Kurkjian, Graney honored on eve of Class of 2022 Induction Ceremony

Written by: Bill Francis

Now less than a day away from reaching the pinnacle of their sport, members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022 outwardly acted calm and relaxed.

For David Ortiz, Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva, the hours are counting off until their Induction Ceremony on Sunday, July 24, at 1:30 pm. The late members of this year’s class include Bud Fowler, Gil Hodges, Minnie Miñoso and Buck O’Neil. Their inclusion as members of the game’s greatest team will raise the total of those with bronze plaques in Cooperstown to 340 elected members.

During a Saturday afternoon press availability at the Clark Sports Center, Ortiz – who was the fan-favorite at Saturday evening's Parade of Legends on Main Street – shared his thoughts on the day the National Pastime’s greats are honored.

“I’m very excited. I got to hang out with a couple of other Hall of Famers. Pretty much all of them, basically, and they give me this huge welcome,” Ortiz said. “Throughout my career I got to meet all of them pretty much. It’s an honor.”

Big Papi would share that he spent part of the previous night with fellow Hall of Famers and Dominicans Pedro Martinez and Vladimir Guerrero.

“Pedro is a big brother. Me and Pedro, we go way back. We have so many memories together,” Ortiz said. “And last night, he was basically giving me a speech, telling me what to do tomorrow. But the most important thing is he just didn’t want me to lose my focus. He just wants me to be me. Don’t forget about where I come from. And just have fun. That’s what it’s all about.”

Earlier in the morning, during the Baseball Hall of Fame Golf Tournament held at the Leatherstocking Golf Course, Kaat was asked about this weekend.

“I’d say the one word that first comes to mind is ‘humbling.’ As you know, I waited a long time so it’s not like a lot of the first timers that are kind of antsy about whether they’d get it in the first ballot or second ballot,” Kaat said. “I didn’t know if I’d ever get in. So I’m just taking it all in. I look around at some of the great players when I went through the Museum and I just say, ‘Man, it’s hard to believe I’m actually in the same fraternity with them.’”

“It’s been fun seeing all the guys come in. And everybody is very kind, saying, ‘You deserve to be here.’ And that’s a good feeling. It’s like when you’re a young player, and you’re just new in the big leagues. The key is to slow the game down and just take it easy and so that’s what I’m trying to do.”

For Oliva, a frequent visitor to Cooperstown, this time is different.

“I’ve had the opportunity to be here in Cooperstown many times for the inductions of Paul Molitor, Kirby Puckett, Rod Carew, Orlando Cepeda, many, many more. But the last time I came, I said the only way I come back to Cooperstown is if a get elected to the Hall of Fame. Otherwise, I will never come back again,” Oliva said. “But I have this opportunity now. I hope I have the chance to come back again next year. I hope that God gives me good health so I can come back here a few times.”

The 2022 Hall of Fame Awards Presentation took place at the Alice Busch Opera Theater in the afternoon. Tim Kurkjian of ESPN received the Baseball Writers’ of America’s Career Excellence Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing, while Cleveland’s Jack Graney was posthumously honored as the Ford C. Frick Award winner for excellence in broadcasting.

“It’s such an honor to be here. This has been the most overwhelming, most overpowering experience of my life,” Kurkjian said. “The day I won this award I got a text from Jim Kaat saying, ‘Tim we are connected now.’ Connected forever to a player as great and a man as great as Jim Kaat is the thrill of a lifetime for me.”

He then joked about his size compared to Ortiz’s.

“I checked with the Elias Sports Bureau, which I do on virtually everything, and we’ve established that it is the largest disparity in size between a player being inducted and a writer being honored in the same year.”

Kurkjian would later say that he’s loved baseball all his life.

“And that love for the game, not in any sort of grace or talent, has carried my career,” Kurkjian said. “Baseball was the primary language spoken in my house growing up. My dad was a really good player. And he taught us three boys how to play the game, how to love the game, and he gave us a great feel for the game. It was a privilege to cover the game 40 years ago, and now 40 years later, it is still a privilege. Baseball is the greatest game. It’s the best game of all time. It’s the hardest game in the world to play. It is a beautiful game.”

Perry Smith, the granddaughter of Graney, spoke on his behalf.

“I grew up with him just as a wonderful grandfather. To me he was always telling jokes, which were pretty corny. Little did I know back in Cleveland, he was very much in demand as a banquet speaker and he probably told those same jokes,” Smith said. “But he and I bonded over cars and driving. Back home in Cleveland in the offseason he sold Ford automobiles. So he taught me to parallel park in his beautiful 1962 Ford Thunderbird.”

“If Jack were here today, he would never tell you about his accomplishments. He was such a humble man. And he probably was embarrassed by praise. If someone would say to him Jack, you were such a great broadcaster, his reply was always, ‘That and a dime will get you a cup of coffee.’ But here’s how Jack described his career. He said, ‘I always tried to give the fans an honest account. It was a tremendous responsibility. And at all times I kept in mind that I was the eyes of the radio audience. I just tried to do my best and I hope my best was good enough.’

“To me, Jack Graney’s legacy in Cleveland is summed up this way: ‘They say on a warm summer’s day, when a cool breeze is blowing in from Lake Erie, you could walk down any street in Cleveland and you’d hear Jack Graney’s voice coming from every house on the block.”

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
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