Cooperstown's Class of 2019 rewards the Hall of Fame-worthy careers of a diverse group of players and contributors to the greatness of the game. New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera became the first unanimous selection by voters for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Mariners slugger Edgar Martinez cashed in on his last year on the main ballot, gaining recognition for his tremendous production as his era's signature designated hitter. Starting pitchers Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina both got into the Hall, Mussina in recognition of his extended excellence, Halladay for his exceptional peak performance.
But they are not this weekend's only inductees. The Today's Game Committee of the Hall of Fame is the current variant on the Veterans Committee that was charged with recognizing past players not voted in by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and this year they elected two men -- closer Lee Smith, who long held the all-time saves record before he was surpassed by Rivera and Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman; and DH Harold Baines, who was seen by many for much of the '80s how Martinez was at the position in the '90s.
This weekend's festivities will also include the induction of sportswriter Jayson Stark, this year's winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for "for meritorious contributions to baseball writing," including his many years as a columnist at ESPN.
Live from Cooperstown, here's what we're seeing this weekend:
Sunday, July 21
Mariano Rivera opens up about his struggles to learn English; thanks his teammates for helping him pic.twitter.com/hBEhP9qshp— Marly Rivera (@MarlyRiveraESPN) July 21, 2019
"If I didn't give you time, I am sorry," Mariano Rivera joked, thanking the writers for making him a Hall of Famer. "Maybe I will give you time later on." Pinstriped Yankees fans dominated the grounds of the Clark Sports Complex on Sunday, but just as spirited were fans from Panama, who also gave a major welcome to countryman Rod Carew when he was introduced early in the festivities.
Momentos de Mariano Rivera en ceremonia Cooperstown 2019🇵🇦🇵🇦🇵🇦 pic.twitter.com/OSp6hQiJ2D— Enrique Rojas/ESPN (@Enrique_Rojas1) July 21, 2019
In thanking the people from his hometown of Castle, Louisiana, Lee Smith said, "You think Cooperstown is small, you've never been to Castle." Smith talked of how essential the role of community played in helping him get to the majors. He also recalled Buck O'Neil, a longtime Cubs scout, helping pave the way for his first pro contract.
"Thank you Mariners fans. You are the best fans a player could ever hope for, and I'm so glad I stayed with you until the end," Edgar Martinez, addressing the impressive gathering of Seattle faithful who made the long pilgrimage to Cooperstown.
During a very difficult time for Puerto Rico, @11EdgarMartinez brings our people so much joy by starting his speech in SPANISH thanking all of Puerto Rico, and his hometown of Dorado! 🇵🇷👏🏽🇵🇷👏🏽🇵🇷👏🏽🇵🇷👏🏽🇵🇷#EdgarHOF pic.twitter.com/MXsL9v0EpO— Marly Rivera (@MarlyRiveraESPN) July 21, 2019
There was perhaps nothing more perfect than this for the hot weather in Cooperstown this weekend. (Photo by the reliably superb Marly Rivera.)
"I'm not an emotional man, except when it comes to family," Harold Baines said, right before his voice cracked. He doesn't say much, but he means what he says.
Addressing the Hall of Famers on stage with her, Brandy Halladay said, "I can't tell you how many hugs I've gotten. Anybody who thinks baseball isn't a family has never been involved in baseball."
During his Hall of Fame induction speech, - Mike Mussina said that his brother, Mark, was so superstitious that if Moose was pitching well, Mark wouldn't let anybody in his row at the ballpark leave their seats "for any reason."
Tremendous rendition of the national anthem here in Cooperstown by none other than former Yankee Bernie Williams. Played it on an electric guitar, though his version was much closer to the traditional arrangement than Hendrix.
President Laurentino Cortizo of Panama is also on hand to celebrate Mo's induction, as Rivera joins Rod Carew among Panamanian Hall of Famers (h/t to Marly Rivera).
From Marly Rivera on-site, Mariano Rivera's wife Clara and their three sons have taken their seats in Cooperstown to cheer on the Hall's first-ever unanimous selection...
The hills are filling up with fans. Ceremonies begin in 15 minutes.
Mo's parents, Delia and Mariano Rivera Sr., are in Cooperstown for their son's Baseball Hall of Fame induction. Here they are alongside family friend, broadcaster Eric Espino, one of the many Panamanians present in Cooperstown today.
Mike Mussina talks about how he knew it was time to retire after a 20-win final season instead of sticking around for a chance at 300 victories.
Here are the signatures of this year's Hall of Famers, marking the spots where their plaques will hang this evening. The blank slate in the upper row is where Roy Halladay's plaque will reside.
