COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- There is no real mystery to the National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The votes have long since been cast. The names have long since been announced. Between the time they get the official call and the time they board the bus that takes them to the induction site, those fortunate few welcomed into the hallowed Hall have ample opportunity to craft their speeches, calm their nerves, gather their emotions.
But then something happens. The bus actually arrives.
And reality arrives with it.
"You come through that cornfield and then you see that stage, that space, that tent and all those people who came out to see you go into the Hall of Fame," Chipper Jones said Sunday. "You think, 'I don't know if I'm ready for this.'"
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Ready or not, the day arrived for Jones, for Jim Thome, for Vladimir Guerrero, for Trevor Hoffman, for Jack Morris and for Alan Trammell. One of the largest classes in Hall history generated, appropriately enough, one of the largest crowds in Hall history. An estimated 53,000 fans and family members packed the grass field outside the Clark Sports Center -- the second-largest attendance on record. And the 57 Hall of Famers in attendance were the most ever.
All these people showed on an idyllic, sun-splashed day that betrayed earlier forecasts threatening rain. They sat under pillowy clouds so still it was as if the clouds themselves wanted to pause to appreciate the great players below. And they listened to the six new inductees express their gratitude for what this game has given them and their utter amazement to be in this fraternity of men.
"We stand here at the doorstep at one of the great shrines in all of sports," Hoffman said. "And each member of the Hall of Fame has a unique story."
The speeches were their opportunity to share those stories and to thank the many people who helped pave their path. Remarkably, there was no crying in baseball on this day. Not outright, at least. All six men managed to get through their prepared remarks without weeping. But there were still plenty of choked-back tears and plenty of moments that reminded you just how many people it truly takes to make a Hall of Famer.
Here were the highlights of the day:
Jones had more than just his speech to be nervous about. His wife, Taylor, was due to give birth to the couple's second child together literally any minute, which is why the Hall had him in the day's leadoff spot. The little boy had not yet arrived by the time the ceremony was over, but his name had already been decided -- Cooper.
"In honor of this occasion," Jones said.
Jones recognized his growing family and his baseball family with the Braves, whose great teams of the 1990s and 2000s have been rightly and roundly recognized in four of the last five induction ceremonies. Jones expressed enormous gratitude toward Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox, who put Jones in the No. 3 hole as a rookie and watched him become an instant impact player on a World Series winner.
"You believed in me before I truly believed I belonged in the big leagues," Jones said. "Bobby, next to my parents, you had the biggest influence on my career than anybody. Thank you for drafting me, thank you for never hesitating to put the bat in my hands with the game on the line and thank you for never hesitating to believe in me."
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And to the huge assemblage of Braves fans in attendance, doing the "Tomahawk Chop" as his name was called, Jones had a special message.
"You were the reason I never wanted to play anywhere else," he said. "I couldn't be prouder to go into the Hall of Fame today with an Atlanta 'A' on my cap."
Trammell's induction alongside Morris finally gave that great 1984 Tigers team its Hall of Fame recognition, but the man Trammell is most often associated with -- second baseman Lou Whitaker, who was his double-play partner for 19 years -- is still hoping to get his Hall call. Trammell did not let Whitaker -- or some incredible trivia -- go unnoticed.
"Lou and I were called up to the big leagues from Double-A on the same day," Trammell said. "We both played our first big league ballgame at Fenway Park on the same day. We both got hits in our first MLB at-bats, off the same pitcher, Reggie Cleveland. And we both got our last hits of our careers off the same pitcher, Mike Fetters. Can you believe that? Truly amazing.
"For all those years, it was Lou and Tram. Lou, it was an honor and a pleasure to play alongside you for all those years. It is my hope that someday, you'll be up here as well."
Trammell and Morris famously had to wait a long time to get up there. They both spent 15 years on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot without getting voted in. Their invitation finally arrived via the Modern Era Committee vote in December.
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"When people ask me, 'Where were you when you received your phone call from the Hall of Fame?' I tell them I was standing in the aisle, deplaning my flight from the Winter Meetings," said Trammell, a special assistant to Tigers general manager Al Avila. "How can you describe your emotions in a time like that? I wanted to jump up and down and run and scream, but I didn't think that was appropriate in an aisle of a plane."
Trammell, a six-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner, didn't jump and run and scream on this day, either. He simply delivered his speech with the same grace and dignity with which he played.
"I honestly didn't think this day would ever come," he said.
On a day that was so big -- the size of the class, the size of the crowd, the enormity of the occasion -- Guerrero's speech was quite a contrast. He was quick and to the point, spending less than four minutes at the podium, with half of that time reserved for broadcaster Jose Mota's translation of his remarks from Spanish.
Guerrero, the first player to be inducted as an Angel, said that when he was a player he "wanted my bat to do the talking," and not much has changed there.
"I know I don't speak a whole lot," he said through 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."
