With Honors: Best Baseball Hall Of Fame Speeches In The Last 20 Years

On Sunday, July 29th, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum will welcome six new members. Among the six are pitcher Jack Morris and shortstop Alan Trammell. The two former teammates with the Detroit Tigers were selected by today’s version of the Veterans Committee. Morris and Trammell are the first living inductees of the Veterans Committee since 2001, when longtime Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski was inducted into the Hall.

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Mazeroski, who last played in 1972, spent 15 years on the baseball writers’ ballot, earning 42% of the vote in his final year, a good total but far short of the 75% needed for a Cooperstown plaque. 9 years after he dropped off the writers’ ballot, Mazeroski’s name was finally called when the Veterans Committee, a 14-man panel consisting of former club executives, media members and Hall of Fame players, voted him in for the Class of 2001. When a player is inducted by the Veterans, it always means that they’ve waited a long time for the honor. And, sometimes, the long wait makes the ultimate day of enshrinement extra special.

Cooperstown Cred is proud to share this first person account of the Hall of Fame induction ceremony of 2001 by Rick Paiva, who directed ESPN’s coverage of the event. Paiva spent nearly 25 years at ESPN, starting as a director in 1991, finishing as VP of Creative Services in 2016. A director for Baseball Tonight for over a decade, Paiva directed the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown from 1992 to 2002 and spent another decade covering the event in a management capacity.

This piece was inspired by Mazeroski’s induction ceremony but it’s a timeless and colorful exposition of what makes each and every induction Sunday a special day for the sport of baseball.

The Greatest Speech (N)ever Made — by Rick Paiva

One of the greatest perks of working at ESPN is the opportunity to sometimes be immersed in situations which are unavailable to most people. For this lifelong baseball fan, being given the opportunity to be a part of ESPN’s television coverage of the annual Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony was one of those awesome opportunities. For a dozen seasons, I was fortunate enough to be assigned to direct the television coverage of that event. Every year, the three-hour drive to Cooperstown was filled with anticipation and excitement for whatever events lay ahead. Unknown to any of us, the drive there in 2001 was taking us to a very special moment in sports history.

You don’t need to be a fan of baseball to appreciate the idyllic beauty of Cooperstown. Nestled among the finger lakes in upstate New York, this town offers rural American beauty at its best. The rolling hills are a canvas of textures and colors, displaying more shades of green than Crayola will ever identify. Wrapped around picturesque Otsego Lake, the Leatherstocking Golf Course affords some terrific golf and the grandest views of the valley, not to mention three of the finest finishing holes in America.

The area B&B’s are wonderfully appointed and operated by genuine locals who are truly happy to have the opportunity to provide food and shelter to Cooperstown’s visitors. The tiny downtown area, where the single stoplight blinks 363 days a year, supplies multiple options for entertainment, shopping and dining. And, of course, the National Baseball Hall of Fame resides there.

So many of us over the years have heard about baseball players wanting to go to Cooperstown. For them, their primary goal isn’t about the rustic beauty and laid back lifestyle. Their goal is to bask in baseball’s highest honor, enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.


” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ loading=”lazy” class=”wp-image-3279″ src=”″ alt=”” width=”504″ height=”334″ srcset=” 425w, 768w, 870w” sizes=”(max-width: 504px) 100vw, 504px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Cooperstown Chamber of CommerceHall of Fame weekend is a very special time in Cooperstown. For two days, the town swells to many times its usual population. The stoplight actually displays the ability to use all three colors. The museum itself is crowded with visitors, as are Doubleday Field and the various baseball themed establishments that line Main Street. The picturesque Otesaga Hotel hosts the Hall of Famers each year. On Saturday morning, these icons of baseball history gather for their annual golf tournament at Leatherstocking. That evening, they all attend a formal reception at the Hall of Fame Museum.

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Since 1992, the Hall of Fame induction ceremony has taken place on the edge of town at the Clark Sports Center. The Gymnasium there serves as a central location for a pre-induction gathering where all of the Hall of Famers renew acquaintances, revisit shared history, and eagerly swap stories about families and golf exploits. A visitor walking through this gym just prior to the ceremony might marvel at the baseball dignitaries who are mixing and mingling while awaiting the beginning of the induction ceremony.

At the turn of the century, this annual gathering included household names such as Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, Johnny Bench, Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Nolan Ryan, and so on. The list is long and strong. Nearly all of the living members of the Hall of Fame gather here annually in order to help welcome in the new inductees. I always made sure to linger in this waiting area. Just looking around at so many of my baseball heroes was an experience that I will never forget. I remember watching Stan Musial play “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on his harmonica, while a few of his fellow Hall of Famers kept the beat. Just a bunch of guys goofing around as if they were in a locker room or a dugout. Each year felt more special than the previous. However, there was one particular year that I will never forget.

