Class of 2018 Savors Hall Call

Written by: Bill Francis

Together for the first time since their ultimate sports fantasy became reality, less than 24 hours since their place in baseball history was assured, the quartet of Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman arrived in New York City among the brightest stars over a Manhattan skyline.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame’s newest members took part in a midafternoon press conference held at the St. Regis Hotel on Thursday, Jan. 25, the four speaking with the assembled media about their journey to becoming a member of the National Pastime’s most exclusive fraternity.

The Hall of Fame announced its newest members, as selected by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, the previous day. The six-member Hall of Fame Class of 2018 will also include Modern Baseball Era electees Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, who were elected in December.

The Hall of Fame’s four newest members added some special news during the press conference when each announced the cap they would be supporting on their Hall of Fame plaques beginning this summer: Jones – Braves; Thome – Indians; Guerrero – Angels; Hoffman – Padres.

Jack O’Connell, the secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA, began the day’s ceremonies.

“The (BBWAA has) elected 16 players in the last five elections, the most ever in such a period,” O’Connell said. “These four men, by any measure a distinguished class, are the continuation of that parade.

“Gentlemen, come July, you’ll be exactly where you should be.”

Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson, up next, gave his perspective on the long odds of ever joining the Hall of Fame lineup.

“I think we all know one of the most difficult career paths in the world is to the major leagues,” Idelson said. “And in the long history of professional baseball, (a little) more than 19,000 men have been privileged to play Major League Baseball and wear a major league uniform. One percent of them, one out of a 100, make it to Cooperstown. So that’s really how special the Hall of Fame election is and these men are among the select few.

“Gentlemen, you’re now teammates forever with Jack Morris and Alan Trammell. The greatest team ever assembled, the Hall of Fame team. We’re giving you all lifetime contracts, I’m pleased to say, which means you’re not going anywhere. And we’re thrilled to welcome you to Cooperstown.”

Soon enough, the BBWAA Class of 2018 were being outfitted with their new uniforms from their final team – white jerseys with a red-lettered “Hall of Fame” across the chest and blue caps with the Hall of Fame logo in front.

Trevor Hoffman meets the media for the first time as a Hall of Famer, during the 2018 Hall of Fame Inductee Press Conference. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

This year’s BBWAA ballot featured 33 players. Of the 422 ballots cast, 317 votes were needed for the 75 percent threshold necessary for election. And for the fifth consecutive year, the BBWAA elected at least two new members to the Hall of Fame.

For Jones, the longtime Atlanta Braves third baseman, it was his first year on the BBWAA ballot and he received 97.2 percent of the vote; Guerrero, the free-swinging right fielder, was in his second year on the ballot and received 92.9 percent; Thome, the lefty-swinging slugger with more than 600 home runs, received 89.8 percent in his first year on the ballot, and Trevor Hoffman, the long-serving Padres closer with more than 600 saves, in his third year on the ballot, received 79.9 percent.

Guerrero, the first Dominican position player and third native from the Dominican Republic overall elected to the Hall of Fame, joining Pedro Martinez and Juan Marichal, shared his thoughts through Spanish language interpreter and Angels broadcaster Jose Mota on being elected to the Hall of Fame in his opening statement.

“I’m forever thankful for this beautiful moment,” said Guerrero, who turns 43 on Feb. 9, making him the youngest current Hall of Famer. “I’m very thankful for my family, especially for my mom, who is here. She gets to see the reward and the prize of what everybody wanted to see when I came into the world.

“This is not only about my small little town in the Dominican Republic. It’s about the whole country. And it’s about celebrating Latin America. And to see that I did over 16 years in the big leagues makes me feel very privileged. I would like to see more Latin Americans come and be a part of this whole special presentation and announcement into the Hall of Fame.”

Hoffman, who will be joining fellow closers Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Dennis Eckersley and Bruce Sutter in Cooperstown’s bullpen, was short and sweet in his opening remarks.

Chipper Jones (left) shares a laugh with Jim Thome during the 2018 Hall of Fame Inductee Press Conference. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

“I’m blessed to have my family with me here today and sharing this moment and future moments to come,” the 50-year-old Hoffman said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to be up here today. As a closer I’m going to try and keep it short.”

Jones, 45, played 19 seasons, including 13 years where the Braves made the postseason. An eight-time All-Star and the 1999 NL Most Valuable Player, Jones topped the 100-RBI mark nine times and had eight seasons with at least 100 runs scored.

