Class of 2020 savors their induction experience

Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series
Written by: Bill Francis

It took a longer time that usual, but the wait finally ended on Sept. 8 for the Class of 2020.

In speeches crafted over two years time, heartfelt messages were relayed, thanks were offered to those who helped throughout the journey and a deep appreciation for the game was conveyed.

Despite some ominous weather forecasts throughout the week, when the National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony began Sept. 8 it was greeted with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-70s. In other words, perfect baseball weather.

And seeing their bronze likenesses on a stage erected outside the Clark Sports Center – about a mile south of the Hall of Fame – for the first time were members of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020: legendary Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, five-tool outfielder Larry Walker and catcher extraordinaire Ted Simmons. A fourth member of the Class of 2020, longtime union leader Marvin Miller, passed away at the age of 95 on Nov. 27, 2012.

Because the 2020 Induction Ceremony was canceled due to the pandemic, the 2021 Induction Ceremony took place 780 days after the last induction, on July 21, 2019. So when the time arrived this year, the ceremony got underway with 31 returning Hall of Famers on stage, an estimated 20,000 excited fans in attendance and a national television audience via the MLB Network.

Attending the induction as special invited guests were former ballplayers Tino Martinez, CC Sabathia, Jorge Posada, Tim Wallach and Andruw Jones along with NBA legends Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing.

The ceremony began with Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark saying to applause from an anticipatory crowd: “It's often said that the greatest things in life are worth waiting for. And this has been worth waiting for, the induction of our Hall of Fame Class of 2020.

“With their inductions, the Hall of Fame will now have 333 members,” she added. “And they have all had incredible baseball careers, they define the greatness of the game, with their character, their integrity and their sportsmanship. They are our legends.”

Soon enough, an empty stage was soon filled with returning Hall of Famers. With introductions from MLB Network’s Brian Kenny, Mike Mussina strolled out to chants of “Moooose!,” Goose Gossage brought a cascade of “Goooose” and Reggie Jackson arrived wearing a Jeter Yankees jersey.

After a soulful musical interlude, with former Jeter teammate Bernie Williams performing on guitar – accompanied by saxophonist Richie Cannata – his interpretation of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a solemn moment came when the Hall of Fame recognized that since April 2020, 10 Hall of Famers have passed away. The legendary names include Al Kaline, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Tommy Lasorda, Don Sutton and Hank Aaron.

“The last two years have been extraordinarily sad for the entire baseball world,” Clark said. “Since our 2019 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, the Hall of Fame family has lost 10 of our members. Men who embody the qualities of character, integrity, sportsmanship and who loved being here in Cooperstown with you and with their Hall of Fame family.”

Amid chants of “Der-ek Je-ter” from a large contingent of the Yankees faithful in attendance, the fan favorite began his speech by talking about writing his speech.

“For the past 20 months everybody asked me how I was coming with my speech. To be honest with you, for 18 of those months my response was I haven't even started yet,” Jeter recalled. “When I finally began, I had no idea. How do you even start, where do you begin, who do you thank? And, quite frankly, considering the circumstances, who am I going to be saying it to and in front of? What can I say in 15 minutes that can cover my entire career? You want to say something meaningful, impactful and memorable. Finally I just said, you know, stop overthinking and just write down how you feel.

“Everyone asked about nerves they assume it’s because of the speech, what I may say or not say, the number of people in attendance or watching at home. No, no. The nerves are because these guys behind me right now and all of those that are a part of the Hall of Fame family. The great thing about baseball is its history. That's what makes it so special.”

One of the most celebrated players in baseball history, Jeter, 47, played all of his 20 seasons as shortstop for the Yankees. The 1996 American League Rookie of the Year would be named to 14 All-Star teams, capture five Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards, and finish in the top 10 of AL MVP balloting eight times. Retiring after 2014, Jeter finished with 3,465 hits – including 200 or more eight times – which places him sixth on the all-time list. Not only did he help lead his team to five World Series titles – winning MVP honors in 2000 – but in his record 158 postseason games batted .308 with 200 hits, 111 runs scored, 20 home runs and 61 RBI.

After thanking those who helped him along the way, sharing stories of his successes and failures, and the positive effect of family, “The Captain” concluded with a message to the players in Major League Baseball right now and the young kids who maybe started out with a dream just like he had.

“This is a game that requires sacrifice, dedication, discipline and focus. It's a game of failure, it teaches you teamwork and it teaches humility,” Jeter said. “The one common thread with all of us here on stage is that we understand that there's no one individual bigger than the game. The game goes on. And it goes on because of the great fans we have.

“So take care of it, protect it, respect it. Don't take the time you have to play for granted. And remember the most important thing, like I said earlier, it's more than just a game. The greatest to ever play in the Hall of Fame family, they're all watching. And I personally can't wait to welcome a few of you on this very stage, just as I as I have been by so many others. So thank you all once again. It's been a hell of a ride.”

