Historic Class of 2022 Inducted

Written by: Bill Francis

The stars were out on a steamy early afternoon Sunday in Cooperstown. And for seven legends, the wait is now over as their bronze images will now adorn some famous walls as they join forever. The sport’s greatest squad is now deeper and better for it.

Despite an ominous weather forecast calling for storms, the National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony – which lasted about 2 ½ hours – went off without nary a raindrop. While temperatures did hit the upper 80s on this Cooperstown field, the stage erected outside the Clark Sports Center – about a mile south of the Hall of Fame – included 48 returning Hall of Famers facing an estimated 35,000 fans and a live television audience on the MLB Network.

Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark began the ceremony by calling the Plaque Gallery “an extraordinary place.”

“As Joe Morgan, our late friend, a member of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 1990, and the past Vice Chairman of our Board, said, ‘Walking in the Plaque Gallery is like walking on holy ground,’” she added. “And there won’t be a man sitting behind me this afternoon that wouldn’t agree with him.”

The Plaque Gallery began the day with 333 plaques: 263 players (only one percent of those to ever have played a major league game); 38 pioneers and executives, including the only female inductee, Effa Manley; 22 managers; and 10 umpires. By nightfall, that number will rise to 340 with the induction of seven more of baseball’s legends – Bud Fowler, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso, Tony Oliva, Buck O’Neil and David Ortiz.

“They have all had incredible baseball careers,” Clark said. “They define the greatness of the game with their character, integrity and sportsmanship.”

Speeches dominated the day, including those from living inductees Jim Kaat, the crafty southpaw who pitched for 25 years and won 283 games, Red Sox legend David Ortiz with his clutch play and his 541 dingers, and Tony Oliva, who spent 15 seasons with the Twins and captured three batting titles.

Those elected posthumously, including Bud Fowler, a Black star in the 19th century who was raised in Cooperstown; Gil Hodges, the slugging Dodgers first baseman who also managed the 1969 Mets to the World Series title; Buck O’Neil, a Negro Leagues stalwart as both a player, manager and advocate; and Minnie Miñoso, a native of Cuba who became an early Latino star in the big leagues, were represented on stage by family members, with Hall of Famer Dave Winfield speaking on Fowler’s behalf.

When called to the podium, heartfelt messages were relayed, thanks were offered to those who helped throughout the journey, and a deep appreciation for the game was conveyed.

“Before everything,” began Ortiz, with a large Dominican contingent cheering in the crowd, “I want to thank God for giving me the opportunity to be here today and for giving me the joy of being able to travel this path. This path that has allowed me to be here today and hopefully inspire everyone to believe in yourself.

“Thank you to God for giving me the opportunity and strength all these years to stay strong and keep my feet on the ground through ups and downs, and all the sacrifices that I had to overcome to be able to be here with you today. This is a such an incredible day. An incredible honor. And I’m so humbled to be on this stage right now.”

Ortiz also had a cheering section of former Red Sox teammates, a group that included Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek, Johnny Damon, Tim Wakefield, Dustin Pedroia, Trot Nixon and Kevin Youkilis.

“I always tried to live my life in a way that supports others, that makes a positive influence in the world. And if my story can remind you of anything, let me remind you that when you believe in someone, you can change their world,” Ortiz said. “You can change their future. Just like so many people who believed in me. To everyone that believed in me, from my family, to coaches, to teammates, to fans, know I could not have done this without you.

“My Hall of Fame plaque represents each one of you and I’m going to thank you guys for the rest of my life.”

Kaat, the first Hall of Famer to address the crowd, gazed out to the expanse in front of him, fans often adorned in jerseys of their favorite team, and said, “What a wonderful atmosphere to demonstrate your love for the game of baseball. And I found out yesterday, these people are people that love baseball.”

The hurler nicknamed “Kitty” then shared the special moment that forever altered his life.

“When you hear the words after you answer your phone: “This is Jane Clark calling from the Hall of Fame,” your life immediately changes,” Kaat relayed. “And Jane, those words will resonate with me for the rest of my life.

“The day after that, I happened to hear Ray Charles belt out ‘America the Beautiful.’ And he came to that line, ‘God Shed His Grace on Thee.’ It reminded me, God has shed his grace on me extravagantly. I mean, we have a world with millions of people who are disadvantaged, oppressed, wake up daily to pain and suffering."

"I was able to live, and still am, a comfortable life for over 83 years. I had great parents. Grew up in a great community, Zeeland, Michigan. And I was gifted with the ability to play baseball. And I’m grateful for that.”

Coming to the end, Kaat inhaled and said, “I am humbled and honored to be included in this fraternity of some of the greatest players to play the game. And I thank you for being part of this wonderful day.”

As was the case with Kaat, Oliva shared a rabid Twins fanbase attending this day. And when he looked upon the cheering throng, he began, “I am here today. I can’t believe I’m here. I look to the left. I look to the right. This is such a memory. This place right here looks like my home in Cuba where my father built a field that the young kids was able to play baseball. It looks exactly alike.”

And like Kaat, Oliva talked about his life-altering call.

“When I hear the phone call from that beautiful lady right there, Jane, I couldn’t believe it,” Oliva said with his ever-present smile. “I answered the phone. My wife kissed me on the head. It was about 30 people in the room. Everybody was crying. I don’t know what to say. I passed the phone to my good friend, Julie from the ballclub. I said, Julie, answer the phone. Julie said, ‘No, no, that’s your call. I was so happy. You’ll never know how happy I was. I was thinking I was on my last burst - if I don’t go into the Hall of Fame that time it’s all over for Tony. And here I am, I’m 84 years old. Before I forget, I want to tell you, I was 84 three days ago here in Cooperstown.”

Summing his day up, Oliva ended with a famous and funny quote that he’s fond of using.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you very much. And God bless you,” he said. “Baseball been very, very, very good to me.’”

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