This Year’s Hall of Famers Reflect On The Honor
Ivan Rodriguez poses with his bronze likeness in the Hall of Fame plaque gallery following this year's induction ceremony. Rodriguez is the second catcher ever to be elected on the first ballot. He shares that similarity with his idol, Johnny Bench. (Photo by Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall Of Fame)
The morning after is, in many ways, the most enjoyable time of one of baseball’s greatest weekends. The Hall of Fame hosts a roundtable of the inductees, and every year those honorees are their most relaxed. They have seen their plaques installed in the Hall and have woken up for the first time with the realization that they are Hall of Famers, like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.
In many ways, this year's roundtable had a sense of peace that matched the calm waters of Cooperstown’s Otsego Lake. Ivan Rodriguez thanked former commissioner Bud Selig for all he did for the game “and our place in it,” reciting that this is the 22nd consecutive year of labor peace. John Schuerholz joyfully recounted the day in 1993 the Braves acquired Fred McGriff. No one brought up PEDs to Jeff Bagwell or Rodriguez.
Houstonians took note that three members of the great 1998 Astros now are enshrined in Cooperstown. Bagwell joined Craig Biggio and Randy Johnson. Rodriguez’s legions, especially those Puerto Ricans for whom he is a national symbol, reminded us that this man caught more games (2,427) than anyone in history—in the heat of Texas and Florida, no less.
And while Raines reminded those Montreal fans why they have never stopped hoping for baseball’s return, his remembrances of the ugly ownership collusion of the winter of 1986-87 was punctuated by his patented staccato laugh.
There was no laughter that March 1987 when I went to Florida to visit him. Raines was unsigned, banned from getting his fair market share despite leading the majors in hits from 1981-87. He would go to a stretch class in the mornings, then the gym, then spend the afternoons working with his son’s high school team.
Raines eventually re-signed with Montreal for three years and $5 million—but he was not allowed to play until May.
“I was terrified, because I hadn’t played a game,” Raines said of his May 2 debut. “I took BP and couldn’t get the ball out of the cage. It was awful. I thought, ‘This is going to be ugly.’ To make things worse David Cone was pitching for the Mets.
“So I was up there in the first inning, having no idea what was going to happen. I got a fastball, hit it hard to left field—harder than anything I hit in BP—and got a triple. I couldn’t believe it.”
That day Raines went 4-for-5 and, in storybook fashion, hit a 10th-inning grand slam to win the game. “Incredibly, I went on to have my best season,” said the man who won the 1986 National League batting title.
Raines went on to overcome lupus and win a World Series ring with the 1996 Yankees, but earning the “HOF” designation was just as special.
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“This morning I feel a peace, a happiness that I can’t fully explain,” Raines said. “I’ve had a great life in baseball.”