Hall of Famers return to honor Class of 2018 as Induction Sunday nears

Written by: Bill Francis

Jack Morris doesn’t want to miss a minute of a weekend of a lifetime.

“I want it to slow down because I know that I’m going to blink and we’re going to be on the airplane back home and I’m going to say, ‘What happened?’” said Morris, who along with Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Alan Trammell will be inducted on Sunday as the Class of 2018 at the Baseball Hall of Fame. “It’s so much fun and so exciting. I’m like a little kid all over again going to my first game or something.

“The anticipation of getting to Cooperstown last night and coming along the lake here and seeing this wonderful hotel. I’m just giddy inside. I’m like a little kid.”

Preparations are complete as the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum readies itself for the 2018 induction of a half-dozen new members of the game’s most decorated fraternity, bring with it a mix of excited fans and veterans of the big league diamond sharing a common anticipation as their baseball cards come to life once a year.

On Thursday in Cooperstown, the unofficial start of the sport’s most prestigious annual events, everyone was getting ready for Sunday’s big event.

The gathering place for invited guests, the lobby of The Otesaga Resort Hotel which overlooks picturesque Otsego Lake, was abuzz as former teammates and rivals shared hugs and handshakes, congratulations and best wishes. This is, as they all know, the time to honor the National Pastime as well as the latest members of the 323 elected members of the Hall.

“These last months since the announcement there’s just been a lot of attention – that’s the biggest difference for me,” Morris said. “And quite honestly, everybody kind of gave me a heads up that it wouldn’t probably sink in until I actually got to the event. And maybe not even until I’m onstage giving the speech. I think it helps to be a little older….to experience this at my age instead of maybe if I was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It’s a whole different experience. I think if anything I can appreciate it more.”

Morris, a mound mainstay for nearly two decades, was a right-handed starter with a famed split-fingered fastball who had stops in Minnesota, Toronto and Cleveland after a 14-year stint with the Tigers. The author of 254 big league victories, 14 straight Opening Day starts and a 1984 no-hitter. He was a member of four World Series-winning teams, and while a member of his hometown Twins, he tossed a memorable 10-inning shutout triumph against the Braves in the seventh-and-deciding game of the 1991 Fall Classic.

Asked about his induction speech he would be delivering in three days, the 63-year-old Morris said, “It’s just the story of Jack Morris’ baseball life. It’s about as much as I can do in the time allotted. I hope I do a good job.

“Everybody is so excited. I had friends call me all week and they actually sounded like they were more excited than I was. It was just so fun to listen to them get all wound up and excited. And some of them are travelling from a long distance to be here, yet it’s still like a family party for us. It’s going to be great.

“And I am looking forward to playing golf this weekend. My foursome is my three sons and me, so it will be a fun time.”

Tim Raines, a member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2017, was one of the first returning Hall of Famers to come back to Cooperstown for this year’s festivities.

“It’s so much better being back this year,” Raines said with a smile. “It’s definitely a chance to really get to see everything and do what I want to do. I’m looking forward to it.

“As for last year, just getting through the speech was my main thing. And that’s probably what everybody remembers from their inductions. Everything else pretty much takes care of itself,” he added.

“You try and get some advice from guys that have been through it and they pretty much all say the same thing – it really doesn’t hit you until you get on the bus and you go around the curve and see all the people and it really, really hits you pretty hard. Once they start announcing the names to go on stage it hits you again. It’s something you’ll never forget. It’s very memorable. To actually have your name called and you go out and give your speech is something very special.”

Raines’ advice for the Class of 2018: “Just breath,” he said with a laugh, “and soak it all in. I know it’s tough to do them both, but it’s a special day and try and enjoy it if you can.”

Raines, whose 23-season big league career began with a dozen highly effective years with the Montreal Expos, totaled 808 stolen bases, which ranks fifth all-time, while his six straight seasons with at least 70 thefts, from 1981 to 1986, is the longest such streak in major league history. A seven-time All-Star, who concluded his playing days with 2,605 hits and the 1986 N.L. batting title, “Rock” finished with an 84.7 percent success rate on steal attempts, the highest percentage of any player with at least 400 stolen bases.

While admitting he has yet to watch a recording of the induction speech he delivered last year (“When my family watches it I leave the room. When it gets to my part, I’m like, ‘I’m out!’ so I haven’t watched it and I don’t know if I ever will.”), Raines did say he has recently snuck over to the Plaque Gallery to check out his bronze likeness.

“I came in early and I got a chance to go to the Museum and see my plaque without a million people around. I really got a chance to check it out. I was afraid to touch it. But it still looks good,” he said. “It’s mindboggling really. As I kid I thought the sport I was going to play was football, but thank God it turned out the way it did. It’s weird to have never dreamed about this stuff and then have this come true the way it has.”

This year, 58 Hall of Famers are scheduled to be in Cooperstown – including the Class of 2018 – for the Induction Ceremony, to be held Sunday, July 29, at 1:30 p.m. at the Clark Sports Center – located one mile south of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The Induction Ceremony will be shown live on MLB Network, as well as simulcast at www.mlb.com.

Induction Weekend officially starts on Friday morning when, for the 17th straight year, Ozzie Smith, the Education Ambassador for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, will host PLAY Ball. Smith will welcome fellow Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell, Johnny Bench and Tim Raines as his guests as fans get a unique chance to experience on-field moments and stories with Hall of Famers.
PLAY Ball is a Museum fundraiser that supports the Hall of Fame’s educational programs and internship scholarships.

On Saturday, July 28, the Hall of Fame Awards Presentation will be held at 4:30 p.m. at Doubleday Field and will feature the presentation of the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting to Bob Costas of MLB Network and the presentation of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing to Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beacon Journal. The Awards Presentation is free and open to the public.

Also on Saturday, immediately following the Awards Presentation and scheduled to start at 6 p.m., the Hall of Fame Parade of Legends returns for a ninth year to provide fans with more thrills. Hall of Famers will ride down Main Street in trucks provided by Ford Motor Company en route to a private reception at the Museum.

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

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