Class of 1975 found induction was worth the wait
Judy Johnson was halfway through his Induction Speech when the emotion of the moment proved too much.
Sobbing, Johnson was aided by his son-in-law, former big leaguer Bill Bruton, who came onto the stage and helped Johnson gather himself in front of a standing-room crowd of 7,500 fans in Cooperstown.
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“When I was young, my daddy wanted me to be a prizefighter,” Johnson told the crowd.
But when Johnson chose a career in the Negro Leagues, he put himself on the path to the Hall of Fame.
Johnson, considered one of the top third basemen in Negro Leagues history, was one of five legends inducted on Aug. 18, 1975, along with Earl Averill, Billy Herman, Bucky Harris and Ralph Kiner. Each waited years for the honor, including Kiner – who was elected in his final year of eligibility by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
And the electees even had a long wait during their induction year: The Aug. 18 date remains the latest ever for an Induction Ceremony.
But for the Class of 1975, it was worth the wait.
“It’s like a stamp they put after your name,” Kiner told the New York Daily News on that sunny summer morning. “If you to medical school and work hard and dedicate yourself, they put an M.D. after your name. If you do the same in baseball, they put an H.O.F. after your name. And that makes it so wonderful, all so worthwhile.”
Kiner hit 369 home runs in a 10-year big league career that was shortened by a back injury. He led the National League in home runs in each of his first seven seasons, a record that still stands. A six-time All-Star, Kiner topped the 50-home run mark twice and led the NL in OPS three times.
Averill, the owner of a .318 career batting average over 13 seasons with the Indians, Tigers and Braves, used his time in the Induction Ceremony spotlight to advocate for the election of standouts like Ernie Lombardi and Joe Sewell, both of whom were later inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Harris won 2,158 games over 29 seasons as a manager and player/manager, leading his teams to three American League pennants and two World Series titles. Harris, who was battling Parkinson’s disease, was represented on the stage by his son, Stanley R. Harris Jr.
Herman, a 10-time All-Star at second base in his 15 big league seasons, hit .304 and was the starting second baseman on four National League pennant winners.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum