Speech short, but Vlad leaves lasting legacy

Slugger becomes first Dominican-born position player inducted to Hall

July 29th, 2018

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Some held the flag of the Dominican Republic. Some held the Canadian flag. Some wore Angels red. Some wore vintage Expos gear.

The breadth of Vladimir Guerrero's reach was always evident in his playing days, because nobody could hit the so-called "bad ball" like Vlad Guerrero. But it was also evident here Sunday afternoon at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

The first player to be inducted as an Angel, Guerrero smiled when he looked out to that field and saw so many family members and supporters within the large throng that had gathered to celebrate him, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, Jack Morris and Alan Trammell -- one of the largest player classes in the Hall's history.

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But while Guerrero was always known as a big swinger, he maintained a reputation here for not being a big talker.

Hall of Fame: Full speeches and top moments

"I know I don't speak a whole lot," he said through interpreter Jose Mota, "but let me tell you that I am so happy to be part of this group. Because some of them I saw and watched play and I witnessed it, but also I got to play against a lot of them and it means a lot to me."

As Guerrero said, he was always best at letting his bat, which produced 449 homers, 477 doubles and 1,496 RBIs, do the talking. And so he delivered by far the shortest of the six speeches delivered on this day. He stood at the podium for less than four minutes -- and that included the time it took Mota to translate his words.

But don't mistake lack of words -- or, for that matter, tears -- for lack of feeling. Guerrero made it a point to note that Sunday was Father's Day in the D.R., and that occasion has an added layer of meaning for Guerrero right now, because his 19-year-old son, Vlad Jr., who was in attendance for induction day, is now headed north to Buffalo following his promotion to Triple-A over the weekend.

"It means a lot," Guerrero said after his speech. "In fact, Vladdy Jr. surprised me with a video he made for me. My family thought my reaction was that I was going to cry. It did mean a lot."

And it meant a lot to fans of the Angels, who finally have that halo-toped "A" emblazoned in bronze. And to Expos fans, who were, quite possibly, celebrating the franchise's final Hall of Fame entrant. And, yes, to Rangers and Orioles fans, who got that brief, late-career window into Guerrero's greatness. And even to Guerrero's former host family from his days at Double-A Harrisburg, who were on hand for the festivities.

"She gave me M&M's," Guerrero remembered about his host "mother" when a reporter asked him about that family. "My body did not respond very well."

Mostly, though, to witness this day was to understand what it means to the Dominican people. Their passion and their exuberance for baseball and for No. 27, in particular, was abundantly evident on the streets of this little slice of baseball heaven and certainly at the ceremony, where their air horns blared and their voices cheered for the man simply and affectionately known as "Vladdy."

Guerrero is one of just three Dominican-born players to be inducted into the Hall, joining former teammate Pedro Martinez and the great Juan Marichal. When Martinez was inducted in 2015, he made specific mention of Guerrero in his speech, accurately assuming that Guerrero would soon have his own day on the dais. And in a similar spirit, Guerrero said he expects his entrance as the first Dominican-born position player to pave the way for David Ortiz, who is eligible to be inducted in '22, and the many great Dominican-born bats in the game today.

"I know this could open the door for other players," he said.

He didn't say a great deal more than that, and maybe he doesn't need to. Guerrero was right to insist in his playing days that his bat does plenty of talking and even now, years later, the memories of those out-of-the-zone, up-in-the-zone and even bouncing pitches he somehow connected with to make his magic stand out more than any words he could have prepared for that podium. He leaves here with his plaque intact, and his legacy secure. He'll continue his charity work in his tiny hometown of Nizao, and he'll continue to let others put his great career into words.

"I'm going to be the same Vladdy as always," he promised.

That's plenty good enough.