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The first position player from the Dominican Republic to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, Guerrero capped his induction speech by honoring his hometown of Nizao, D.R., where he first showed the tools that would make him one of the most talented outfielders of all time. His impact on the attendance figure was obvious, for there were many people waving the Dominican flag or the Canadian flag (in recognition of his time with the Montreal Expos). Air horns blared when his name was announced.
"Even more special today is that today we celebrate Father's Day in the Dominican Republic," he said. "Happy Father's Day to all the Dominican fathers."
Guerrero himself is a proud pop. His 19-year-old son, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Blue Jays' organization, is the No. 1 prospect in baseball, per MLB Pipeline. The younger Guerrero was in the crowd and, after the ceremony, was due to head north to Triple-A Buffalo following a weekend promotion.
Hoffman, one of the all-time great closers, was the master of the changeup. And his career required a change of a different sort, as he was taken in the 11th round of the 1989 Draft as a shortstop before switching to pitching in 1993.
That was the background of what might have been the line of the day.
"It's an honor being up here with the other great shortstops of the game," he said. "Wink wink."
In addressing what it meant to make such an adjustment, Hoffman borrowed a line from a Hall of Famer of a different sort -- John Wooden.
"'Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out,'" Hoffman said, quoting the legendary basketball coach.
Hoffman's circuitous route to this day made him all the more grateful for his enshrinement. When his professional career began, he might not have imagined he'd ever save a single game, much less 601. But once he became the Padres' closer, he was a constant.
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"Wow, 15 years in one spot, and that spot's San Diego," he said. "Jackpot."
With, as Hoffman noted, "San Diego weather" at the scene of the induction, Hoffman felt like he hit the jackpot again.
As with Trammell, Morris had an agonizing wait to get to this day, but that only amplified his appreciation for every moment of Hall of Fame week.
"It is extra special for me to be selected by my peers, the people I played with and competed against," Morris said. "And yes, thank you to the sportswriters. Whether you voted for me or not, thank you for keeping my name alive."
A respected workhorse, Morris won four World Series titles over his 18-year career and more games (162) than any other pitcher in the 1980s. He called being inducted with Trammell "a dream come true."
As he said, "1984 was an incredible year. I owe a huge thank you to Detroit."
Morris didn't spend nearly as long in his native Minnesota, but his one year there was memorable. And his 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the Twins' 1991 World Series victory over the Braves was his seminal moment. Morris even thanked those Braves, noting that "it takes two teams to make a great World Series."
"The game has always been a part of what I am and who I have become," Morris said. "Many say that baseball is known as a game of failure. I had plenty of challenges and failures, but it only made me work harder to find a path to success. It also didn't hurt to have a short memory."
Morris might have had a short memory, but he had a long wait. It proved to be another learning experience given to him by baseball.
"Winning and losing are facts of life," he said, "but it's how you deal with both that defines you. I believe in the human heart and the human spirit and no analytics can define them."
Nobody -- not in this class and not in the history of this event -- invested himself more in the acceptance speech than Thome. How committed was he to the cause? When practicing it in front of his backyard hedges proved insufficient, Thome traveled to Cooperstown earlier this month. They set up a podium in the empty, open field, and he had a dress rehearsal the likes of which Hall employees had never seen.
"I felt like I wanted to do it," Thome had said before the event. "We did a lot of things to prepare."
And for Thome, induction day was a family affair. His 15-year-old daughter, Lila Grace Thome, a student of the arts, performed a beautiful rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the start of the event. Thome, therefore, was feeling emotional long before he closed things out with an eloquent speech that touched on growing up in Peoria, Ill., his love affair with Cleveland, his time in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and Baltimore, his teammates and his family. But the first person he thanked was his mentor, Charlie Manuel.
"Charlie took a scrappy young kid who was anxious to hit a million home runs and actually encouraged those crazy dreams," Thome said. He told me I can hit as many home runs as I wanted to. ... I wouldn't be standing here if it wasn't for you. Thank you for everything, but most of all, thank you for your loyalty."
It was Manuel's suggestion that Thome replicate Roy Hobbs' pre-pitch stance from "The Natural" that helped launch a career in which Thome, a 13th-round Draft pick out of community college, hit 612 homers.
"For a kid who grew up in Peoria, Ill., hitting rocks in our gravel driveway on Southwest Drive with an aluminum bat until our neighbors couldn't take it anymore," Thome said, "this is the ultimate dream come true."
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What truly came across -- both in Thome's speech and his preparation for it -- was his respect for the institution of the Hall of Fame and the city of Cooperstown. And the final words of the day, from a man commonly known as one of the nicest guys in the game, hit home most.
"My experience has taught me that, if you try to conduct yourself with authenticity and honesty, the end result is one of the most natural highs any human being can have," Thome said. "I'm so honored to be a part of something so special, something greater than the individual. It's been my great privilege to have played the game for as long as I did. And I can say this with certainty: the possibilities are just as important as the outcome. In living the dream that is MLB, the best part is not the result, but taking the journey with the people whose contributions make it all possible. Baseball is beautiful, and I am forever in its service.