“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate these guys. These guys were great players on the field – they’re even better people off of it,” Jones said. “I would like to thank everybody who had a hand in helping me get here. All my friends and family from the little town of Pierson, Fla., Jacksonville, Fla., where I went to high school, and then obviously a ton of people in the Braves’ organization in Atlanta. This is going to be a cool ride. I want to share it with each and every one of you, as well as these guys sitting up here.

“It is truly a blessing to be sitting up here in the company of greatness with these guys.”

Thome, 47, agreed with Jones’ sentiments.

“I couldn’t be going in with three better guys,” Thome said. “They exemplified what the game was all about, during my career, watching each of them. Playing against Chipper at a young age, facing Hoffy, watching Vlad swing at balls that hit dirt that (he would hit) out of the ballpark.

“To be here today, I have to tell you, is a little surreal. Going to sleep (Wednesday night), I said to my wife, ‘I’m a first-ballot Hall of Famer.’ This is very, very special and I don’t take it for granted.”

Hoffman would later be asked about missing being elected to the Hall of Fame by only a few votes last year.

Vladimir Guerrero answers questions from reporters during the 2018 Hall of Fame Inductee Press Conference. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

“You certainly don’t assume anything in this game whether you’re playing or post-career,” Hoffman said. “I certainly was ecstatic with the progress of the vote for the first two years to where I was at last year. I was excited to be a part of that potential group last year, but I couldn’t be more excited about the group I’m with here.

“It’s a very difficult process that all the writers do go through. It’s a labor of love. Once you finally do get that call, you see the 212 (New York City area code) on the phone, it’s something you can’t really prepare for. It’s something, as you saw with all the families and getting to share that moment, it’s once-in-a-lifetime.”

Guerrero was also asked to share his thoughts on the life-changing call.

“The one thing that came to mind after I retired is knowing when I was going to appear on the ballot,” Guerrero said. “I was excited when I appeared on the ballot last year, even though I came up short, but the second year on the ballot and to be elected means a whole lot. It’s still very special to know that this day came about. You think about it as you’re counting the days after retirement, but as a Dominican and as a Latino, certainly the amount of pride that exists inside of me today cannot be replaced.”

Asked when he thought about being a potential Hall of Famer, Jones replied that he didn’t know if he could ever really pinpoint a time.

“I think as you’re coming down to the end of your career you’re watching your teammates go in and you’re watching your manager go in and your general manager go in,” Jones said. “As you start to hit some milestones you always wonder where you’re going to fall, where your numbers are going to put you, what people are going to think about your career and the numbers that you put up. I never really put much stock in it.

Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones and Jim Thome pose for a photo after they meet the media for the first time as Hall of Famers. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

“I spent 23 years in pro ball, 19 in Atlanta, and I just tried to put the best resume up possible. At the end of 2012 when it was over, everything that I could control was done with. It was out of my hands then. You might sit back and wonder where your place is, but ultimately it’s in 430 people’s hands (the BBWAA voters) and you just have to trust in that. What I could control I did to the best of my ability for 19 years. But it was reaffirmed where my place was yesterday and I’m very, very honored for that.”

According to Thome, longevity creates an opportunity to go into the Hall of Fame.

“You don’t really dissect it,” he added. “You’re blessed, you’re fortunate to play 22 years and then it’s you guys that get the opportunity to select us for a special day like this.”

Hoffman admitted he never really thought about the Hall of Fame.

“Randy Smith [Padres general manager] brought me over on June 23, 1993, and I walked in the clubhouse and there’s ‘Mr. Padre,’ Tony Gwynn, sitting there. I got a chance to watch him for eight years,” Hoffman said. “By no means did I ever think I was to that level of being a player. To watch him command a city, command a locker room, I was just a little brother watching. To ultimately have the opportunity, I’m pinching myself. It’s something I don’t think has even really set in.”

For Guerrero, the anticipation was the most difficult.

“It has sunk in but it takes me back to yesterday and the waiting, which is the hardest part,” Guerrero said. “Waiting and the phone doesn’t ring and I’ve got my whole family at my house on Long Island. We keep waiting right by the phone and it doesn’t ring. When it finally came it was just joy all over the house, my family members all celebrating.”

The four BBWAA electees will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 29, at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown along with Modern Baseball Era electees Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, who were elected in December.

Ford C. Frick Award winner Bob Costas and Spink Award winner Sheldon Ocker will be honored during Induction Weekend at the Awards Presentation on Saturday, July 28, at historic Doubleday Field.

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