Newest Hall of Famers thrilled by visit to Cooperstown
Two days after receiving a career-defining phone call affirming that they had been added to the roster of the game’s greatest ballclub, Adrián Beltré, Todd Helton and Joe Mauer found themselves in an oak-walled hall surrounded by 343 bronze images of the best of the best in the game’s long history.
The trio of stars, contemporaries who made their names in the early 2000s, earned a combined for 15 All-Star Game selections, 13 Silver Slugger Awards and 11 Gold Glove Awards. On Thursday, Jan. 25, their Hall of Fame dreams became reality when they toured the Cooperstown museum and met the media in the iconic Plaque Gallery.
Jack O’Connell, the secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, began the day’s ceremonies, sharing a dais with the three newest electees, Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch and Hall of Fame Chairman of the Board Jane Forbes Clark, extolling the BBWAA’s important role in the longtime process.
“This year marks the 80th Hall of Fame ballot conducted by the baseball writers dating to the original election in 1936,” O’Connell said. “I recall something Tom Seaver, may he rest in peace, used to tell me every year: ‘Keep sending us good people.’ The writers have done that again with this year’s class.”
This year’s BBWAA ballot featured 26 players, including 14 first-year candidates. Others who received votes on more than 50 percent of the ballots included Billy Wagner (73.8%), Gary Sheffield (10th and final time on BBWAA ballot – 63.9%), Andruw Jones (61.6%) and Carlos Beltrán (57.1%).
After listing off a litany of accomplishments attributed to the latest members of the Hall of Fame Class of 2024, Rawitch said: “These are incredible resumes for these three gentlemen and they’re very well deserving with their induction, which will take place this summer here in Cooperstown. Gentlemen, you are now teammates forever, alongside Jim Leyland, as the Class of 2024.”
What followed was Beltré, Helton and Mauer putting on the jersey and cap of their final team: The Hall of Fame team.
Hall of Fame Weekend 2024 will be held July 19-22 in Cooperstown, with the Class of 2024 – which also includes Leyland via the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee vote in December – to be inducted at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 21, on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center. Ford C. Frick Award winner Joe Castiglione and BBWAA Career Excellence Award winner Gerry Fraley will be honored during Induction Weekend at the Awards Presentation.
In front of assembled media and a live audience via MLB Network, Beltré, 44, said he knew what was about to happen when he saw the caller ID say “Cooperstown” on his phone Tuesday evening.
“I said this is it. It’s real. It is happening,” Beltré said. “But it’s a surreal moment. It’s been so crazy the last 48 hours that it hasn’t sunk in yet. But I’m grateful to be here. I’m happy to be here. It’s an honor.”
Helton, 50, said it hadn’t really sunk in for him either.
“It’s such a huge honor,” Helton said. “I think I will totally feel it when I when I see some of the older guys that I really looked up to and thinking perhaps someday that I would be like them.”
For Mauer, 40, when he saw “Cooperstown” come up on his phone he knew it was a really special moment.
“I’d say right now it’s starting to sink in,” Mauer said. “But I don’t think I’ll fully grasp that until time goes on. So, I’m definitely excited to be here and excited to go in with these two fine players as well.”
Asked their thoughts on sitting in the Plaque Gallery with the images of the first five electees from 1936 – Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner – mere feet behind them, the newest Hall of Famers seemed in awe.
“I can’t believe I’m here,” Beltré said. “I’m not sure I belong here. It’s so much history. So many players you idolized when you were a kid playing. Guys that you played against that you couldn’t even imagine how good they were. Now we’re in the same room. So, this is surreal for sure.
Helton said: “For me, it’s just being a part of baseball in history. It’s amazing what you look around and see. It’s hard to imagine that we’re going to have a plaque up there as well.”
Mauer talked about his emotions in the moment.
“I think you start reflecting on how you got here and your journey and everybody that’s impacted it - family, friends, coaches,” Mauer said. “And then some of the men that are on this wall. You emulated them, you wanted to be like them. It’s a pretty unreal feeling to be in the presence of this greatness in this room. So, a lot of things are running through my head right now, but just grateful and really happy to be here.”
At the conclusion of the media availability, the three new BBWAA electees were escorted individually to where their plaques will be found beginning after this summer’s induction and signed the plaque backer.
While in Cooperstown, the trio also took part in a Hall of Fame orientation afforded all new electees, which included a guided tour of the Museum by Hall of Fame Senior Curator Tom Shieber. It exposed the three to baseball history dating back to the 1840s through the present.
“It was great,” said Beltré afterward. “I’ve been here before, but this time it had a different meaning. I was here in 2019. My son was playing in a Cooperstown tournament here and they were gracious enough to give us a tour. At the time I was amazed with the whole museum, but today’s tour had a different meaning.”
The three new electees also made time to seek out the plaques of some of their favorites – Beltré posed near fellow Dominican Juan Marichal’s, Mauer wanted to those of fellow St. Paul Hall of Famers Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and Jack Morris, and Helton gazed at Larry Walker’s, a teammate with the Rockies.
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
HALL OF FAME WEEKEND 2024
The eyes of the baseball world will be focused on Cooperstown July 19 - 22, with the legends of the game in town to see history unfold during Hall of Fame Weekend.