MIDDLEFIELD — Induction Weekend fans endured high temperatures Sunday to see Harold Baines, Doc Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera and Lee Smith initiated into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and they sat through a morning rain storm Monday in order to say goodbye to the inductees and the 2019 weekend.
Thousands of fans returned Monday to The Clark Sports Center, in the town of Middlefield, just outside the village of Cooperstown, for the Legends of the Game Roundtable, the annual farewell to the new inductees and official close of Induction Weekend. It started raining halfway through the event. The Hall of Famers were shielded from the rain by the Induction stage. The fans were not, but most of them stayed for the rest of the roundtable anyway.
“We don’t mind, keep talking,” a woman in the crowd yelled as the rain began.
Baines, Martinez, Mussina, Rivera and Smith joined Ford C. Frick Award winner Peter Gammons for a 90-minute discussion about the career of the five players. Halladay, who died in a 2017 plane crash, was honored posthumously, with the award given to his widow, Brandy Halladay. She did not join the Hall of Famers for Monday’s roundtable.
Gammons opened by referencing the 1995 season, and how he thought it saved baseball after the 1994 strike forced the cancellation of the World Series. He said his guests had unique perspectives on two big events that year, Cal Ripken Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig’s iron-man streak of consecutive games played, and the Mariners winning their first American League West Division title and thereby saving baseball in Seattle.
Martinez batted .356 with 29 home runs for Seattle that season, and the Mariners beat the New York Yankees to advance to the AL Division Series. They lost to Cleveland in six games in the ALCS.
Gammons also saluted the Seattle fans, complimenting them on their large numbers for several Induction Weekends, including for Randy Johnson in 2015 and Ken Griffey Jr. in 2016.
“I think it became so important for the baseball in Seattle,” Martinez said. “At the time, I didn’t really know the magnitude. But after the series, the vote passed to keep the team in Seattle, and I realized, we all did, that this is huge.”
Baines and Mussina played with Ripken in Baltimore that season, and both played in Ripken’s record breaking game, 2131, Sept. 6, 1995, with Mussina getting the win.
“I got to pitch 2131, and I remember giving up a homer in the top of the first, and kicking myself and saying, ‘you’ve got to get serious now, because this is a pretty big deal,’” Mussina said. “So I did better from that point on, and we found a way to win the game.
“Of course, it was the middle of the game when it became ... something else besides a ballgame. After the fifth inning, it became official. And he takes a victory lap and everyone is congratulating him, both sides. It really stopped being a game, and started being a celebration of baseball.”
Gammons noted 2019 as being a breakthrough year for the Hall of Fame, as designated hitters (Martinez and Baines) and relief pitchers (Rivera and Smith) were honored. Rivera and Smith discussed how they felt like failures because they washed out as starting pitchers. Smith said he briefly gave up on baseball and went to college to play basketball.
Smith and Rivera also teased Mussina about how easy starting pitchers had it, especially in spring training, when they would work out for an hour or so, and then play golf while the rest of the team rode the bus to games. Mussina said he felt bad when Rivera would have to go on three hours rides just to face a couple of batters.
Gammons asked them their favorite baseball moments. Baines named his first game, and playing for Oakland in the 1990 World Series. Rivera said it was Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series, when he threw three scoreless innings to beat Boston. Martinez drew some boos from the Yankees fans when he said his best moment was beating New York in 1995. Mussina, who pitched an inning of relief against Boston in the 2003 Game 7, also mentioned his last win, beating Boston Sept. 28, 2008 to get his first 20-win season.
Gammons said watching Sunday’s induction — which 55,000 fans attended, the second best attendance in induction history — he was reminded how much he loves baseball and how important the sport is to the United States.
“I thought yesterday, seeing the flags from Panama and Puerto Rico, and hearing the speeches, hearing an amazing speech from a widow raising their children, and thinking, you know, this weekend is who we are as Americans,” Gammons said. “And we should be very proud to be.”