COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The National Baseball Hall of Fame represents dreams.No matter how long the wait. No matter how different the journey. That was the theme on a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon in which five remarkable baseball journeys ended with the game's highest honor.:: 2017 Hall of Fame induction coverage ::"Never
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The National Baseball Hall of Fame represents dreams.
No matter how long the wait. No matter how different the journey. That was the theme on a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon in which five remarkable baseball journeys ended with the game's highest honor.
:: 2017 Hall of Fame induction coverage ::
"Never let anyone take your dreams from you," Ivan Rodriguez said. "Tell them about a short kid dangling from a rope to try and make himself as tall as the other boys -- the little kid from Puerto Rico with a big dream."
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Standing in front of 50 returning Hall of Famers for the ceremony, Rodriguez joined two other former players -- Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines -- in the Class of 2017. Also inducted were two of the game's most accomplished executives -- former Braves and Royals general manager John Schuerholz and Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig.
The acceptance speeches were of mothers and fathers, of wives and children. They spoke of teammates and friends, managers and coaches. Some cried, some laughed and some did both as they attempted to find some context for an honor most of them never expected to receive.
"It's just not what you think about when you're a player," said Bagwell, a first baseman with the Astros for 15 seasons. "You don't play for the Hall of Fame. You play because you love to play and to win."
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And yet, Bagwell called the honor "overwhelming" and said he was a bundle of nerves when he began his speech.
"I'm standing here trying to figure out what's going on," he began. "I'm humble and I'm grateful."
Selig was inducted on his 83rd birthday. He said his half-century in baseball, first as owner of the Brewers and then 22 years as Commissioner, had been the stuff "of a little boy's dream."
He oversaw a renaissance of the game -- labor peace, technology, revenue sharing, competitive balance, Wild Card berths -- during his tenure.
"To these Hall of Famers, I am honored to be in your presence," Selig said. "On your shoulders, this game became part of the fabric of our country, and we are forever indebted to you.
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"For so many years, I sat right behind where I stand now, and watched as each new member would stand here and deliver remarks with the kind of emotion that comes with great happiness and fulfillment.
"Now, as I stand here at this moment, I am humbled."
His longtime friend, Schuerholz, was as well, using his speech to detail a life that began as a teacher in Baltimore, and then thanks to the faith of executives with the Orioles, Royals and Braves hiring him, brought him to this time and place.
He constructed the Royals team that won the 1985 World Series and then was the architect of 14 straight postseason clubs in Atlanta. He's universally respected for hiring good people and then empowering them, an approach that was both thoughtful and aggressive.
"I love baseball," he said. "I've loved it all my life. My dad instilled in me a love of the game."
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He thanked the people who'd helped him to this honor, from players like George Brett and John Smoltz, to managers like Dick Howser and Bobby Cox.
Raines, 57, waited 10 years before receiving enough votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America. He benefited from the game's statistical data revolution, which brought his many contributions into focus.
"We've been waiting for a long time," Raines said. "And that day has come."
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His gift was reaching base (.385 OBP), scoring runs (1,571) and stealing bases (808). His speed and ability get on base made him one of the game's most disruptive offensive forces and probably one of baseball's two or three best players for about a four- or five-year stretch in the '80s.
Raines thanked sportswriter Jonah Keri for a tireless campaign on his behalf, and then choked back tears while talking about his family.
"My dad worked eight to 10 hours a day, then took his shoes off and went in the backyard and played with us," Raines said. "He taught us about hard work. Nothing was ever going to be given to you."
And then of his mother, Sue, he said, "He taught us about hard work. She made us do the hard work."
As for Bagwell, during 15 seasons with the Astros, he was a complete player, hitting 449 home runs, stealing 202 bases and amassing a .948 OPS. Along with fellow Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, he helped the Astros to six playoff appearances.
"The thing about my career I'm proudest of is that I tried to do everything well," he said. "It wasn't just hitting home runs. I enjoyed the stolen bases more than anything else. It was the only number I cared about at the end of my career.
"Baseball is about relationships. We spend so much time together. It's the relationships you make that gave me an opportunity to grow as a man. The only thing I wanted to do is be a good teammate -- someone you could count on."
Rodriguez got to the Hall of Fame during his first year on the ballot. He was one of the game's great defensive catchers as well as a .296 hitter. Only 5-foot-9, he spoke of the challenges of being smaller but also of a relentless drive to be great.
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His arm was so good that he simply shut down running games. He also hit .300 for eight straight seasons, something only one other catcher (Mike Piazza) had done. He averaged 22 home runs during those eight seasons.
He cried when speaking of his family, especially his brother Tito and his parents.
"I know that dreams sometimes come true," he said.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.