It is important to understand that the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony is conducted outdoors, usually in the bright sunshine of a late July or early August afternoon. The Hall of Famers are seated on a stage which is covered by a large fabric roof, erected each year for this occasion. Stretching out in front of the stage are acres of rolling green grass which slope gently uphill, as if it were a natural stadium, designed specifically to accommodate all who want to partake in the memories. And many do.


” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ loading=”lazy” class=”wp-image-3280″ src=”″ alt=”” width=”516″ height=”340″ srcset=” 425w, 768w, 867w” sizes=”(max-width: 516px) 100vw, 516px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />National Baseball Hall of Fame and MuseumThousands of fans make the trip to Cooperstown to witness this annual rite of passage into baseball immortality. While there are chairs closer to the stage for families and designated guests, the vast majority of spectators are sprawled across the great grassy expanse, using all manner of lawn chairs, air mattresses, blankets, and sun canopies to enhance their comfort. They are generally wearing the team jerseys and hats of their favorite inductee and carrying signage which expresses their love and appreciation for this athlete who provided them with so many memories on the diamond. The weather for this summer ceremony is often brutally hot. And so it was on August 5th, 2001, when 40 of the living Hall of Famers and an estimated 20,000 fans were gathered to welcome in the class of that year, which included Dave Winfield, Kirby Puckett and Bill Mazeroski.

Hall of Fame induction ceremonies are wonderful, heart-warming affairs. They are well planned and executed. Each attending member of the Hall is introduced individually. The master of ceremonies (George Grande for many years, Brian Kenny today) share stats and notes about each Hall of Famer’s accomplishments as they take their seats on stage.

The crowd cheers wildly for their favorites and are very respectful of all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the afternoon’s activities. The inductees are introduced last, and are often nervous and anxious about their upcoming speech. Their appearance on this stage is evidence that they have attained the pinnacle of their baseball dreams. This honor, represented by the bronze plaque sculpture of each inductee, is their assurance that their legacy is permanently cast and will live forever in the hallowed halls of the Cooperstown Museum.

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Over the years, there have been some memorable speeches. Bob Uecker (who went into the Hall in 2003 as the winner of the Ford C. Frick award, given annually to a broadcaster) delivered a classic self-deprecating, comedic speech. Robin Yount, in his 1999 speech, made solemn mention of the construction worker who lost his life while working on the new Milwaukee baseball stadium. Phil Rizzuto delivered a rambling, immensely entertaining speech in 1994. However, most Hall of Fame acceptance speeches take the form of personal thank you notes. Some are filled with humility, others less so. Emotion can run thick as the inductees include heartfelt references to parents, family, coaches, friends and fans. The 2001 ceremony was expected to be as typical as any that had previously occurred.

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ESPN’s live coverage of the ceremony that year was proceeding normally. As always, we were packed into the TV truck, doing our best to manipulate 5 cameras in order to visually capture the events that were unfolding on the stage and in the crowd. It was a hot day as Commissioner Bud Selig, and others, led the huge crowd through some preliminary awards and announcements. Then it was time for the 2001 inductees to make their speeches. Dave Winfield, he of the imposing physical size and prodigious offensive numbers, was scheduled to speak first. He delivered a wonderful 20-minute speech worthy of his 22 years in the big leagues. Fans representing all 6 of his former teams cheered his every word.

Bill Mazeroski was to speak next, then to be followed by the late great Kirby Puckett.


” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ loading=”lazy” class=”wp-image-3278″ src=”″ alt=”” width=”454″ height=”390″ srcset=” 408w, 736w” sizes=”(max-width: 454px) 100vw, 454px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Game 7 1960 World Series ( Stanley Mazeroski, the diminutive former second baseman of the Pittsburgh Pirates, had been voted in to the Hall by the Veterans Committee. Mazeroski, who, in 1954, signed with the Pirates at the tender age of 17, eventually became one of the best defensive second basemen in history with a lifetime fielding percentage of .983.

Mazeroski won 8 Gold Gloves and was a 10-time National League All-Star. In addition to his slick fielding, Maz banged out over 2,000 hits during his 18-year career. But Mazeroski’s name was etched in the permanent annals of baseball lore when, in 1960 at Forbes Field, he became the only player in history to end a World Series 7th game with a home run. That single event, more than any other, made Maz a baseball legend.

