Craig Biggio racked up the hits. Randy Johnson, the strikeouts. Pedro Martinez, the moments of out-of-this-world transcendence. And John Smoltz had a little bit of everything.
On Sunday, all four men were honored for their accomplishments by being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The respective speeches each man gave were perfect microcosms of their personalities.
Biggio, who anchored the Houston Astros franchise throughout the 1990s and 2000s largely out of the public spotlight, was understated and thoughtful. Thanking everyone from his family to Astros fans to Matt Galante, who helped him make the fateful transition from catcher to second base early in his career, Biggio was the perfect choice to lead off the day.
“In baseball, tomorrow is not guaranteed and I tried to play every game as if it was going to be my last,” Biggio said, per Brett Dolan of CBS Houston. “I want to thank the game for everything. The game has given me everything. My family, my friends, respect, but most of all, memories of a lifetime.”
Biggio was a bastion of consistency throughout his career, posting 3,060 career hits to go along with 291 home runs and 414 steals. His induction came after a few near-misses, making him the only player inducted this year not to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He's also the first Astro in history to make the cut.
Biggio, being the first on the stage, set the tone for a class that seemed to have a healthy respect for one another.
“I played against a lot of them, I admired a lot of them and I respected all of them,” Biggio said.
Smoltz, who was part of the best pitching trio of the 1990s with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, added a good bit of levity to proceedings by donning a wig early on. As Bob Nightengale of USA Today noted, Smoltz put on the wig as a shoutout to Maddux, who apparently makes fun of his baldness:
Smoltz's career itself is unique, blazing a path that none (save for perhaps Dennis Eckersley) had before. He was a dominant, powerful starter for the first dozen years of his MLB career, but arm trouble nearly prematurely ended Smoltz's run in the majors. Tommy John surgery cost him the entire 2000 season and ultimately paved the way for a move to the bullpen that saved his career.
Beginning in 2001, Smoltz's four-year run in the Atlanta Braves' pen was nearly as dominant as his heights as a starter. He saved 55 games in 2002, tied for the third-highest single-season total in history, which led to him winning the National League's Rolaids Relief Man award.
Smoltz ultimately returned to the starting rotation and went on to win 213 games, but it is clear now that his trials with injuries still weigh heavily on his mind. Perhaps the most powerful moment of Smoltz's speech came when he warned young players and parents of the dangers of Tommy John surgery, per Nick Schwartz of For The Win:
I want to encourage you, if nothing else, know that your children’s passion and desire to play baseball is something that they can do without a competitive pitch. Every throw a kid makes today is a competitive pitch. They don’t go outside, they don’t have fun, they don’t throw enough—but they’re competing and maxing out too hard, too early, and that’s why we’re having these problems. Please, take care of those great future arms.
Johnson was no stranger to injury travails himself. Among the tallest players in MLB history, Johnson's height played a part in his undergoing multiple back and knee surgeries throughout his career. He was also plagued by fits of wildness that led some to believe he'd never reach his full potential.
Twenty-two MLB seasons, 303 wins and one co-World Series MVP later, Johnson made it to Cooperstown. Known to prefer privacy and for a surly disposition—his two-year stint in New York remains an underexamined odyssey—the Hall of Fame stage allowed Johnson to open up a bit.
"I no longer have a fastball. I no longer have a bad mullet. And my scowl is gone," Johnson said, per Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com.
Still, it's Johnson's competitive zeal (and that whole awesome fastball/slider combo) that helped turn him into one of the best left-handed starters ever. He's second all-time in strikeouts and sits at 28th in WAR, per Baseball-Reference.com.
"If you were cheering for me, I'd run through a brick wall for you and throw as many pitches as needed to get the victory," Johnson said, per Baseball Tonight.
ESPN Stats & Info noted a similarity between Johnson and Martinez:
Of course, in typical Martinez form, he was sure to include the Big Unit in his rousing speech. He called Johnson his "brother from another mother," which goes perfectly with the siblings-esque bunny ears he put on Johnson earlier in the day:
Of all the inductees, Martinez drew the biggest crowd. Large contingents from Red Sox nation and Martinez's native Dominican Republic made the trip, and the most dominant starter of the steroid era made sure to give them their proper due. In a speech that moved between Spanish and English and hilarious and endearing, there was no question how much the honor meant.
Martinez won 219 games across 18 MLB seasons, spending time in Los Angeles, Montreal, Boston, New York and Philadelphia. The height of his career undoubtedly came in Boston, where Martinez helped break the Curse of the Bambino and turned in two of the best single seasons in history. In 1999, during the height of baseball's performance-enhancing-drug problem, Martinez went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts.
“Boston, I don’t have enough words to say how much I love you,” Martinez said, per Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.
The long-ranging speech wound up capping off the afternoon, as Martinez shouted out players of past and present—most notably other Dominicans. As Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports noted, Martinez and fellow Hall of Famer Juan Marichal held up the Dominican flag together in one of the day's best moments:
It proved a fitting end to one of the most eclectic and star-studded classes in Hall of Fame history.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.
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