COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – The chants began even before baseball’s greatest closer stood to make his speech.
“Mariano! Mariano! Mariano!”
The former New York Yankees reliever paused and smiled.
“I don’t understand why I have to always be the last,” Mariano Rivera joked at his Hall of Fame induction Sunday. “I guess being the last one is special.”
Rivera and fellow closer Lee Smith, starters Mike Mussina and the late Roy Halladay, and designated hitters Edgar Martinez and Harold Baines were feted on a sun-splashed day in Cooperstown. Taking the podium last as he had predicted, Rivera delivered a speech that included a brief thank you to his native Panama and the fans there.
“You’re special for me,” said Rivera, who spoke from notes although he had his speech ready if needed. “Thank you for your help. Latin American fans, thank you. Thank you for loving me. I’m so humbled and blessed to receive this incredible honor. God bless you all.”
The career saves leader with 652, Rivera was the first unanimous Hall of Fame pick by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. He pitched 19 seasons in the major leagues, all with the Yankees, and retired with 952 games finished – also a record.
A 13-time All-Star, Rivera helped the Yankees win five World Series titles and seven American League pennants. He led the AL in saves three times and finished with 40 or more saves nine times, a record he shares with Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman.
Halladay’s widow, Brandy, fought back tears as she spoke. Halladay was 40 when he was killed in a plane crash in November 2017.
“I knew I was going to cry at some point. It’s overwhelming the amount of people here today,” she said. “I’m so grateful you’re here. I can’t tell you how many hugs I’ve gotten. They have extended so much love and friendship. I’m so grateful.
“The thank yous should and could go on for days. There are not enough words to thank you. I say it a lot, but it takes a village.”
Smiling from beginning to end, Smith congratulated his new classmates before crediting his family and hometown of Castor, Louisiana, for much of his success.
“It’s been my family. They’re the main reason I’m standing here today,” Smith said. “To my mom and dad – your support has meant everything to me.”
Smith pitched 18 seasons for the Cubs, Red Sox, Cardinals, Yankees, Orioles, Angels, Reds and Expos and retired as MLB’s career saves leader with 478, a title he held for 13 seasons. That total ranks third all-time, as do his 802 games finished.
Martinez was a seven-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger Award winner for Seattle, where he spent his entire 18-year career. Martinez delivered the first part of his speech in Spanish before congratulating the other five inductees.
“I am honored and humbled to be standing here,” said Martinez, who was born in New York and grew up in Puerto Rico. “It is hard to believe that a dream that started when I was 10 years old (ended here). The first time I saw Roberto Clemente, all I wanted to do was play the game. What an honor to have my plaque in the Hall alongside his.”
Martinez won two AL batting titles and led the league in on-base percentage three times. He was named the outstanding designated hitter five times, an award that now bears his name.
The soft-spoken Baines never displayed much emotion in his 22-year career, but his voice cracked throughout his speech.
“Somehow I acquired a reputation for not saying much. I’m not sure why,” he deadpanned at the start. “From teachers to coaches who showed me kindness and discipline, I thank you all for what you’ve done for me. If I can leave you with one message, it’s to give back to your community. I stand here very humbled. It has taken time to sink in.”
Mussina pitched for 18 major league seasons and spent his entire career in the high-scoring AL East with the Orioles and Yankees. A five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove winner, he posted a record of 270-153 and had 57 complete games in 536 starts. He was the first AL pitcher to win at least 10 games 17 times.
“I spent a lot of time reflecting on my time in baseball,” said Mussina, the oldest first-time 20-game winner in MLB history when he reached the milestone at age 39 in 2008, his final season in the majors. “I was never fortunate to win a Cy Young Award or be a World Series champion, win 300 games or strike out 3,000 hitters. My opportunities for those achievements are in the past. Today, I get to become a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. This time I made it.”
The late Frank Robinson and Willie McCovey were honored with a moment of silence before Mussina was introduced. The two Hall of Famers died since last year’s induction ceremony.