Then along came August 8th, 2001, a day when the baseball world seemed to open its heart for a very special moment in this rural New York field of dreams.

No one who was there would soon forget Maz’s speech.

Mazeroski, now 64 years old, approached the podium, speech in hand, while hearing chants of “let’s go Maz!”. He was clearly awash in emotion. This shy, modest kid from West Virginia, who had dreamed of being a big leaguer, found himself in an uncomfortable position as the center of attention in the baseball universe. It seemed as if Maz suddenly realized that this was the best possible final chapter of his lifelong dream. He had been known as a passionate player and that passion was every bit in evidence this day in Cooperstown.

He began his speech with: “I’ve got 12 pages here. That’s not like me. I’ll probably skip half of it and get halfway through this thing and quit anyhow. It’s getting awful hot out here, so that’s a good excuse to make it short. So……” His voice trailed off. Humble Bill was beginning to surrender to his emotions. So this is what it feels like to reach the pinnacle. The crowd was quiet, respectful of this man who had brought them unforgettable memories.

Maz tried again to push out a few words about how defense belongs in the Hall of Fame. Those thoughts ended with “I feel special”. And so he did. The crowd, now entranced by the exposed, raw humility of this man, broke into an ovation. Their love and support cascaded down from all around.

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Feeling the love, Maz tried again. “This is gonna be hard, so I probably won’t say half this stuff”. Through tears, he managed to thank the Pirates for retiring his number. Then, as the tears became more plentiful: “It’s hard to top this”. Those few words, blended with his visible emotional reaction, captivated and uplifted the 20,000 fortunate fans in attendance. (Inside the TV truck, it was eerily quiet and it was getting difficult to push out the words required to keep our coverage looking halfway decent).

Again, Maz tried, unsuccessfully, to control his emotions. The applause was no longer a form of cheering for the newly minted Hall of Famer’s accomplishments on the diamond; they were now cheering to support him in his moment of overwhelming emotion. Wiping away tears, Bill surrendered to the moment and squeezed out a few final words:

“I don’t think I’m gonna make it. I think you can kiss these 12 pages down the drain. I just want to thank everybody. I want to thank the Hall of Fame. I want to thank the Veterans Committee. I want to thank all the friends and family that made this long trip up here to listen to me speak and hear this crap. Thank you very, very much. Thanks everybody.”

Bill Mazeroski simply ended with “That’s enough.” For Maz, “enough” had lasted 2 ½ minutes. It’s fitting that Bill’s final sentences were about his care and concern for those who had made the trek to hear him speak, and now he felt that he had let them down. Quite the contrary.

As Maz choked out his final words, he began to walk back to his seat, his face the tearful mask of someone who has just willingly shared his human vulnerability with thousands of friends. Selig, Puckett, Winfield, Seaver, Monte Irvin, Rod Carew, Frank Robinson, and others all congratulated Bill as he sat in his seat, still overcome with the weight of the moment. Everyone on stage began to sit down, expecting to move on to the next speaker. Inside the TV truck, it was eerily silent as everyone was caught up in the emotion of the moment. Words were difficult to come by.

We started to prepare to go to commercial, but then it happened. A slow, rhythmic clapping began to rise from somewhere in this appreciative crowd. It became a steady applause, which got louder. And then louder. Shouts of “Thank you Bill!” and “We love you Maz!” punctuated the applause. These wonderful sounds of appreciation, now emanating from everyone in this endless crowd, no matter their jersey-displayed affiliations, washed down over Maz and all of the dignitaries on the stage.

All of the Hall of Famers stood to applaud this man who had so beautifully and naturally shared the emotion that, perhaps, many of them had never been able to publicly share. As Bill tried mightily to compose himself, these 20,000 fans were sending him their personal love and appreciation. Indeed, thanks for being a great player and providing wonderful memories. But on this day, their thanks was in appreciation for this humble kid turned hero who had surrendered to his emotions, opened his soul and invited thousands of friends to share in this moment, his Hall of Fame moment.

To have been present for this moment was priceless for all of us who call ourselves baseball fans. This moment transcended sports. When I am asked if I have any favorite events in my career, this is always the first moment that comes to mind. The Super Bowls, World Series, NBA Finals, X Games, World Cups, etc. are all great experiences and likely had many more viewers, but 2001 in Cooperstown will always mean the most to me. Thanks Maz.

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Rick Paiva

PS — if you would like to watch the greatest speech (n)ever made, please click here.

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