The Baseball Hall of Fame welcomed the class of 2017—former players Jeff Bagwell, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez and Tim Raines, along with former MLB commissioner Bud Selig and executive John Schuerholz—to Cooperstown on Sunday.
All five received their plaques to be enshrined in the Hall and delivered speeches, starting with former Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Royals general manager Schuerholz, who won a World Series title with each organization.
He shared a funny excerpt from before his executive career, when he was at a two-day baseball tryout and on the second day was asked to time the other players rather than participate on the field.
"The message was delivered," Schuerholz said, per the Associated Press (via USA Today). "I'd better concentrate someplace other than trying to be a professional baseball player. Divine providence. Fate. I truly believe so."
Up next was Jeff Bagwell, who made a point to thank his parents for their role in his upbringing and career, per the AP:
"Mom, you are just the most amazing person in the world. 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."
It was that drive that allowed Bagwell to become an MVP.
"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."
Alyson Footer of MLB.com felt Bagwell delivered a fantastic speech:
And his former teammate, Craig Biggio, memorialized his career before Bagwell's speech, per MLB Network:
Following Bagwell was Major League Baseball's prior commissioner, Selig, whose tenure at the helm saw tremendous highs and economic growth but also major lows (the Steroid Era, the 1994 strike that led to the cancellation of the World Series).
"What you've seen here today is a little boy's dreams come true," he said, per the MLB broadcast, adding, "I am humbled."
Fellow Hall of Famer Robin Yount honored the former commissioner before his speech:
Selig's induction invoked complicated feelings for many, however, especially given some of the players from his era that weren't inducted due to their attachment to steroids. Mike Oz of Yahoo Sports summed up that perspective:
Pudge Rodriguez was up next and shared a fantastic anecdote from early in his career when he caught Nolan Ryan while the two were teammates with the Texas Rangers. Rodriguez didn't speak much English at the time and Ryan told him that he didn't need to worry about much, to simply put up his fingers to call for a pitch and Ryan would take care of the rest.
Later that season, Ryan lost a no-hitter in the eighth inning after Dave Winfield singled off of him. Following the game, Rodriguez told reporters that Ryan shook him off on that fateful hit.
Ryan responded to reporters by noting that Rodriguez sure had learned English pretty quickly.
Rodriguez also delivered excerpts of his speech in Spanish, including an emotional message to his parents. And he spoke about going from humble beginnings to a place in baseball immortality.
"This is such an incredible honor for me," he said, per the AP. "A little kid from Puerto Rico with a big dream. Never let them take your dream away from you."
He added, "Respect the game, love this game. Sometimes dreams come true. Look at me. I am here on this stage, this special place, and my dream has become a reality. God bless baseball."
Finally there was Raines, who had been on the ballot for a decade and was in his final year of eligibility for election to the Hall of Fame. Many in baseball circles wondered why a player with 2,605 hits, 1,571 runs and 808 stolen bases (fifth all-time) wasn't in the Hall of Fame earlier.
"I've been asked that question for 10 years," he said, per the MLB Network broadcast. "Thank God I don't have to answer that question anymore."
Raines also thanked a number of people in his speech, including sportswriter Jonah Keri, who lobbied for Raines to be inducted into the Hall. As Steve Simmons of the Toronto Star noted, that played a huge role in his induction:
And Raines' appreciation of Keri during his speech ended up being one of the more memorable moments, as Cespedes Family BBQ tweeted:
He also ribbed Frank Thomas, his former teammate with the Chicago White Sox. He noted that as teammates, with Thomas playing first base and Raines left field, he would always make sure to run toward second base when the pitcher attempted a pickoff move to first.
The implication was that if the runner took off for second, Thomas would have to make a throw and would likely overthrow the shortstop covering the base. So Raines jokingly thanked Thomas for increasing his game awareness as Thomas and the other Hall of Famers in attendance laughed.
It was only fitting, as a side note to the day's events, that the new Hall of Famers delivered their speeches as a future Cooperstown resident, Adrian Beltre, secured his 3,000th hit. On a day about celebrating the game's brightest contributors, Beltre made a bit of history himself.