big trouble.”
Yount hit .232 with a pair of home runs and 10 RBI in 69 at-bats against Ryan. He earned votes on 77.5 percent of BBWAA ballots,
Like Brett, Yount spent his entire career with one team – the Brewers – and boasted a well-stocked trophy case. The two-time AL MVP and three-time Silver Slugger was a fixture at shortstop in Milwaukee from 1974-84. He then played another decade of outfield for the Brewers while remaining a steady contributor at the plate. The career .285 hitter totaled 3,142 hits, 251 home runs and 271 stolen bases.
“I like what Robin said yesterday: He tried to play every game like it was his last, and I, basically, tried to do the same thing,” Brett told the Star.
“To go in with two guys like this,” Yount said, “it just doesn’t get any better than that.”
The three legends were inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside Veterans Committee electee Orlando Cepeda on July 25, 1999.
Justin Alpert is a digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
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