Cooperstown’s Class of 2017
In the last few years, the National Baseball Hall of Fame annual enshrinement ceremonies has been like a platform for the “dream team” for any kid who grew up loving baseball in the 1990s. This year is no exception.
The Class of 2014 included Pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, slugger Frank Thomas and three legendary Managers in Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa. In 2015, Pitchers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz were joined by Craig Biggio. Then in 2016, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were enshrined in the ranks of Cooperstown’s elite. The Class of 2017 includes perhaps the greatest defensive Catcher of the past quarter century in Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Houston Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell and the most efficient base stealer of all-time, Tim Raines. Each player’s path to Cooperstown was quite different.
Pudge was rightfully selected on the first ballot in which he was eligible. He reaches Cooperstown after a 21 year career in the Majors, a recipient of 13 Gold Glove Awards, 14 All-Star Game appearances and the 1999 AL MVP. He finished with 311 HRs, 1,331 RBIs and a lifetime .296 BA. After a decade of outstanding seasons with the Texas Rangers, Pudge left for Florida in 2003, where he helped lead the Marlins to a World Series victory. He departed to Detroit the following season where his veteran leadership help propel the struggling franchise to capture the AL Pennant in 2006. His selection to the Hall of Fame is simply, a no-brainer. And despite Nolan Ryan deciding to wear a Rangers cap in Cooperstown, Pudge is, arguably, the first product of the Texas Rangers to reach the Hall of Fame.
On his seventh appearance on the ballot, First Baseman Jeff Bagwell was selected to join his teammate, Second Baseman Craig Biggio, in Cooperstown. Bagwell and Biggio were hitting machines, earning the nickname “The Killer Bs” for their ability to frustrate opposing Pitchers. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1991 and MVP in 1994, a year cut short by the Strike. In that season, he hit 39 HRs, 116 RBIs and was batting .368 in only 110 games. His signature crouched stance and explosive swing produced 449 career HRs, 1,529 RBIs, a lifetime .297 BA and .540 SLG in his 15 year career. Like Biggio, Bagwell spent his entire career with the Houston Astros, and are the franchise’s only two Hall of Famers.
Tim “Rock” Raines was already a decade into his career when Pudge and Bagwell came on the scene. In his last year eligible on the ballot, Raines finally received the votes he needed to reach baseball’s elite status. Known as one of the best leadoff hitters in history, Raines led the league in Stolen Bases four times, accumulating 808 SB for his career (5th All-Time) and most impressively, an 84.7 success rate (best ever). Raines often played in the shadows of Rickey Henderson, but the seven time All-Star carved out his own success story. And with all the recent chatter of future MLB expansion, Raines will go to Cooperstown bearing the cap of the Montreal Expos. He also enjoyed late career success, as a key component of the 1996 and 1998, World Champion New York Yankees.
While Rodriguez will be enshrined without any debate, the Bagwell and Raines selections has rendered some criticism. Bagwell was a power hitter in the steroid era and his muscular build has caused some to accuse him of usage; though those claims have been fervently denied. And with Raines being passed up for a decade, some have argued he was a great player, but perhaps not Cooperstown material. While critics will debate these issues, the baseball writers have spoken and the Class of 2017 will be enshrined this Sunday.
There is nothing in sports that quite compares to the Baseball Hall of Fame. While other sports leagues bestow similar honors, the halls of Cooperstown commemorate a tradition that stretches back nearly a century and a half. Professional baseball grew, as America grew; through the rise of industrialism, the growth of cities, the Great Depression, two World Wars, the post-war boom, the turbulence of the 1960s, the fall of the Soviet Union and through the age of technology and global unrest. From the the battlefields of the Civil War to the Little League fields in every city and town, baseball has been an integral part of the nation’s fabric. The Hall of Fame ceremonies not only commemorate the legendary men who earned their place among the game’s elite, but the families, communities, teammates and coaches who guided their journey. The stage is set for another memorable day of one of America’s greatest traditions.