Simmons, 72, was the rare catcher who could hit for average and power. During a 21-year career – the first 13 spent with the Cardinals before stints with the Brewers and Braves – the switch-hitter retired after 1988 with a .285 batting average, 483 doubles, 248 home runs and 1,389 RBI. An eight-time All-Star and Silver Slugger Award winner, his 1,771 games caught at the time of his retirement ranked eighth all-time. Among big leaguers who played at least 50 percent of their games as a catcher, Simmons ranks second all-time in hits, doubles and RBI.

“There are many roads to Cooperstown,” said Simmons, who was elected, along with Miller, by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in December 2019. “One look at this very special group behind me makes that clear. For some it comes quick, and for others it takes some time. For those like myself the path is long. And even though my path fell on the longer side, I would not change a thing.”

Simmons also looked at his time in baseball front offices and realized how lucky he had been to spend his entire working life in the game that he loves.

“For those of you who are concerned that our game has changed, it has. Strikeouts, walks and homers today is pretty much what you get. But our game can change back,” he said. “And eventually another George Brett will surface. He’ll hit .360, he’ll homer 40 times, he’ll drive in 160 runs, he’ll strikeout 75 times, he’ll walk 100 times, his on-base percentage will be .420. Our game is fluid. Hitters will begin to beat the defensive shifts and the pendulum will swing back. The game evolves. It's just a matter of time.”

After recognizing his family, Simmons ended his speech making special note of his wife and reciting a lyric from “The Beatles.”

“Maryanne, my partner, my companion, my equal,” he said. “She remains the same girl that listened with me, not so long ago, to the lyrics written by some pretty fabulous folks back in the day. And those words. ‘And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.’ Peace and love, sweetheart. We finally got here.”

Walker, born in Canada, would eventually eschew his beloved hockey for another country’s national pastime. A superb right-fielder – he finished with 154 outfield assists – he was also a menace with a bat in his hand. He starred for 17 big league seasons as a member of the Expos, Rockies and Cardinals. A seven-time Gold Glove Award winner, five-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger Award honoree, the lefty swinger topped the National League in batting three times. Walker, who captured the 1997 NL MVP Award by batting .366 with 49 home runs and 130 RBI, is one of four players – along with Hank Aaron, George Brett and Willie Mays – to finish his career with at least a .300 batting average, 300 home runs and 200 stolen bases.

After snapping a few photos of the crowd from behind the podium, Walker, 54, mentioned a unique connection with a fellow Hall of Famer sitting behind him.

“A couple of years ago I fell short in the voting. I don't do much on social media, but I did one of those hashtag things on Twitter and it read #FergieNeedsAFriend,” Walker said. “I was, of course, referring to Ferguson Jenkins, the only Canadian in Cooperstown. Today I finally get to join Fergie as the second Canadian in the Hall of Fame and the first Canadian position player. Fergie, it's an honor.”

The native of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, finished by saying he’d never considered himself a Hall of Famer at anything.

“Not a thing. I honestly see myself as an average guy and I'm good with average. I've lived my life trying to never get too high and never get too low,” he said. “But to stand on the stage right now and tell you that I'm feeling average would be a complete lie. My feet have not touched the ground all day.

“And I'll say this again: This honor really doesn't happen without every single one of my teammates. Doesn't happen without any of them. And in my eyes every one of your names are on that plaque as well. I'm truly honored humbled to be part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It is a privilege to be part of this family right here.”

Former Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Don Fehr spoke about Miller, the pioneering baseball labor leader who revolutionized the sport as executive director for the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966 to 1982.

By creating a culture of solidarity and empowering players on their rights as workers, Miller would be at the forefront of one of the most successful unions in the history of American labor. While he most famously help dismantle the reserve clause which brought the dawn of free agency, his successful tenure also included the game’s first collective bargaining agreement, which had the first rise in the minimum salary in a decade, and salary arbitration. By the time Miller retired, the average salary of a big leaguer increased almost 10 times from when he took over.

“It’s because of Marvin’s leadership the union became a symbol of what could be accomplished and the good that could be done,” Fehr said. “It was hard to find unions who reached that goal most of the last several decades. And that is why 39 years after he retired his name is still on the forefront.

“Last of all, the players I had the privilege to represent, on behalf of them, and I know I speak for everyone behind me, I want to say thank you, Marvin. Baseball was not the same after your 10 years as it was before. It was and is much better for everyone. You brought out the best of us. And you did us proud.”

The National Baseball Hall of Fame’s 2022 Induction Weekend will take place July 22-25, with the Induction Ceremony scheduled for Sunday, July 24.

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

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Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series