Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza emotional during Hall of Fame induction speeches

By Jerry Beach, The Sports Xchange  |  July 25, 2016 at 12:29 AM
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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Ken Griffey Jr. is a 46-year-old father of three who is a couple decades removed from playing baseball with a youthful swagger previously unassociated with the game. But Griffey stepped into the Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday afternoon by turning into "The Kid" one more time.

"I want to thank my family, my friends, the fans, the Reds, the White Sox and the Mariners," Griffey said before pausing as his voice broke, "for making this kid's dream come true."

Griffey then reached underneath the podium, pulled out a Hall of Fame cap and placed it backwards upon his head -- the now middle-aged man evoking his youth and delighting an estimated Induction Sunday crowd of 50,000 that was filled with people who grew old with him.

Afterward, Griffey said the idea to end his speech by putting on a backwards hat -- it actually belongs to his youngest son, Tevin -- came from 2014 inductee Frank Thomas, who made the suggestion after the Hall of Famers arrived at the Clark Sports Center for Sunday's festivities.

"We all showed up and Frank was like 'You've got to do it, the hat backwards, you've got to end it like that,'" Griffey said. "So called up my wife, she made a couple calls and one of my friends brought it back to me."

Griffey's trip back in time capped an emotional afternoon in which he and fellow honoree Mike Piazza both broke down numerous times while delivering their speeches in front of not just one of the biggest crowds in Induction Sunday history but also a stage filled with 48 living Hall of Famers.

"Absolutely nerve-wracking," Piazza said with a laugh afterward. "As a player, you have to find a way to focus and get into your game mode. I was joking with Ken a little bit before we went up on stage. I was like 'Let's go, we've got this, we've got this.' We were talking like we were going out to play.

"But nothing can prepare you for those emotions that you feel, because of everything the Hall encompasses and the history that was behind us on that stage."

Piazza, who delivered the first speech of the afternoon, grew most emotional when discussing his most famous home run -- the game-winning shot he hit in the first New York sporting event held following the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"Many of you give me praise for the two-run home run in the first game back on Sept. 21 to push us ahead of the rival Braves," Piazza said. "But the true praise belongs to the police, firefighters, first responders, who knew that they were going to die but went forward anyway."

Piazza also shed tears while talking about his family, including his father, Vince, whose childhood friendship with Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda helped convince the Los Angeles Dodgers to select Piazza in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft.

"We made it, Dad," Piazza said. "The race is over. Now it's time to smell the roses."

Griffey, meanwhile, said he lost track of how many times he cried during his speech. He actually began crying before he even spoke -- the result of not heeding the advice of his Hall of Fame elders who suggested he avoid eye contact with his children until necessary.

"I remember everybody saying 'Don't look down at your kids, don't look down at your kids' until you have to," Griffey said. "Nope. Not me. You know what they said when you're a kid? 'Don't do that' and you do it anyway?"

The speeches from Griffey and Piazza likely elicited some tears from the Mariners and Mets fans who trekked to upstate New York for a rare opportunity to see one of their own enshrined.

Piazza, the second Hall of Famer sporting a Mets hat, hit 220 homers in seven-plus seasons in New York following a blockbuster trade in May 1998.

"It was actually the last teame that I ever imagined wanted me," Piazza said of the Mets, whose catcher at the time was injured former All-Star Todd Hundley. "But it was the most amazing experience any human being could have."

Griffey, the first Hall of Famer to wear a Mariners hat on his plaque, was drafted first overall by Seattle in 1987 and won 10 straight Gold Gloves while hitting 417 homers during 13 seasons with the club.

"One thing out of my 22 years I've learned: Only one team treats you best and that's your first team," Griffey said. "I'm (darn) proud to be a Seattle Mariner."

NOTES: A moment of silence was held for Yogi Berra and Monte Irvin, the Hall of Famers who died in September and January, respectively. ... Among the estimated 50,000 fans in attendance was 98-year-old Homer Osterhoudt, who attended the first Hall of Fame induction in 1939. ... The crowd of 50,000 was tied for the second-biggest in Induction Sunday history with 1999. The 2007 ceremonies, when Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. were enshrined, drew an estimated 82,000 people. ... The top newcomers on the 2017 ballot are Vladimir Guerrero and Ivan Rodriguez. The leading returning candidates are Jeff Bagwell, who garnered 71.6 percent of the vote in 2016, and Tim Raines, who received 69.8 percent of the vote. Next year will be Raines' final year on the ballot. A candidate must receive at least 75 percent of the vote to be enshrined.

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