COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — “Pudge” Rodriguez stared out at his father, wiping away tears as he spoke.
“I love you with all of my heart,” Rodriguez said. “If I’m a Hall of Famer, you’re a Hall of Famer — double.”
Those words punctuated Rodriguez’s speech as he was inducted Sunday into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines, along with former commissioner Bud Selig and front-office guru John Schuerholz also were enshrined on a picture-perfect summer day in front of over 27,000 fans.
“It’s always emotional when you see the fans cheering for you, and my whole family in front of me,” Bagwell said. “I’m an emotional person. It’s a dream just to be part of this beautiful group. Now I have that plaque forever. It’s unbelievable.”
Before he started, Rodriguez received a standing ovation from hundreds of fans, many wearing red-and-white jerseys with Puerto Rico emblazoned on the front, and proceeded to give half his speech in Spanish.
“This is such an incredible honor for me,” Rodriguez said. “A little kid from Puerto Rico with a big dream. Never let them take your dream away from you.”
The 45-year-old Rodriguez holds major league records for games caught (2,427) and putouts by a catcher (12,376). He hit 311 homers and batted .296 in his career. He’s also only the second catcher elected on the first ballot, following in the footsteps of his childhood idol, Cincinnati Reds star Johnny Bench, who was seated on the dais behind him.
After speaking in Spanish, Rodriguez went back and repeated in English, concentrating on a message to youth.
“You have the right to dream,” he said. “Everything in life is possible. I speak from experience.”
Bagwell, who played his entire 15-year career in Houston, took the dais to an extended applause from the Astros fans who made the trip.
“You know I don’t like attention,” Bagwell said with a tinge of nervousness. “I’m so humbled to be here. I’m just really trying to figure out what’s going on.”
Bagwell started his speech by thanking his family, singling out his parents and wife.
“Mom, you are just the most amazing person in the world,” he said. “You’ve been a pillar for me. I can’t tell you how much I love you and what you mean to me. My father, Bob. There’s something about a dad. You brought me to love this game of baseball. Something my father instilled in me was to never quit. Deep inside, I just never gave up. That drive got me a long way.”
The 48-year-old Bagwell was one-third of the famed “Killer B’s” of the Astros, along with Hall of Famer Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman. Together they helped transform the Astros from a last-place team to the World Series in 2005, the first team from Texas to do so. Elected in his seventh year on the ballot, Bagwell is the only first baseman in history with 400 career home runs and 200 stolen bases.
“I tried to do everything well,” he said. “I wanted to score for my team and for my other players. I enjoy the stolen bases more than anything else. For a little guy with not much speed, I truly appreciate that. I could help us win in different ways.”
Bagwell ended his career with 449 home runs and from 1996-2001 had at least 30 home runs, 100 runs scored and 100 RBIs per season, only the sixth player in major league history to reach those marks in at least six straight years.
Raines was greeted by scores of fans from Canada, many of whom came aboard several buses. He thanked his mom and dad, who were seated in the front row and later focused on Hall of Famer Andre Dawson, his teammate with the Montreal Expos when he first broke into the major leagues in the early 1980s.
“Without Andre Dawson there’s no telling where I’d be,” said Raines, who fought cocaine problems early in his career. “I wanted to kind of be like you and he finally accepted and I followed. Thank you so much for making me the player I became.”
The 57-year-old Raines, a switch-hitter, batted .294 and had a .385 on-base percentage in his 23-year career, finishing with 2,605 hits, 1,571 runs and 808 stolen bases. His stolen base total is the fifth-highest in major league history and included 70 or more steals in each season from 1981-86, a streak that stands alone in baseball history. And his 84.7 percent success rate tops the list among players with at least 400 steal attempts.
Raines also cited former Kansas City Royals star George Brett and base-stealing king Rickey Henderson, both Hall of Famers who were seated behind him on the stage.
For Selig, who was celebrating his 83rd birthday, it was a reversal of roles. For more than two decades he gave out the Hall of Fame plaques on induction day.
“It’s an overwhelming, stunning feeling,” said Selig, who dropped his speech midway through it but never skipped a beat. “You’re getting the highest honor.”
Selig left a large imprint during more than 22 years as the leader of the game. He was instrumental in the approval of interleague play, the expansion of the playoffs, splitting each league into three divisions with wild cards, instituting video review and revenue-sharing in an era that saw the construction of 20 new ballparks.
His tenure also included the Steroids Era and the cancellation of the 1994 World Series amid a players’ strike, but he left baseball in excellent shape economically — without labor strife and with a strict drug-testing policy that has helped clean up the game.
In 26 years as a GM for the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves, Schuerholz stood alone. His teams won 16 division titles, six pennants and two World Series, one in each league, a first. He credited divine providence and fate for his good fortune, starting with a case of German measles that left him deaf in his right ear at age five, which he said forced him to be more attentive.
Schuerholz, who played second base at Towson University, said he quickly figured out where he should concentrate his future in baseball after a two-day tryout when he was told to time the players on the second day instead of taking the field.
“The message was delivered,” Schuerholz said. “I’d better concentrate someplace other than trying to be a professional baseball player. Divine providence. Fate. I truly believe so.”
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