Newest electees savor emotion of the moment

Written by: Bill Francis

Anticipation and nervousness turned to relief and excitement as a quartet of the brightest stars in baseball from the dawn of the 21st century – Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman – received that life-altering phone call from Cooperstown.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame announced its Class of 2018, selected by the eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, on Wednesday, Jan. 24. The results of the 74th BBWAA Hall of Fame election were revealed at 6 p.m. ET live on MLB Network, Hall President Jeff Idelson opening a large white envelope on camera to reveal the results to a nationwide audience.

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 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-dominant closer with more than 600 saves, in his third year on the ballot received, 79.9 percent.

Jones’ and Thome’s election brings the total of first-year BBWAA inductees to 54 and marks the fifth straight year with at least one first-ballot inductee. Jones also becomes the 52nd Hall of Famer who spent his entire big league career with one team.

The four newest Hall of Famers, who increase the total number of electees to 323, all began their long and impressive big league careers in the early- to mid-1990s, retired in the early 2010s, and totaled 29 All-Star Game selections. Combined among the three positions players – Jones, Thome and Guerrero – are 1,529 homers, 7,644 hits, two Most Valuable Player awards, and 11 Silver Sluggers.

Others on the 2018 BBWAA ballot who received votes on more than 50 percent of the ballots included Edgar Martinez (70.4%; 9th year), Mike Mussina (63.5%; 5th year), Roger Clemens (57.3%, 6th year), Barry Bonds (56.4%; 6th year) and Curt Schilling (51.2%; 5th year).

Within only a few hours of learning they would be joining the National Pastime’s greatest roster, and with the knowledge that their bonze likenesses would be adorning the Hall of Fame’s Plaque Gallery walls in six months, the four newest electees shared their feelings and emotions during a series of media conference calls.

Though typically a middle of the order batter, hitting leadoff this day was Jones, talked about his fellow Braves who have been elected to the Hall of Fame in the past few years.

“It’s been a heck of a ride,” said Jones at the start. “It’s been a whirlwind day here in the Jones household. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the writers. It really blows my mind that 97 percent of you guys voted for me. I just wanted to express my gratitude to each and every one of you. I tried to give you guys the same respect that you gave me throughout my career. For a small town kid, this has been an unbelievable dream of making it to the Hall of Fame.

“I can’t tell you what a pleasure it was to play behind those three pitchers (Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine). It was a pleasure to come to work knowing we had an opportunity to win each and every night they took the mound,” Jones added. “I’m grateful to John Schuerholz [general manager] and Bobby Cox [manager] every year for giving us a chance coming into spring training to achieve our ultimate goal. And ultimately I’ve got to thank Bobby so much because he was the general manager when I was drafted, making me the first player taken in the first round in 1990, giving me that distinct honor that I will never properly be able to repay him for. For us to have our own little fraternity up there in a little piece of heaven in Cooperstown, New York, is something we should be very proud of because we did an awful of of winning during the ‘90s and early 2000s down here in Atlanta.”

Trevor Hoffman's save percentage of 88.8 ranks second among all pitchers with at least 400 saves. (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

Jones 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. Among players who appeared in at least half their games at third base, Jones is the only major leaguer to record at least 1,600 RBI and score at least 1,600 runs.

Thome, who 22 seasons for the Indians, Phillies, White Sox, Dodgers, Twins and Orioles, is one of nine members of the 600-home run club, his 612 long balls ranking eighth on the all-time list. He recorded 100-or-more RBI nine times and scored 100-or-more runs in eight seasons. A five-time All-Star, he is one of only five players in big league history – along with Barry Bonds, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams – with at least 500 home runs, 1,500 runs scored, 1,600 RBI and 1,700 walks.

“I would like to first of all thank the writers. So thankful for this great honor,” Thome said. “This is a day I don’t think any player can ever imagine happening and it’s just a great honor … It’s a special day in all of our lives.”

Later, Thome would talk about the Hall of Fame, a place he visited to deliver the balls that were swatted for his 500th and 600th career homers.

“I think walking through the front door gives you chills enough, and then you see the history of the game,” Thome recalled. “Going into the basement and putting on the white gloves and touching Babe Ruth items and Lou Gehrig and seeing the different gloves early in the stages of baseball and seeing how the game has evolved.

“I think the Hall of Fame is so magical. If you’re a baseball fan, you truly understand it. I think that was the driving force to take the 500 and 600 baseballs there because that’s where they should be. You’ve got all these great artifacts and items. One day doesn’t do it justice. You need to spend two or three to fully understand all the great things that are in that place. It’s just so special.”

Guerrero, who played 16 seasons for the Expos, Angels, Rangers and Orioles, earned nine All-Star Game selections and also won the 2004 American League Most Valuable Player Award. The eight-time Silver Slugger Award winner for his work in right field and at designated hitter, he hit .300-or-better 13 times, drove in 100-or-more runs 10 times and topped the 30-home run mark in eight seasons. The owner of two 30 home run/30 stolen base seasons, Guerrero is one of only eight players in big league history to have at least a .318 career batting average and a .553 slugging percentage, a list that includes Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.

“First of all, thank you very much to the writers and to those who considered my career what it was and gave me the privilege of getting voted into the hall of fame in my second year on the ballot,” said Guerrero, through Spanish language interpreter and Angels broadcaster Jose Mota. “I’m thankful for being a Hall of Famer and being in the company of Trevor Hoffman, who I did not hit very well with that changeup, Jim Thome and his power, and Chipper Jones, who I played against for seven years and know the outstanding player that he was. Congratulations to all of them – I’m in great company. I’m proud of what I accomplished. I’m thankful to God, number one, for the family, and to be the first Dominican position player inducted into the Hall of Fame.”

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)

Hoffman pitched 18 seasons for the Marlins, Padres and Brewers, spending 16 seasons in San Diego. The first pitcher to reach both the 500-save and 600-save milestones, he ranks second in big league history with 601 saves and second with 856 games finished. The seven-time All-Star, who finished in the Top 10 of the NL Cy Young Award voting four times, led the NL in saves twice and saved 40-or-more games nine times, tied with Mariano Rivera for the most such seasons all time.

“As much as you try and anticipate good news, be prepared for no call, when I saw the (212 are code), I remembered Tony [Hall of Famer and Padres teammate Tony Gwyn] talking about, ‘Until you really see it on your phone, you don’t know.’ It caught me off guard a little bit, it really did,” Hoffman said. “No matter how prepared you think you are, no matter what numbers are trending where – and it’s kind of hard to not pay attention to that - but I was optimistically excited. And then to ultimately hear Jack’s voice [BBWAA secretary/treasurer Jack O’Connell], I had to collect myself for a couple seconds. I didn’t want to lose it to the point that it would make people uncomfortable in the room. Getting to the point where I become uncontrollable because it was on the cusp.

“I’m an emotional guy. I kind of cry at the drop of a hat. It’s gotten worse over time. But it’s hard to describe the emotions that flood you right away. I know it’s a very standard line but so many things go through your mind – you think of your early days in the game, you think of parts of your career that you understand kind of what you put into on a daily basis. Sitting there at this stage seven years after you retire, it comes full circle. It’s kind of the cherry on top of the sundae.”

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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