Hall of Fame Class of 2019 prepares for Induction Weekend

Written by: Janey Murray

For Mariano Rivera, the feeling of being the first person unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame could only be compared to one thing.

“I told someone, it feels like when you just won the championship⁠ – the World Series,” Rivera said. “That level of intensity. I still am honored...It won’t change my life, but it’s something that you know that you were the first one. That is special.”

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Six months ago, Rivera, the dominant closer who spent his entire career with the New York Yankees, got the call notifying him he had been elected. Soon, the Class of 2019 will be in Cooperstown to be recognized for their accomplishments and presented with their bronze Hall of Fame plaques.

Rivera, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina were all elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in January. They, along with Today’s Game Era inductees Harold Baines and Lee Smith, will officially join the ranks of baseball’s greatest when they are inducted on Sunday, July 21.

The five living members of the Class of 2019 participated in conference calls with the media on Thursday, July 11 and Friday, July 12 in advance of their upcoming inductions. All five will make speeches at the Induction Ceremony, thanking those who contributed to their careers, sharing memories from their careers and voicing thoughts on the state of baseball today.

“I’ve been done with it about a couple weeks now, just been touching up a little,” Smith said of his speech. “I’m speechless. I’m so fired up about it. That takes a lot to do.”

While Rivera will give much of his speech in English, he said he plans to include some Spanish at the end to address audience members from his home country of Panama.

“Coming from Panama in a small village called Puerto Caimito, and representing at the highest level there is in baseball, to me, it was a privilege,” Rivera said. “I’m sure that there will be some flags going up in Cooperstown that July 21. I will feel proud. I don’t know sentimental I might get or not, but definitely, I will be proud that my people will be there supporting me and cheering for me the way that they did through my whole career.”

The elections of Rivera and Martinez bring the number of Latino Hall of Famers to 15 as baseball’s popularity continues to grow throughout the Americas.

“I know that people from Puerto Rico are proud of their athletes and accomplishments,” said Martinez, who was born in the New York City but raised in Dorado, Puerto Rico. “It’s a great honor to represent Puerto Rico.”

Along with the speeches, the ceremony will also be highlighted by the unveiling of each new inductee’s bronze Hall of Fame plaque, depicting a portrait of each inductee and a description of their accomplishments.

On four of the six plaques, the inductees will don a cap with the logo of their former teams: for Baines, the Chicago White Sox; Martinez, the Seattle Mariners; Rivera, the Yankees; and Smith, the Chicago Cubs.

But for Halladay and Mussina, the cap will remain blank, as they split their careers between two different teams: Halladay with the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, and Mussina with the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles.

“I don’t feel like I can honestly pick one organization over the other,” Mussina, the former Orioles and Yankees starting pitcher, said. “Both organizations were tremendously involved in this, and I just don’t feel right picking one over the other, so the decision to go without one logo versus the other logo was the only decision that I could make that I felt good about.”

The Class of 2019 represents three distinct groups of players: Two exceptional designated hitters, two dominant starting pitchers and two lights-out closers.

For Baines and Martinez, being a full-time designated hitter wasn’t always in the plan. Baines began as an outfielder and Martinez as a third baseman. But when persistent injuries necessitated the switch, both embraced their situations, becoming experts at their craft. Baines batted over .300 eight times and reached the 20-homer mark in 11 seasons. Martinez retired with a batting average of .312, an on-base percentage of .418 and a .515 slugging percentage.

“I didn’t have a choice,” Baines said. “I had injuries. I had to dig deep into that side of the game if I wanted to stay in the game, and if I couldn’t hit, I would be out of a job. So I had to really do my homework and study pitchers.”

Halladay and Mussina, on the other hand, began as starting pitchers and remained at the same position throughout their professional careers, reaching milestones and bringing consistency to all the teams they played for.

Halladay tossed two no-hitters and led his league in complete games seven times. Mussina finished in the top six of the American League Cy Young Award voting nine times and posted a career ERA of 3. 68.

With the elections of Rivera and Smith, the top three all-time saves leaders are now enshrined in Cooperstown, bringing apt recognition to a role that is uniquely challenging.

“Being out there, being that last man standing; it’s just something about hitters. They don’t want to be that 27th out,” Smith said. “You find so many guys that pitch the seventh and eighth inning and they’ll be nasty, and then when they get an opportunity to close, they fail.”

Smith, who ranks third all-time with 478 saves, said in his speech he plans to discuss the importance of relief pitching – a concept familiar to Rivera, who is MLB’s all-time saves leader with 652 and was even more dominant in the postseason, winning five World Series titles and posting a 0.70 postseason ERA. Rivera relished pitching at the end of games in high leverage situations.

“Back home in Panama, I always wanted to be the last guy to throw the ball, or the last guy to swing the bat, and the last guy to kick the ball or shoot the last shot at the basket,” Rivera said.

“I believe that that helped me to be in that position that I was put, in the bullpen. I was able to function like that.”

The induction of the Class of 2019 will bring a record 59 Hall of Famers to Cooperstown for the weekend, as they reunite on the stage at the Clark Sports Center to celebrate the welcoming of six new members.

“There’s a lot of guys that are teammates, or were teammates for years that are going to be there,” Mussina said. “It’s kind of neat. To get to be in a situation like this with guys that you played with is really special. I’m honored to be able to stand up there with those guys.”

The six new members bring the total number of Hall of Fame members to 329.

The Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 21, and will be shown live exclusively on MLB Network.

The Hall of Fame Weekend festivities will also feature the Awards Presentation on Saturday, July 20, beginning at 4:30 p.m. at Doubleday Field. Featured will be presentation of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for writers to Jayson Stark and the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence to the late Al Helfer.

Janey Murray is the 2019 public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

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