COOPERSTOWN, N.Y.—Chipper Jones didn't bow to the pressure of the moment, and it was considerable.
Jones was inducted yesterday into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he stood there delivering his speech with wife Taylor staring up at him, hours away from giving birth to a son to be named Cooper in honour of the special day.
Faced with that daunting task, Jones delivered flawlessly, just as he did during a 19-year career with the Atlanta Braves.
“She changed my life forever,” Jones said as his wife brushed away tears.
“It took me 40 years and some major imperfections in me along the way to find my true profession. Now we've taken our two families and blended them together. It has given me what I've been searching for my entire life—true happiness.”
A crowd estimated at about 50,000 gathered on a sun-splashed day to honour six former players. Also enshrined were Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman and former Detroit Tigers teammates Jack Morris and Alan Trammell.
Jones controlled his emotions in a speech that took the crowd through his entire career, starting with his rookie season when he helped lead the Braves to the 1995 World Series title.
He was one of the greatest switch-hitters in baseball history, in the mould of his dad's favourite player, Mickey Mantle, and finished with a .303 career batting average, 468 home runs, and 1,623 RBIs, credentials that earned him election on the first try.
Jones also heaped praise on his mom and dad ‚Äî “You're the reason I'm on this stage,” he said ‚Äî and ended his speech by thanking the loyal Atlanta fans.
“You stuck by me," he said. "You're the reason I never want to play anywhere else. I love you guys. Thank you.”
Emotional during a Hall of Fame visit in February to tour the museum in preparation for this day, Thome held it together despite having to wipe away tears after his daughter Lila sang the national anthem. Like Jones, he heaped praise on his wife, Andrea.
“Obviously, induction into the Hall of Fame is one of the greatest honours of my life," Thome said. "The best thing, though, that's ever happened to me is the day you agreed to marry me. You are without a doubt the best teammate I could ever have and, with the world as my witness, I love you more today than ever.”
The lefty-swinging Thome hit 612 home runs, eighth all-time, and had an MLB record 13 walk-off homers, mostly for the Cleveland Indians.
Thome marveled that the genesis of this moment was hitting rocks on a gravel driveway with an aluminum bat as a kid.
“It's been my great privilege to have played the game for as long as I did,” he said.
"And I can say this with certainty, the possibilities are just as important as the outcome. Living the dream that is major league baseball, the best part is not the result but taking the journey with the people whose contributions make it all possible.
“I'm so honoured to be part of something so special. Baseball is beautiful, and I am forever in its service.”
Greeted by hundreds of fans waving Dominican Republic flags, Guerrero spoke in his native Spanish in a speech that was translated from Spanish and lasted just five minutes. He thanked his father and mother, who cooked dinners for him and does the same now for his son, and the fans and the people in his hometown of Don Gregorio. His son Vladimir Jr., the top prospect in the minor leagues with the Blue Jays, was in attendance.
The nine-time All-Star outfielder batted .318 with 449 homers and 1,496 RBIs and is the first player inducted wearing the cap of the Angels, the team where he enjoyed his greatest success.
Just as he did in his unflappable role in the bullpen during his career as an ace reliever, Hoffman was flawless in delivering his speech, also closing it by thanking his wife, Tracy.
“You shared with me this amazing journey of ups and downs from the beginning, always never letting me get too high or get too low," Hoffman said. "I love you.”
Hoffman played the bulk of his career with the San Diego Padres before finishing with the Milwaukee Brewers. After failing to impress the front office in three years as a shortstop, he switched to the bullpen and became a star. Using a stultifying change-up, Hoffman recorded 601 saves over 18 seasons, second all-time to former Yankees star Mariano Rivera's 652.
He also credited his parents for his success.
“Mom, dad, you're the biggest reason I'm on this stage," Hoffman said. "In fact, you're all of my reasons. Not a day goes by that I'm not thankful for all both of you have done. I love you both beyond words.”
Morris, now 63, spent 15 years on the ballot before getting the call from the Hall of Fame last December. Known for his toughness on the mound, he pitched 18 seasons for the Tigers, Twins, Blue Jays and Indians, and played on four World Series champions. The crowning achievement of his career was his 1-0, 10-inning complete-game victory in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series while pitching for his hometown Twins against the Braves.
Among those he thanked were his dad and his late mother and the late Sparky Anderson, who managed the Tigers to the 1984 World Series championship.
“Thank you mom and dad for everything you taught me and have done for me," Morris said, his voice cracking with emotion as he looked at his dad. ”Mom, I know you're smiling down on us today. Dad, thank you for instilling in me the work ethic that was so vital to my success, but more than that you showed equal love for all your children.
“I know Sparky Anderson is with us here today," Morris added. "He taught me so many things, especially to respect this great game. He taught me a valuable lesson by allowing me to fail and fight through adversity.”
Trammell, who played shortstop for 20 seasons— all for the Tigers—and Morris were selected together by a veterans committee, which made the day extra special for the Motor City.
“We signed together in 1976, spent 13 years together in Detroit, and now 42 years later, Cooperstown. Wow!” Morris said.
Trammell earned six All-Star Game selections, four Gold Glove Awards and three Silver Slugger Awards. His .977 fielding percentage ranks sixth among shortstops with at least 2,000 games played. During his tenure, the Tigers had one of the great double play combinations in MLB history in Trammell and second baseman Lou Whitaker, who was in the audience on a special day for the Motor City.
“For 19 years Lou Whitaker and I formed the longest running double play combination in the history of baseball,” Trammell said, recalling the two were called up to the Tigers on the same day.
“Lou, it was an honour and a pleasure to have played alongside you all those years. I hope someday you'll be up here, too.”