Saturday, July 20
The Cooperstown Brewing Company has produced Sandman Pilsner — a special edition brew for Mariano Rivera on the occasion of the former Yankees closer's Hall of Fame induction. (We found it on Main Street at the Cooperstown Beverage Exchange.)
The soon-to-be-home of Mariano Rivera's Hall of Fame plaque — signed by the first-ever unanimous selection himself.
Just down the street from the doors of the Hall of Fame, Pete Rose is signing autographs for any fans willing to pay the $65 price for a signature
These people are ready for a parade! After sprinkles and overhead thunder caused some early worries, the legends parade went off just fine. Only downer was most of the Hall of Famers rode in the cabs of their rides rather than perched on the truck bed in back, an product of today's heat. Still, good times.
"All I ever wanted from the time I was a kid was to be one of you," said Jayson Stark of the baseball writers who honored him with the Spink Award for meritorious service. In an eloquent acceptance speech Sat. at Cooperstown's Doubleday Field, Stark paid tribute to members of his family and profession and the baseball figures who've provided a wealth of material. He recounted the jocular, but light-hitting pitcher Larry Andersen saying, "I'm a .308 career hitter. I played in 13 seasons and got a hit in four of them. Hey, make the stats work for you." Stark said, with attribution to Game of Thrones, "There's nothing more powerful than a good story." And he appreciatively asked and answered "Who gets to live the life they've dreamed of since they were 10 years old? I do."
Very strong Seattle contingent in Cooperstown this weekend. Not nearly at New York level, but nonetheless it's an impressive turnout for Edgar Martinez.
It's brutally hot in Cooperstown and a number of revelers have peeled off from Main Street to chill in the park — and even get in a little catch.
"If I have to express myself with one word, what I can say from being a son of a captain of a fishing boat, to Cooperstown, only a ‘miracle,'" said Mariano Rivera in our Fri. interview, of his journey from Panama to the Hall of Fame. The game's greatest closer and first unanimous Hall electee said he's most proud of "what my parents did for me, how they raised me, and how I played the game of baseball. How I respect the game of baseball. How I give my best to the game of baseball."
Lee Smith is glad to have pitched when he did, but there's a certain perennial MVP candidate playing now he wishes he had a crack at.
It's media session time for the 2019 Hall of Fame class in Cooperstown.
Edgar Martinez, in our pre-induction Cooperstown interview Fri., said he considers Mike Trout the game's top player today, as Martinez's former Seattle teammate once was. "He hits right-handed, but he reminds me of Junior (Ken Griffey Jr.) — both play centerfield, both have the five tools and instincts." Martinez said he expects Trout to eventually join them in the Hall of Fame.
Mike Mussina said in our Cooperstown interview Fri. that when he got word in January of his election to the Hall of Fame, his initial thought was "they're giving me a courtesy call to say, ‘hey, listen, you missed by five votes'...they're just being nice to me because I was close." He said he "wasn't sitting at home with people videoing it, with the phone on the coffee table waiting for it to ring, it was nothing at all like that - I was completely surprised." Mussina was coaching a high school basketball practice when the call came and his celebration dinner with his son was "going to McDonald's and grabbing some burgers and nuggets and drinks (from the drive-through)."
Lee Smith said in our pre-HoF induction interview Fri. that opposing hitters "knew I had pinpoint control. If I threw a ball right on the corner, I could expand the strike zone a little bit, and you start doing that, you're going to get borderline pitches, so you can let the hitter get himself out." Smith said his repertoire was a two-seamer, a four-seamer and a slider. "I started throwing a forkball at the end, but it was really a cutter — and Harry Caray called it a slider, so I wasn't going to argue with him." Smith also said his customary slow walk in from the bullpen was calculated, to make hitters wait, think and guess at what first pitch they'd face.
New HoF inductee Harold Baines said of himself as a hitter, in our Fri. Cooperstown interview, "I could hit to all fields. You really couldn't position me correctly, because I took advantage of what you left me, and I studied, so I'd pretty much know what side of the plate you were trying to get me out on." He said he takes greatest pride in his longevity and consistency, adding, "My last 12 years I was pretty much on one-year contracts, so I couldn't afford to fail."
Just $600 for a signed Mariano Rivera bat, one guaranteed never to break since there is no way you're ever going to play baseball with it.
There is no lack of imagination in Cooperstown when it comes to honoring its Hall of Famers.
That's five Spink Award winners at a reception last night for 2019 honoree Jayson Stark. From left to right: Claire Smith, Dan Shaughnessy, Stark, Bill Madden and Paul Hagen.