When Mike Mussina was tapped to be the first and Mariano Rivera the last to give speeches at baseball’s 2019 Hall Of Fame Induction ceremony July 21, it was perceived as little more than a natural order of business.
The starting pitchers, Mussina and Roy Halladay, would be recognized first, with designated hitters Harold Baines and Edgar Martinez next in order, followed by Lee Smith, the preeminent closer at the time of his retirement, and ultimately Rivera, unanimously recognized as the best finisher of all time.
It was a classic lineup, one as close to perfection as Mussina had been Sept. 3, 2001, when he was only one strike away. But this was more about setting a standard for what was to follow, and the right guy was in the leadoff role.
Every year the Hall of Fame “suggests” the inductees keep their speeches to 12 minutes. It doesn’t always, usually in fact, work. If ever the right guy was in the right place, this was it.
You have to really appreciate Mussina’s approach, to life as well as pitching, to understand that he almost certainly would take the “suggestion” to heart. The other Hall of Famers are always discussing the “under or over” of newbies acceptance speeches and this, undoubtedly, was no different. But if somebody was going to “nail it” there was no question in my mind who it would be — so certain that the dumb guy’s smart phone was programmed to the stopwatch.
Everyone knew Baines would come in under 12 minutes, and that it would be a struggle for Brandy Halladay, Roy’s widow, to keep it together anywhere near that long. Martinez and Smith were the wild cards, but with all the Yankee presence in Cooperstown it was widely expected that Rivera would command the day and he didn’t disappoint.
Almost on cue, Mussina rolled through his whiffle ball and high school days in Montoursville, Pa., college experiences at Stanford and professional tours with the Orioles and Yankees, equally divided in a little under 10 minutes. After about 2.5 minutes devoted to family and friends, the only emotional hint, Mussina said “thank you” and left the stage to enthusiastic applause as the “stop” button was hit.
Elapsed time: 12 minutes and 10 seconds. Close enough. He nailed it. As expected.
Brandy Halladay followed with an emotional, courageous and highly professional tribute to her late husband that fell just short of seven minutes (6:55), about as long as she and the estimated crowd of 50,000 could last.
Aware of his “man of few words” reputation, Baines actually put the “over and under” crowd on notice with his opening line of “you can start the clock now.” Including those words he probably amazed many with an extremely heartfelt message that last nine minutes and 24 seconds and centered around his love of his hometown, St. Michael’s, Md., and his family.
“The one message I would leave is to always give back to the community,” said the lifelong resident and contributor to Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Martinez, elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America on his last year of eligibility, and Smith, who like Baines had to wait for nomination by a Veterans Committee, were both amazingly concise in their speeches with only 11 seconds difference in their duration — and remarkably close to the standard set by Mussina.
Showing no remorse about being bypassed by the panel of BBWAA voters, Smith instead used a good bit of his 12 minutes and 44 seconds thanking those who kept his name alive as the process evolved.
Martinez came in at 12 minutes and 33 seconds, spoken partly in Spanish in deference to his homeland of Puerto Rico, and he got a rousing greeting from the large contingent who made the trip from Seattle, the only team for which he played in the major leagues. He gave Lou Piniella much of the praise for turning around the baseball fortunes in Seattle, saying he hoped his former manager would someday soon join him in Cooperstown.
From the time that the announcement was made that Rivera had become the first player ever elected unanimously to the Hall of Fame, it was obvious Rivera was going to headline this star-studded show. As noted, he didn’t disappoint — and if you are into numerology at all, the time of his acceptance speech is nothing less than unreal.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given his extensive background and people involved, that Rivera would blow by the “suggested” 12-minute time frame — and he did. And the numbers are quite remarkable, to say the least, keeping in mind that Rivera was the last major league player to wear No. 42.
When the stop button was hit after Rivera’s last “thank you” here’s what the stopwatch said:
After jokingly opening with the line, “Why do I always have to go last?” Rivera doubled down on 12 minutes, reversed number 42 and seemingly touched all the bases to close out the day with style and class.
As if you would expect anything else.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.
Photo Credit: Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame