Diverse crowd cheers Hall of Fame inductees

By Jerry Beach, The Sports Xchange  |  July 27, 2015 at 12:32 AM
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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Among the 45,000 people filing out of the Clark Sports Center following the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony Sunday afternoon were a pair of fans -- a Dominican man sporting a Pedro Martinez T-shirt walking past a teenager sporting a Houston Astros T-shirt with George Springer's name on the back -- embodying the popularity and impact of two of the Hall's newest members.

Astros second baseman Craig Biggio and Martinez, the former Boston Red Sox ace, opened and closed a sweltering and sun-baked induction ceremony Sunday in which right-handed pitcher John Smoltz and left-handed pitcher Randy Johnson were also officially enshrined. The class is the largest inducted by the Baseball Writers Association of America since 1955.

"Each of the four guys has their own story -- we've gotten to know it, I've gotten to their story a little bit," Smoltz said at a press conference afterward. "I think this is a perfect illustration of what our game can be."

The Biggio story was well-known to the thousands of Astros fans who sported every variation of the oft-changed Houston jersey as they stood and roared as the former catcher, second baseman and outfielder appropriately started off the proceedings. Biggio, who spent his entire career with the Astros from 1988-2007, made 1,564 appearances out of the leadoff spot, where he collected 1,800 of his 3,060 hits.

"It's really special, when you think about the amount of people that were here from Houston that made the long journey to get here," Biggio said.

The Astros made the playoffs just three times in their first 35 seasons but reached the postseason six times in nine years from 1997 through 2005, and the latter year they made the only World Series in franchise history.

The Astros were considering a move out of the city before Enron Field (now known as Minute Maid Park) was opened in 2000.

"We built a new stadium, we built a successful organization," Biggio said.

Smoltz never pitched a game for the franchise that drafted him, the Detroit Tigers. Getting traded to the Atlanta Braves in 1987 shook up the 20-year-old, who went from the perennially contending Tigers to a Braves franchise that was in the midst of six straight losing seasons.

"They were the worst team in baseball at the time," Smoltz said. "It was the most devastating time of my life. But I realized I would have an opportunity to pitch in an organization that desperately needed pitching."

Smoltz and fellow Hall of Famers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux ended up defining pitching dominance in the '90s and beyond. The trio combined to win 648 games and throw 9,329 2/3 innings for the Braves. Smoltz also added 154 saves from 2001 through 2004.

"The starting rotation will be talked about for the rest of time and maybe always compared to things," Smoltz said.

There never was a pitcher like Johnson, who stood 6-foot-10 and spent most of his 20s harnessing his command. However, he ended up winning 303 games and striking out 4,875 batters, second most all-time. His rate of 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings is the best in history.

Johnson also helped save baseball in Seattle while establishing it in Arizona. He went 18-2 for the Mariners in 1995 and threw a complete game in a win over the California Angels in a one-game American League West playoff that sent the Mariners to the postseason for the first time. Weeks later, Kings County, which houses Seattle, voted to fund Safeco Field.

"The trade to Seattle set my career in motion," said Johnson, who was dealt to the Mariners from the Montreal Expos in exchange for Mark Langston in 1989. "It was my apprenticeship. ... There were some lean years there in Seattle as we were learning how to play our game."

Johnson enters the Hall of Fame wearing the cap of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who began play in 1998, the year before signing Johnson. He led the Diamondbacks to a World Series win in 2001 and won four straight Cy Young Awards for them from 1999 through 2002.

"Going back home to Arizona, meeting (then-owner) Jerry Colangelo -- he had a vision for that baseball team in Arizona," Johnson said. "I bought into it."

The diminutive Martinez, nearly a foot shorter than Johnson at 5-foot-11, ended the ceremony in boisterous fashion when he took the stage as hundreds of fans waved Dominican flags and shook noisemakers.

He wore a Boston hat into the Hall of Fame after earning 117 of his 219 career wins for the Red Sox, for whom he won Cy Young Awards in 2000 and 2001 before helping the Sox to a curse-busting victory in the 2004 World Series.

"Boston, I don't have enough words to say how much I love you," Martinez said.

Martinez is the second native of the Dominican to reach the Hall of Fame and concluded his 32-minute bilingual speech by inviting the first Dominican, pitcher Juan Marichal, to the podium, where the two men unfurled a Dominican flag.

Martinez said he came up with the idea to end the speech with Marichal while he struggled to sleep early Sunday morning.

"It occurred to me that today is Fathers Day (in the Dominican Republic)," Martinez said. "I don't think the Dominican Republic will have a better image than having me and Marichal, who cleared the way for all of us to Cooperstown."

NOTES: A moment of silence was held for Ernie Banks, the Hall of Fame outfielder who died in January. ... Of the 65 living previously elected Hall of Famers, 49 attended the ceremony. ... With Craig Biggio and Randy Johnson becoming the first Hall of Famers to wear the hats of the Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks into the Hall of Fame, respectively, only five franchises are not represented in Cooperstown: the Tampa Bay Rays, California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners, Florida/Miami Marlins and Colorado Rockies. ... The Mariners are likely to get a representative next year, when Ken Griffey Jr. is eligible for the first time. The top returning players on the ballot are Mike Piazza, who earned 69.9 of the required 75 percent of the vote in January. Jeff Bagwell (55.7 percent this year) and Tim Raines (55 percent) also will be on the ballot again.

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