Pirates great sheds tears of joy for Hall of Fame induction speech

Maz enters with heart on sleeve

Posted: Monday, August 06, 2001

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Yes, there really is crying in baseball -- Bill Mazeroski broke down during his Hall of Fame induction, and some of baseball's greats cried along with him.

Mazeroski, the former Pittsburgh Pirates fielding whiz who waited 29 years for Hall of Fame selectors to recognize that defense is as integral to the game as hitting and pitching, was overcome by emotion and began crying a few minutes into his speech Sunday and couldn't continue.

In a moment as poignant and as moving as any in the memory of many of the former Hall of Famers who make the annual pilgrimage to Cooperstown, Mazeroski said the long wait and the thrill of receiving an honor he never thought he would get proved too much.

''This is going to be hard,'' Mazeroski said, wiping tears from his eyes barely 90 seconds after his speech began. ''I thought having my Pirates number retired was the greatest thing that ever happened to me ... I didn't think I would make it into the Hall of Fame.''

Then, pausing, the tears welling and his emotions getting the best of him, Mazeroski held up his prepared speech before a now-hushed crowd of more than 20,000 and said, ''I think you can kiss these 12 pages down the drain.''

Wiping away more tears, he cut short his talk after bearly three minutes of speaking, tucked his speech into his jacket pocket and said, ''I don't think I'm going to make it.''

Mazeroski's unrehearsed breakdown -- in contrast to Dave Winfield's skillfully delivered, polished but lengthy speech -- clearly touched a nerve with his fellow Hall of Famers, some of whom were seen wiping away their own tears.

Kirby Puckett, the former Twins star who was cheered on by busloads of fans who traveled nearly a full day to attend, didn't cry during his own speech but said afterward he began crying once Mazeroski did.

''I felt it for Maz,'' Puckett said. ''I cried for Maz. If you can't cry for a guy who couldn't even start his speech before he started crying, you don't have an emotional bone in your body.''

At a post-ceremony news conference, Mazeroski said he has always been emotional -- he once said, ''I even cry at sad commercials'' -- and he feared for months he would break down with so many friends, family and former teammates in attendance.

About 15-20 of Mazeroski's teammates -- by far the most of any of the four players enshrined Sunday -- sat within clear view of Mazeroski in a special section just off to the side of the stage.

''That's the way I am and it's not going to change,'' said Mazeroski, who turned more double plays than any second baseman in history and is widely considered the best fielder to ever play the position. ''I've done it my whole life. I knew it was going to happen.''

A few minutes after he finished, Mazeroski asked ceremony host George Grande to thank his wife, two sons, the Pirates and his former teammates after failing to mention them during brief remarks that began, ''I think defense belongs in the Hall of Fame.''

Puckett, the last player to be inducted, sensed many in the crowd were getting restless during the 2-hour, 40-minute ceremony on a sunny, 88-degree and delivered his speech in about half the time that Winfield did.

Puckett, whose 12-year career was cut short at age 34 because of glaucoma, talked of wanting to do nothing but play baseball in the Chicago housing project where he grew up after watching Ernie Banks and Billy Williams play for the Cubs when he was 5.

''I'd be walking down the street, my bat and glove over my shoulder and my books in my other hands, and the drug dealers and the gang members would say, 'Hey, Puck, don't you want to hang out with us, drink a little?'' Puckett said. ''I told them I had a higher calling.''

Puckett, who had more hits in his first 10 seasons than any player ever, said he was spanked innumerable times by his late mother for breaking windows or furniture while playing ball.

''But I'm sure she'd be smiling now, saying, 'My baby's in the Hall of Fame,' '' he said.

Unlike Puckett and Mazeroski, who played for only one team each during their careers, Winfield played for six and took time to mention former teammates on every team, plus many of the 40 Hall of Famers who were in attendance.

Winfield, one of only seven players with at least 3,000 hits and 400 home runs, even thanked Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, with whom he feuded for years even while being a perennial All-Star during his 8 1/2 Yankees seasons.

''He's said he regrets a lot of things that happened,'' Winfield said. ''We're fine now. Things have changed.''

Still, Winfield chose to wear a San Diego Padres cap on his Hall of Fame plaque -- he spent his first eight seasons with the Padres -- rather than a Yankees cap, even though he enjoyed much of his success in New York.

Also enshrined was the late Hilton Smith, a Negro League star who enjoyed considerable success despite pitching in the shadow of teammate Satchel Paige. Los Angeles Times baseball writer Ross Newhan received the J.G. Taylor Spink award for writers, while Rafel ''Felo'' Ramirez, who has broadcast games in Spanish since the 1940s, received the Ford C. Frick award for broadcasters.

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