By Bob Nightengale |
There you have it, the most diverse Hall of Fame class in baseball history, in a moment Major League Baseball desperately needs.
Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina were elected Tuesday into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, joining Lee Smith and Harold Baines, who were elected in December.
For the first time since its inaugural class in 1936 — excluding players from the former Negro Leagues who were prohibited from playing in the major leagues before Jackie Robinson integrated the sport in 1947 — there will be four minorities in the same election class.
We have a reliever from Panama, a designated hitter from Puerto Rico, a starter born and raised in Colorado who spent most of his career in Canada and a Stanford graduate from Pennsylvania who spent his entire career pitching in the American League East, joining two African-Americans who were elected by Today’s Modern Day Era committee.
This election comes at an ideal time for MLB, whose rosters consisted of just 7.8% of African-Americans on opening-day rosters in 2018. This winter, there were six managerial openings. Just one was filled by a minority when the Toronto Blue Jays hired Charlie Montoyo, a Puerto Rican. There were four general manager and president of baseball operation positions that became available. Farhan Zaidi, born in Canada and just one of two Muslim executives in baseball, was hired by the San Francisco Giants as president of baseball operations. He already was serving as the GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers, however.
It also comes at a critical time for the Oakland Athletics, who plan to increase their original $4.66 million signing bonus to Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray to convince him to play baseball instead of joining the NFL, a high-ranking team executive told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
Now, baseball will have these Hall of Famers on center stage this summer — just three weeks after the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox play in London — to showcase its sport for the world. The induction ceremony will be July 21 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
This comes at a time baseball also is fighting an image problem with its players. Teams suddenly are hesitant to provide its greatest players lucrative, long-term contracts in free agency that used to guarantee they’d play into their late-30s, and even past 40. It was used as a powerful recruiting tool when drafting multi-sport athletes.
These days, the only thing colder than the winter is the free-agent market. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, each 26, were supposed to have teams drooling over their services and willing to pay in excess of $300 million. They remain unsigned just three weeks before free agency ends.
There have been only 10 free agents this winter who have received contracts longer than two years, and only starter Patrick Corbin of the Washington Nationals received a guarantee of more than $60 million with his six-year, $140 million deal.
All-Star players from Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs to Jake Arrieta of the Philadelphia Phillies to Evan Longoria of the Giants have voiced their disdain in recent weeks.
But, at least on this magical day, baseball can celebrate its heritage.
We can talk about Rivera being the greatest reliever in baseball history, and debate whether he is the greatest New York Yankee since Babe Ruth.
We can marvel over Martinez’s rise to greatness, going from playing semi-pro ball on weekends, making $4 an hour on an assembly line in Puerto Rico, before being discovered by a Seattle Mariners’ scout and turning into one of the most feared hitters of his generation.
We can cry that it was Brandy Halladay, and not her husband, Roy, who got the call from the Hall of Fame. Roy Halladay died in November 2017 in the crash of a plane he piloted. He is the first player elected posthumously since Roberto Clemente in 1973.
In a statement released after the announcement, Brandy Halladay wrote:
“Being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame is every boy’s dream. To stand on that stage in Cooperstown and deliver your acceptance speech in front of baseball’s most enthusiastic fans is something that every baseball player aspires to achieve, and Roy was no exception. But that was not Roy’s goal. It was not his goal to have those three letters after his signature. His goal was to be successful every single day of his 16-year career. Tonight’s announcement is the end result of that effort. If only Roy were here to personally express his gratitude for this honor, what an even more amazing day this would be. I would like to extend special thanks to the baseball writers for the overwhelming percentage of votes that Roy received in his first year on the ballot. It means so much to me, Braden and Ryan.”
And we can finally acknowledge Mussina’s uncanny consistency, winning 270 games while pitching his entire career in the AL East – with the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles – and during the heart of the steroid era.
This is a time the baseball world can put away its differences, stop its conflicts, hide its blemishes, and celebrate diversity in one of the most beautiful days of its Hall of Fame history.
The timing is impeccable.