Jim McIsaac/Getty Images(COOPERSTOWN, N.Y.) – Two players from the same state, but whose baseball careers began worlds apart, shared the stage at the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, seeing their names and faces engraved in plaques that will stand on display forever.
The class of 2016 included arguably the best hitting catcher of all time, Mike Piazza, and one of the game’s most exciting players, Ken Griffey Jr. Each of them born in Pennsylvania nearly 50 years ago, couldn’t have been less similar in their career arcs. Griffey was the top pick in the 1987 amateur draft and the only number one overall selection to be inducted, while Piazza, a 62nd round pick in 1988, was the lowest drafted player to ever be enshrined.
Piazza even highlighted the differences in his induction speech, saying that “about the only thing [the two] had in common as ballplayers was two arms and two legs.”
Griffey was named on a record 99.32 percent of the ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, falling three votes shy of unanimous induction. He won 10 gold gloves in his career, hit 630 home runs, and was known for his sweet swing and his flair – regularly wearing his baseball cap backwards.
In a 22-year career with the Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Red and Chicago White Sox, Griffey was nicknamed “The Natural.” He hinted at that view of him as one of two major misconceptions he mentioned in his speech. The misconceptions? “I didn’t work hard and everything I did I made look easy,” he explained.
“Just because I made it easy doesn’t mean that it was. You don’t become a Hall of Famer by not working, but working day in and day out,” Griffey added.
He enters the hall wearing the Mariners logo that adorned his jersey for 13 of his 22 seasons.
Both Griffey and Piazza offered heartfelt thanks to their fathers in their speeches. Griffey credited his father, a star ballplayer in his own right, with teaching him “how to play this game, but more importantly, he taught me how to be a man, how to work hard, how to look at yourself in the mirror each and every day and not to worry about what other people are doing.”
Piazza was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in part because then-manager Tommy Lasorda was a close friend of Piazza’s father. Piazza noted in his speech that his father “dreamed of playing in the major leagues,” but that “the realities of life” got in the way.
He also touched on one of the defining moments of his career, a game-winning home run in the first baseball game in New York City after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. “To witness the darkest evil of the human heart…will forever be burned in my soul,” Piazza said. “But from tragedy and sorrow came bravery, love, compassion, character and eventual healing.
“Many of you give me praise for the two-run home run in the first game back on Sept. 21st, but the true praise belongs to police, firefighters, first responders that knew that they were going to die, but went forward anyway. I pray that we never forget their sacrifice.”
Piazza played 16 seasons for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins, New York Mets, San Diego Padres and Oakland A’s. He hit 427 home runs, including a record 396 as a catcher. He also appeared in 12 All-Star games and won 10 Silver Slugger Awards. While he spent about the same amount of time with his first team, the Los Angeles Dodgers as he did the New York Mets, it is with the latter team that he will be enshrined.
The Hall of Fame estimated that about 50,000 people attended the induction ceremony, tied for the second-most all time. The highest figure, estimated at over 80,000 was in 2007 when Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were enshrined.
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