Dan's Dugout: Hall of Fame Expands by Five • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Hall of Fame Expands by Five

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COOPERSTOWN – The team has expanded.

The Baseball Hall of Fame now has 317 members, including 220 players plus an array of managers, executives, owners, and stars from the old Negro Leagues.

A quintet of new additions Sunday added to the lexicon of Induction Day speeches, detailing rags-to-riches stories that reveal a remarkable ability to realize dreams.

Jeff Bagwell washed dishes at Friendly's Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

Jeff Bagwell washed dishes at Friendly’s
Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

Jeff Bagwell was once a dishwater at a Friendly’s on Cape Cod.

Bud Selig bounced from car dealer to Commissioner.

Pudge Rodriguez used to hang on a rope in a self-created attempt to make himself as tall as the his teenaged friends.

Tim Raines raced his father in their Florida backyard.

And John Schuerholz was a Baltimore school teacher whose hire-me letter to the Orioles found its way to the right decision-maker.

On a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon devoid of the sweltering humidity typical of a July day in Central New York, some 20,000 spectators heard stories old and new from the inductees, who all made a point of thanking the family and friends sitting right in front of them.

Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the Hall of Fame, introduced the players while Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred read their newly-minted plaques. Brian Kenny of MLB Network served as master of ceremonies.

John Schuerholz was the first GM to win world titles in both leagues Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

John Schuerholz was the first GM to win world titles in both leagues
Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

Schuerholz set the tone for the day when he told the crowd, “I love baseball. I have loved baseball all my life.”

He said he played stickball in Baltimore and college ball at Towson State before his letter opened the door to the Orioles front office. He said a childhood case of the German measles helped: it made him totally deaf in his right ear and therefore a more careful listener.

The first general manager to win world championships in both leagues, he was also the youngest GM in baseball history when the Royals gave him that job at age 41.

A chance meeting with Braves president Stan Kasten convinced him to cross league lines in 1990 and start a 14-year title run that remains a major-league record.

“I used to sit out there on the lawn,” said the 76-year-old Schuerholz, still active in Atlanta as vice chairman of the team, “but I must confess that I love this new seat up here a lot more.”

Bagwell’s run with the Astros is an exact parallel of the Atlanta string of

A large contingent of Houston fans cheered Jeff Bagwell

A large contingent of Houston fans cheered Jeff Bagwell

division crowns, from 1991-2005. Along the way, he won two awards no other Houston player has claimed: Rookie of the Year in 1991 and Most Valuable Player, by unanimous vote, three years later.

A New England native who rooted for the Red Sox, Bagwell signed with Boston but reached the majors only after the Sox had sent him to Houston for reliever Larry Andersen.

“The only thing I wanted to do was be a good teammate,” said Bagwell, the author of two 30/30 seasons not common for a first baseman. “For me, runs scored was very important. And I wanted to reach 200 stolen bases before retiring.”

Bagwell revealed a close friendship with former Houston catcher Brad Ausmus, a fellow Connecticut product who now manages the Detroit Tigers, and said Moises Alou is the godfather to his children. The bearded Bagwell also thanked Moises Alou and the late Darryl Kile.

Jeff Bagwell (5) joins Craig Biggio (7) in Cooperstown

Jeff Bagwell (5) joins Craig Biggio (7) in Cooperstown

He also urged kids to avoid his unorthodox batting stance, which made Bagwell look like a human horseshoe.

Selig, a former owner who spent 22 seasons as commissioner, admitted he operated by the philosophy that change that may be good is often painful too. “If you do what benefits the game, no matter how painful, it is good,” he said.

Controversial because he cancelled the 1994 postseason and later looked the other way when steroids influenced the game, Selig took credit for 27 years of labor peace, retiring Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 by all clubs, and parity that has placed all 30 clubs in the playoffs at least once apiece since 2001.

He also said baseball helped the nation heal from the 9/11 terrorist attacks merely by continuing – just as baseball continued as a wartime morale booster after Pearl Harbor was bombed on September 7, 1941.

Bud Selig got all but one vote from the Veterans Committee

Bud Selig got all but one vote from the Veterans Committee

Walking back to his Washington hotel room with Hank Aaron, the slugger said, “Who would have thought when we met in 1958 that I’d break Ruth’s record and you’d be Commissioner?”

Rodriguez, like Aaron, was rich in talent. Signed at 16, he became the regular receiver of the Texas Rangers three years later and immediately was told to catch Nolan Ryan. “You don’t have to do too much,” Ryan told him. “Put your fingers down and I’ll throw the ball to you.”

Soon after, Ryan was en route to watch his eighth no-hitter when Dave Winfield singled while leading off the eighth. “Reporters asked me later what pitch he hit and I said ‘Nolan shook me off,’” Rodriguez remembered.

Pudge Rodriguez gave a bi-lingual talk Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

Pudge Rodriguez gave a bi-lingual talk
Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

Boisterous fans waving Puerto Rican flags cheered every Rodriguez word. The first Puerto Rican and second catcher to win first-ballot election, he caught more games than anyone else, dividing his record among five clubs.
“I’m living proof that you should never let anyone take your dream away from you,” he said before repeating his speech in Spanish. The rocket-armed Rodriguez won 13 Gold Gloves, an MVP award, and a Championship Series MVP trophy during his 21-year career. He also revealed that he’s happy to oblige requests of fans.

“Don’t think you’re putting me out when you ask for a picture or autograph,” he said. “It’s an honor.”

Like Rodriguez, Raines was a little guy with big-time talent. The switch-hitting outfielder, who surfaced as a second baseman with the Montreal Expos, won a batting title and two World Series rings. He also led his league in stolen bases four times while compiling an 84.7 per cent success ratio.

His main inspiration as a youngster was watching his father play center field on some of the segregated black playgrounds in Tampa. Later, Raines and his son Tim Jr. played in the same game for the Baltimore Orioles.

Another son was named Andre after Andre Dawson, role model for Raines in Montreal. “I once asked Dawson for an autograph – not knowing we were going to be teammates in two years,” he revealed. “Without Andre’s influence, there’s no telling what would have happened in my career.”

Raines said George Brett’s book The Art of Hitting .300 helped the offensive end of his game take off. But it didn’t help him catch fellow Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, to whom he is often compared.

Tim Raines reached the Hall on his final try

Tim Raines reached the Hall on his final try

“To me, Rickey Henderson is the greatest leadoff man who ever played the game,” Raines said. “He ran, he hit, he hit with power. I could go deep from both sides but Rickey had a little more power, I didn’t compete with Rickey but I loved the way he played the game.”

Induction Weekend also included a parade of legends and awards ceremony, held at ancient Doubleday Field. Writer Claire Smith, the late broadcaster Bill King, and 95-year-old Rachel Robinson were recipients.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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