Hall of Fame cer­e­mony an emo­tional time

El Dorado News-Times - - Sports -

COOP­ER­STOWN, N.Y. (AP) — "Pudge" Ro­driguez stared out at his fa­ther, wip­ing away tears as he spoke.

"I love you with all of my heart," Ro­driguez said. "If I'm a Hall of Famer, you're a Hall of Famer — dou­ble."

Those words punc­tu­ated Ro­driguez's speech as he was in­ducted Sun­day into the Base­ball Hall of Fame. Jeff Bag­well and Tim Raines, along with for­mer com­mis­sioner Bud Selig and front-of­fice guru John Schuer­holz also were en­shrined on a pic­ture-per­fect sum­mer day in front of over 27,000 fans.

"It's al­ways emo­tional when you see the fans cheer­ing for you, and my whole fam­ily in front of me," Bag­well said. "I'm an emo­tional per­son. It's a dream just to be part of this beau­ti­ful group. Now I have that plaque for­ever. It's un­be­liev­able."

Be­fore he started, Ro­driguez re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion from hun­dreds of fans, many wear­ing red-and-white jer­seys with Puerto Rico em­bla­zoned on the front, and pro­ceeded to give half his speech in Span­ish.

"This is such an in­cred­i­ble honor for me," Ro­driguez said. "A lit­tle kid from Puerto Rico with a big dream. Never let them take your dream away from you."

The 45-year-old Ro­driguez holds ma­jor league records for games caught (2,427) and putouts by a catcher (12,376). He hit 311 homers and bat­ted .296 in his ca­reer. He's also only the sec­ond catcher elected on the first bal­lot, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of his child­hood idol, Cincin­nati Reds star Johnny Bench, who was seated on the dais be­hind him.

Af­ter speak­ing in Span­ish, Ro­driguez went back and re­peated in English, con­cen­trat­ing on a mes­sage to youth.

"You have the right to dream," he said. "Ev­ery­thing in life is pos­si­ble. I speak from ex­pe­ri­ence."

Bag­well, who played his en­tire 15-year ca­reer in Hous­ton, took the dais to an ex­tended ap­plause from the Astros fans who made the trip.

"You know I don't like at­ten­tion," Bag­well said with a tinge of ner­vous­ness. "I'm so hum­bled to be here. I'm just re­ally try­ing to fig­ure out what's go­ing on."

Bag­well started his speech by thank­ing his fam­ily, sin­gling out his par­ents and wife.

"Mom, you are just the most amaz­ing per­son in the world," he said. "You've been a pil­lar for me. I can't tell you how much I love you and what you mean to me. My fa­ther, Bob. There's some­thing about a dad. You brought me to love this game of base­ball. Some­thing my fa­ther in­stilled in me was to never quit. Deep in­side, I just never gave up. That drive got me a long way."

The 48-year-old Bag­well was one-third of the famed "Killer B's" of the Astros, along with Hall of Famer Craig Big­gio and Lance Berkman. To­gether they helped trans­form the Astros from a last­place team to the World Se­ries in 2005, the first team from Texas to do so. Elected in his sev­enth year on the bal­lot, Bag­well is the only first base­man in his­tory with 400 ca­reer home runs and 200 stolen bases.

"I tried to do ev­ery­thing well," he said. "I wanted to score for my team and for my other play­ers. I en­joy the stolen bases more than any­thing else. For a lit­tle guy with not much speed, I truly ap­pre­ci­ate that. I could help us win in dif­fer­ent ways."

Bag­well ended his ca­reer with 449 home runs and from 1996-2001 had at least 30 home runs, 100 runs scored and 100 RBIs per sea­son, only the sixth player in ma­jor league his­tory to reach those marks in at least six straight years.

Raines was greeted by scores of fans from Canada, many of whom came aboard sev­eral buses. He thanked his mom and dad, who were seated in the front row and later fo­cused on Hall of Famer An­dre Daw­son, his team­mate with the Mon­treal Ex­pos when he first broke into the ma­jor leagues in the early 1980s.

"With­out An­dre Daw­son there's no telling where I'd be," said Raines, who fought co­caine prob­lems early in his ca­reer. "I wanted to kind of be like you and he fi­nally ac­cepted and I fol­lowed. Thank you so much for mak­ing me the player I be­came."

The 57-year-old Raines, a switch-hit­ter, bat­ted .294 and had a .385 on-base per­cent­age in his 23-year ca­reer, fin­ish­ing with 2,605 hits, 1,571 runs and 808 stolen bases. His stolen base to­tal is the fifth-high­est in ma­jor league his­tory and in­cluded 70 or more steals in each sea­son from 1981-86, a streak that stands alone in base­ball his­tory. And his 84.7 per­cent suc­cess rate tops the list among play­ers with at least 400 steal at­tempts.

Raines also cited for­mer Kansas City Roy­als star Ge­orge Brett and base-steal­ing king Rickey Hen­der­son, both Hall of Famers who were seated be­hind him on the stage.

For Selig, who was cel­e­brat­ing his 83rd birth­day, it was a re­ver­sal of roles. For more than two decades he gave out the Hall of Fame plaques on in­duc­tion day.

"It's an over­whelm­ing, stun­ning feel­ing," said Selig, who dropped his speech mid­way through it but never skipped a beat. "You're get­ting the high­est honor."

Selig left a large im­print dur­ing more than 22 years as the leader of the game. He was in­stru­men­tal in the ap­proval of in­ter­league play, the ex­pan­sion of the play­offs, split­ting each league into three di­vi­sions with wild cards, in­sti­tut­ing video re­view and rev­enue-shar­ing in an era that saw the con­struc­tion of 20 new ball­parks.

His ten­ure also in­cluded the Steroids Era and the can­cel­la­tion of the 1994 World Se­ries amid a play­ers' strike, but he left base­ball in ex­cel­lent shape eco­nom­i­cally — with­out la­bor strife and with a strict drug-test­ing pol­icy that has helped clean up the game.

In 26 years as a GM for the Kansas City Roy­als and At­lanta Braves, Schuer­holz stood alone. His teams won 16 di­vi­sion ti­tles, six pen­nants and two World Se­ries, one in each league, a first. He cred­ited divine prov­i­dence and fate for his good for­tune, start­ing with a case of Ger­man measles that left him deaf in his right ear at age five, which he said forced him to be more at­ten­tive.

Schuer­holz, who played sec­ond base at Tow­son Univer­sity, said he quickly fig­ured out where he should con­cen­trate his fu­ture in base­ball af­ter a two-day try­out when he was told to time the play­ers on the sec­ond day in­stead of tak­ing the field.

"The mes­sage was de­liv­ered," Schuer­holz said. "I'd bet­ter con­cen­trate some­place other than try­ing to be a pro­fes­sional base­ball player. Divine prov­i­dence. Fate. I truly be­lieve so."

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