ST. LOUIS -- Jason Isringhausen and Scott Rolen were taken back to their playing days Saturday afternoon.
Hundreds of people were packed into Ballpark Village, staring at two of the three Cardinal greats inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame, and Isringhausen and Rolen got a familiar feeling.
“That nervous gut-wrench before he’s getting ready to pitch, I’m getting ready to play -- and we’re getting ready to deliver our speech,” Rolen said.
Both probably would rather have been playing instead of delivering 20-minute speeches.
“Bases loaded, nobody out would be great,” said Isringhausen. “That’s what we did for a living, you’re kind of good at it. This speaking stuff is not what I like to do. Then you’re letting yourself go a little bit in front of everybody, we’re supposed to be these big macho guys, and the next thing you know, you’re crying. It’s humbling, to say the least.”
Nerves aside, Isringhausen and Rolen were honored to part of the 2019 Cardinals Hall of Fame class, alongside Mort Cooper, who died in 1958.
Isringhausen and Rolen received their Hall of Fame red jackets on stage, while Mort Cooper’s son sent in a video thanking the Cardinals for inducting Cooper into the Hall of Fame. Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and several Cardinals Hall of Famers -- Ozzie Smith, Tony La Russa, Jim Edmonds, Tim McCarver, Ray Lankford, Whitey Herzog, Vince Coleman, Mike Shannon, Ted Simmons and Chris Carpenter -- all joined the newest inductees on stage.
Even Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina -- who were in their first years as Cardinals when Isringhausen and Rolen were playing -- came to the ceremony to cheer for their former teammates.
On Saturday, the Hall of Fame inductees all mentioned their love of the Cardinals and the honor of being a Cardinal for life.
One phone call was all it took
Isringhausen grew up 45 minutes away from Busch Stadium in Brighton, Ill. Pitching for his hometown team for seven years was the dream of his lifetime.
But it wouldn’t have happened without a phone call he received in 2001.
“That phone call came from Mr. DeWitt,” Isringhausen said in his speech. “I had basically agreed to join the Texas Rangers when I was a free agent after the 2001. That day, I went out to golf with a friend of mine, and my phone rang. It was Mr. DeWitt.
“He said, ‘Izzy, what would it take for me for you to come pitch for your hometown team?’ Little did he know I would have paid him to come here and pitch. Mr. DeWitt, to you and your family, thank you for making me a Cardinal. Thank you for making my dream come true.”
Isringhausen is the Cardinals all-time saves leader (217) and ranks fourth among Cardinals relief pitchers with 373 strikeouts. He helped the Cardinals to four division titles, two league championships (2004, '06) and the 2006 World Series.
One of his favorite moments was Game 5 of the 2005 National League Championship Series against the Astros, when Albert Pujols hit a towering three-run shot off of closer Brad Lidge to take the lead.
“The silence of the stadium,” Isringhausen said. “I went out to pitch the eighth inning, sitting in the dugout thinking the guy that’s coming out is just an unbelievable closer. Albert hits that home run, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to go out and pitch the ninth.’”
But the focus of the day for Isringhausen wasn’t his achievements or the winning moments of his career. It centered around his feeling toward the Cardinal legends that he was joining in the Hall of Fame.
“You guys are still my heroes,” he said in his speech. “Ozzie, Willie, Vince and Whitey. You made this kid love baseball. For that, I’ve very thankful.”
Isringhausen later added: “My whole thing is I grew up 40 minutes from here. I didn’t start playing baseball because I wanted a red coat. It was just to play baseball. I grew up watching those guys behind me, and they made me love baseball. I kept doing it, and in my job, there’s one or the other: You’re either great, or you’re bad. For the fans to vote me in for this honor, it’s full circle.”
'Remember this moment'
One of the greatest third basemen in Cardinals history, Rolen has a distinctive favorite memory from his five seasons with the Cardinals. It was in the 2004 NLCS against the Astros, when the Cardinals won Game 7 to go to the World Series for the first time since 1987.
Rolen’s favorite moment wasn’t his pennant-clinching, two-run home run off Roger Clemens in the sixth inning, though. It was right after Isringhausen threw the last pitch of the game.
“The place is going crazy,” Rolen said. “It’s packed. Mike Matheny and I are at second base and the big scrum and we give a hug, and it’s calming down a little bit, and I don’t know what hit me. I’m not a very good poet, but at that moment, it was like, ‘Hey, look at this. Look at this.’ You look out at center field from second base and all you see is confetti falling and you just hear noise. We just talked about it: ‘Let’s not forget that. Everything is going to go real fast, your career goes real fast, but let’s remember this second, this moment right here.’ It sticks with me.”
Rolen was a four-time Gold Glove winner and All-Star and won a Silver Slugger award in 2002. In 2004, Rolen slashed .314/.409/.598 with 34 home runs and 124 RBIs. He was part of the “MV3” with Pujols and Edmonds in 2004, when all three finished top five in the NL MVP voting.
In his speech, he thanked all the people that helped him during the years he played as a Cardinal, including the fans.
“It’s a celebration of baseball in this city, and we don’t take that for granted,” Rolen said.
But he struggled to come up with the words to describe what wearing the red jacket meant to him. It hasn’t quite sunk in for him or Isringhausen that they’re in the Cardinals Hall of Fame.
“We’ve had how many months to think about coming up with greatness in wordage,” Rolen said. “We don’t have them. ... It’s not taken for granted, it’s not lost on us what this means to be able to wear this jacket with all those guys sitting behind you in the tradition of the organization. I’ve been looking for words for months now.”
Cooper’s competitiveness made him great
Mort Cooper played for the Cardinals from 1938-1945 and was known for his blazing fastball. He had a 2.77 ERA and went 105-50 in 228 games. He anchored the Cardinals' pitching staff during the most successful three-year stretch in franchise history (1942-44), winning at least 21 games in each of those years -- one of three players in franchise history to win 20-plus games in three straight years.
“Well, thank you for this wonderful honor,” his son, Lonnie, said in a video. “My family is thrilled about it. My dad is quite a competitor. When I was a little kid, I liked Ted Williams better than my dad. I would tell him to give up a home run, and my dad would strike him out -- every time. My dad was so proud to have been a Cardinal. He would be so excited about this honor.”
Cooper was a two-time All-Star and won the National League MVP in 1942 after leading the league in wins (22), ERA (1.78) and shutouts (10).
Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.