Sunday was a day for the good guys in baseball.
The good guys thoughtful enough on a humid Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday to thank the clubhouse attendants in their induction speeches.
The enshrined greats who took part of their allotted time to talk about their most worthy of philanthropic causes, and warn parents about the dangers of their kids pitching too much too early.
This was a day for a 2014 Hall of Fame rookie, Frank Thomas, who without fanfare helped a frail Whitey Ford on stage, because it was the right thing to do.
Like other induction ceremonies, this was a day the returning legends garnered polite applause. But this was a day Hank Aaron, maybe the Hall’s greatest member on and off the field, earned a standing ovation.
Sunday was a day for four inductees — ridiculously small and ridiculously tall and ridiculously resilient — who played the game clean in the age of cheating, and still dominated.
You don’t have to be a good person to be a great ballplayer. History tells us that, from Ty Cobb through Barry Bonds. But there was something especially worthy celebrating about this day, this group of Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez, considering who they were, and the era they played.
This was a good day for baseball.
Look at Pedro Martinez, his tie matching the sea of Dominican Republic flags and that ever-present joyous smile. You shake your head, eyeing a guy who comes up to Johnson’s necktie knot, and wonder how he made it to that stage Sunday.
Of course, his career dictates he belongs. The numbers, from the strikeouts to the Cy Youngs, back it up.
But in context of his times, even in hindsight, it doesn’t make sense. He was a wisp, listed at an overly generous 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, going against juiced Jurrasic-sized hitters. When he broke into the bigs with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Tommy Lasorda had him coming out of the bullpen, fearing he was too small, too slight to last as a starter. To be fair, Martinez was a really good set-up man in ’93.
Of course, Pedro went on to become Pedro, his fastball defying physics. And among all his great seasons, 1999-2000 — right in the eye of the steroids storm, pitching in the bandbox of Fenway — rank among the greatest ever hurled.
“I always give the same answer when they ask me how did I feel pitching in the juice era,” Martinez told reporters recently. “I say, ‘You know, I wouldn’t want it any other way.’ ”
There was a delicious irony on display Sunday: Three pitchers — Pedro, Johnson and Smoltz — and a contact hitter in Biggio being honored with enshrinement, all coming from an era when artificial behemoths roamed the diamonds. While Bonds and Roger Clemens await their fate, and Rafael Palmeiro can wag his finger at himself for eternity, these four were lauded for worthy careers elevated to the astonishing given the time they played.
Johnson, now, he would have dominated any era. At 6-foot-10, the mulleted Big Unit terrified everyone from the hitter to the guy in the on-deck circle to viewers watching at home and even passing doves. (Google it.)
Smoltz, who battled injury, could have gotten an Andy Pettitte out for using. Never needed it. All the starter did after being sidelined with Tommy John surgery is redefine himself as one of the best relievers in the game.
“I’m proud of everything that I was able to do without succumbing to all the other things,” Smoltz said recently. “Never tempted, never in a compromising position.”
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Sunday one of his responsibilities is “taking the game back to its roots,” and getting more kids to play. Watching good guys play great is a good start.
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