In an era where analytics are increasingly supplanting, rather than supplementing gut instincts, baseball celebrated the old-school game Sunday at the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Jeff Bagwell reminded the crowd of the importance of a clubhouse culture, hanging out with your teammates, clubhouse attendants and trainers late into the night, talking life as much as baseball.
Tim Raines reminisced about his early years in Montreal, where a teammate, Andre Dawson, not only helped him overcome a cocaine addiction, but was so instrumental to his life that he named his second son after him.
Pudge Rodriguez spoke about growing up in poverty in Puerto Rico, and although he’s in the Hall of Fame now, vows never to forget his roots. He talked about the impact the great Puerto Rican catchers like Benito Santiago and Sandy Alomar made on him.
John Schuerholz, the architect of two World Series champions and 14 consecutive division titles in Atlanta, discussed the importance of scouting and development, with Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox becoming his most treasured resource, not a puppet who writes out the lineup card handed down by the front office.
Former Commissioner Bud Selig talked about the days that took over a sport that was divided between small and big markets, and the players’ union and owners feuding. He changed the game using old-fashioned people skills where everyone could get along, thanking former union chief Michael Weiner for helping him along the way.
The quintet spent nearly four hours Sunday subtly reminding everyone that numbers and stats are fine, but it’s still a game that’s played and run by men and women, and no one should ever forget the value of the human element.
“What I was trying to convey,’’ said Bagwell in his impassioned speech, “was that a lot of things are done in baseball that you see a bottom line. You see stats. It’s all about stats.
“But there’s so much more about baseball than goes in, whether it’s talking to the media, the clubhouse guys, umpires….There’s so many different things that go around a stat line that people don’t see.’’
Bagwell thanked everyone from long-time teammates Craig Biggio and Moises Alou to the late Ken Caminiti and Darryl Kile, to his former managers, coaches, trainers, to Milwaukee Brewers clubhouse attendant Phil Rozewicz.
“Baseball,’’ Bagwell said, “is about relationships. Those are the things that are passionate to me just because I think those people are so important in all of our lives as players.’’
Sure, maybe the speeches were too long. Then again, maybe it was OK to hear grown men ramble on, talking about their paths to the Hall of Fame, and not trying to fit their speech to accommodate any TV time slots.
The players showed their emotions throughout the day with Rodriguez tearing up when he looked at his parents in the crowd, and thanked them in Spanish. Raines choked up when he discussed those who meant the most to him throughout his career, everyone from Dawson to Joe Morgan to Frank Thomas.
And, yes, the day was sprinkled with humor. Rodriguez talked about the time his 2-year-old son wet his pants when Ken Griffey Jr. picked him up for the first time, and how he blamed Nolan Ryan’s failed bid for his eighth no-hitter on his English skills.
“Hall of Famer Dave Winfield singled to lead off the eighth inning,’’ Rodriguez recalled. “After the game, the reporter asked me, ‘What was the pitch he threw?’ I said to the reporter, ‘Nolan shook me off.’ Sorry, Nolan.
“The kid learned English quickly.’’
Bagwell reminded everyone of the infamous one-sided trade that sent him to the Houston Astros as a Class AA prospect for veteran reliever Larry Andersen in 1990. Bagwell spent his entire 15-year career in Houston. Anderson spent just 15 games with the Red Sox before departing as a free agent.
“I asked who I got traded for,’’ Bagwell said, “and they said Larry Andersen. And I said, ‘Who is Larry Andersen?’ He‘s a relief pitcher for the Astros, a really good one. So I want to thank Larry for being such a great reliever. The Red Sox wanted you. …
“Larry used to get on me when I went to Philadelphia and he’d say hey, ‘You have to step it up. People are not actually talking about me anymore.’ I said OK. I’m doing the best I can.
“So I’m here, Larry. Is this big enough for you?’’
Raines, overwhelmed by the legion of fans who came from Montreal to honor him, tried to open his speech by thanking them in French. He spoke a few words, stopped, and apologized. He couldn’t pull it off.
“I tried for 25 years to speak your language,’’ Raines said, “and I still don’t have it. I screwed that one up.
It made no difference. The fans that made the 5-hour drive showered Raines with adoration, and their love for Montreal, but lightly booed Selig when he was introduced, angry over losing their franchise. Other Expos fans quietly departed when Selig spoke, returning only after his speech concluded.
Selig indeed was the commissioner when the Expos moved to Washington, D.C., after the 2004 season, but in Milwaukee, he’s a hero, and will forever be remembered as the man who brought baseball back to Milwaukee.
This was also the second consecutive year that players under steroid suspicions were inducted into the Hall of Fame, but Selig was the only one who addressed the subject during his speech.
“It became apparent that the players’ use of performance-enhancing substances was undermining the integrity of the game,’’ Selig said. “I can tell you that having the buck stop at your desk is not necessarily a good feeling, but it is a responsibility that comes with positions of leadership.
“We desperately needed a drug-testing program, and we had to work together to get it done. While the process was more difficult and time consuming than I would have liked, in the end, baseball and the Players’ Association developed a program that is the gold standard for sports and business alike.’’
In the meantime, players like Rodriguez and Bagwell – with not even solid circumstantial evidence, but mere suspicions clouding their name – will continue entering the Hall’s doors.
The issue will continue to come up at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony until Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the two greatest players during the steroid era, either are elected or their eligibility passes.
That’s an issue for another time, another year.
On this day, the newest Hall of Fame class wanted to simply celebrate the game they knew growing up.
Their ways may seem almost archaic to those running the game now, but honestly, they’ll tell you, it was a thing of beauty.
Sunday provided a wonderful reminder.