COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- One of the wonders of Hall of Fame Week is watching the inductees wander around the place in awe, stumbling into their heroes and friends, ever so slowly beginning to comprehend the size of it all. This happens every year.
"You think you're ready for it," Jim Thome says. "But you aren't."
They come to realize just how small their group is, how rare their achievement. They stumble around the Otesaga Hotel on the lake and run into the heroes of their youth. "Hey, there's Dave Winfield!" "Look, it's Eddie Murray!" "Carl Yastrzemski!" "Wow, Juan Marichal!"
"These guys say, 'Welcome to the family,'" said Trevor Hoffman, "and it's pretty overwhelming."
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This year is particularly overwhelming, because today at 1:30 p.m. ET, six living players will be inducted -- Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman being elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, while Jack Morris and Alan Trammell were chosen by the Hall's Modern Era Committee. MLB.com will carry a live simulcast of MLB Network's coverage of the festivities starting at 11 a.m. ET.
There have not been this many players to give speeches in Cooperstown since the very first Hall of Fame ceremony in 1939, when 11 living players were honored. There have been other big classes -- in 2014, three players and three managers were inducted -- but the sheer reach of six new Hall of Fame players is powerful.
Think of it this way: There have been roughly 19,000 who have played Major League Baseball since 1876. Of those, about 10,000 were position players -- the rest were pitchers.
More than one-third of those position players got fewer than 100 plate appearances in the Majors. So roughly one out out of every three position players to ever appear in a Major League game was a cup-of-coffee guy, a player who lasted long enough to have a story for grandkids.
About two-thirds of the hitters got fewer than 1,000 plate appearances. That's two seasons in the big leagues. Even if you are one of the elite baseball players ever, good enough to make it to the Majors, the odds are STILL against you lasting even two seasons.
Now, really turn it up. To make yourself a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate, you probably need at least 7,500 plate appearances. There have been a handful who, for various reasons -- seasons lost to war or segregation, some catchers, rare exceptions -- who made the Hall of Fame with fewer than 7,500 plate appearances. But, in general, that's the bare minimum.
Only 3 percent of all players have lasted long enough to get 7,500 plate appearances.
The vast majority of those players, the best of the best, do not get into the Hall of Fame.
These are the calculations that the inductees make -- not always consciously, but by simply coming to Cooperstown in the days before they are enshrined.
With six players going in, you can follow the path of baseball over the last 40 or so years. The half-dozen hit 1,714 home runs, won 315 games, saved 601 games, played in 40 All-Star Games and won six World Series titles.
Morris represents another time in baseball. He was a workhorse -- "an animal," according to his longtime teammate Trammell -- who threw 240 innings in 10 different campaigns. Nobody has thrown 240 innings in a season since David Price in 2014. Morris' journey here was bumpy and contentious; he was on the BBWAA ballot for 15 years -- and the focus of fiery annual arguments. He topped out at 67.7 percent -- just 42 votes shy of induction.
"My wife suggested I put a line in my speech, 'I'm happy to pass to the baton on to the next controversial S.O.B.,'" Morris said, as he smiled. "I don't think I'll do that."
Hoffman, meanwhile, was the sort of modern pitcher who did not exist -- who could not exist -- during most of Morris' career, the one-inning closer. He was a Minor League infielder who struggled at the plate and converted to become a closer. Before he was finished, Hoffman had 498 one-inning saves, the most in baseball history.
On to the batters ... Jones was an extraordinary model of consistency; he is the only switch-hitter in baseball history to hit .300 as a left-handed and right-handed batter. Pete Rose didn't do it. Mickey Mantle didn't do it. Roberto Alomar didn't do it. Jones was a no-drama superstar, a guy who throughout his prime played every day and hit every day and won every year.
There is a little bit irony, then, that Jones brings drama to induction day; he and his wife Taylor are expecting the birth of their son Cooper any day now. Cooper's due date is Monday, but contingencies are being made if he comes a day early; there is talk of Chipper recording his speech in advance, just in case.
When it came to drama on the field, nobody brought more of it than Vlad. He was a whirlwind of a player, someone who did everything big. He had a big arm which he used liberally, and he had a big bat which he fully intended to swing. Guerrero was probably the best bad-ball hitter in the history of the game. He never used batting gloves, and still he crunched pitches that bounced in the dirt, and he clubbed pitches that sailed over his head. He led the Majors in intentional walks five times because pitchers knew there was no way to pitch him.
Thome readily admits that pitchers COULD pitch to him: Only Reggie Jackson struck out more times in his career. But here was the thing: Pitchers had to be perfect because nobody could do more with even the slightest mistake than Thome. He mashed more than 1,000 of those mistakes for extra bases, 612 of them home runs.
And then there's the quietest of the bunch, the perpetually underrated Trammell. Had he played in another time -- or had he been a less modest and unassuming presence -- his combination of excellent defense and superb hitting would have made everyone realize his greatness. But he came of age in the time of Cal Ripken Jr. and Ozzie Smith, two shape shifters who reinvented what shortstops could become. Also, he quietly went about his business. "Vanilla," he said of himself.
As such, his brilliance tended to go unnoticed. He probably should have won the American League MVP Award in 1984 and '87, but he won neither. He probably should have received more serious Hall of Fame consideration from the BBWAA, but instead he never got more than 41 percent of the vote in 15 years on the ballot. Now, he is one of the six players feeling overwhelmed in those moments before it all becomes official.
"I just love every single thing about baseball," Trammell said. "I love all of it. All week I have found myself finding it hard to come up with the words to describe my feelings. I don't know if there are any words."
"Love is the word," Morris said. "I know it sounds corny. But, honestly, you just feel so much love."