Stark: Winfield-Boss peace hard to comprehend
Notebook: Pete Rose sighting in Cooperstown
Winfield, Puckett, Maz officially enter Hall of Fame
Caple: Puck all about class
Klapisch: Winfield remembers good and bad times
Maz's shot and other great home runs
Cooperstown's Class of 2001
The 2001 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (Game footage courtesy of MLB.com).
Class of 2001
Bill Mazeroski is proud to be going into the Hall for his defensive ability.
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Monday, August 6, 2001
Mazeroski hits homer with emotional induction
By Jayson Stark
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Bill Mazeroski's home-run trot in 1960 might have lasted longer than his Hall of Fame induction speech. But that's OK.
And he might have delivered more tears at the Hall of Fame podium than words. But that's OK, too.
On the day a man enters the baseball Hall of Fame, it isn't about the words. It's about something bigger, something better.
It's about a pathway from the heart to the memory banks. It's about everything that man has meant to all those people spread out before him on the hillsides of Cooperstown. And it's about what all those people -- and the power of this honor -- means to him.
So who cares what Bill Mazeroski DIDN'T say Sunday, in 2½ emotional minutes at the podium? Whatever it was he meant to say is just as irrelevant as whatever pitch Ralph Terry meant to throw to him in Game 7, 1960, instead of the slider that Mazeroski lofted out of Forbes Field and into immortality.
The tears Mazeroski couldn't hold back Sunday spoke more eloquently, more powerfully, than the written speech he was still carrying around in his jacket pocket, two hours after he found himself unable to deliver it.
"I still have it in my pocket. Nobody got to hear it," he admitted later, sitting there through one final press conference with his fellow inductees, Kirby Puckett and Dave Winfield. "But that's the way I am. I'm not going to change."
Other men have stood at that same podium for more than 60 years now and spoken who knows how many thousands of words. Just about every one of those words has been forgotten.
But the speech Bill Mazeroski NEVER gave, we'll remember that one forever, because it touched people in a way the words almost never do.
"I'll tell you when I lost it," Puckett admitted afterward. "I lost it when Maz did. I really did. I'm not embarrassed about it. I could tell, I could feel, how Maz felt. I was crying for Maz. . . .
"After he got done, I said, 'Maz, your wife is gonna kill you.' And he was laughing. But for Maz, that was great. I cried tears for Maz, because that was very, very inspirational. If you can't cry to see a guy who can't even finish his speech, not even START his speech, you don't have a precious bone in your body."
To be accurate, though, Mazeroski did start his speech. After Winfield had finished a 23-minute dissertation in which he became the first Hall of Famer ever to thank George Steinbrenner, Gene Autry and Abraham Lincoln in the same speech, Mazeroski arose for the presentation of his plaque.
He listened silently as commissioner Bud Selig read from that plaque, calling him a "defensive wizard" and praising his "quiet work ethic." Then the photos were snapped, and only he was standing.
He stood at that podium. Out there in the hills, seven busloads of Western Pennsylvanians had finished applauding, finished chanting, "De-fense, de-fense," finished roaring one last, "Let's go, Bucs." He smiled, eyes already beginning to redden.
He reached into his pocket and looked at the dozen pages of words he was supposed to read.
"I've got 12 pages here," he said. "That's not me."
It was the most telling preamble to a notable American speech since "Four score and 20 years ago."
Then he attempted to launch into a fitting tribute to the art of defense -- an art to which he was the Van Gogh of his genre, an art that led him to this spot. He made it through three sentences. Then his river overflowed its banks.
He stopped. He wiped his eyes. He looked out there again, at his friends, at his wife, at his kids, at all those people wearing his jersey. He was gone.
"I thought that when the Pirates retired my number, that would be the greatest thing that ever happened to me," he said, barely audible. "This is harder."
The tears were flowing like Niagara Falls by then. Hey, the guy waited three decades to get that plaque. You'd have cried, too.
He held up his speech one last time.
"I think you can flush these 12 pages down the drain," he said.
By then the tears were onrushing like a Class Five rapids. Bill Mazeroski was looking for a raft he could jump into and use them to float away.
"I'd like to thank all the friends and family who made this long trek up here," he said finally, clearly spent, "to listen to me speak and hear this crap."
And that was that. The speech went back into his pocket. He made a different kind of pivot than the one that made him famous. And he bolted back to his seat beside Puckett and Winfield.
"I knew this would happen," he said afterward, eyes still red. "The more they yell, the more sentimental I get. I can't control that. I've done it all my life. I just expect it. I know it's going to happen. I don't want it to. I'm embarrassed by it...
"As soon as I looked around to thank somebody, as much as they meant to me, I knew it would start. I don't know why. It's like a disease, I guess."
Eventually, the master of ceremonies, broadcaster George Grande, returned to the podium, introduced Mazeroski's wife and children, and summed up the meaning of these 2½ powerful minutes.
"It was maybe one of the shortest speeches," Grande said. "But it was one of the most wonderful moments."
Afterward, Mazeroski said he was "embarrassed" by his moment on this stage. But he may have been the only one.
"Everybody deals with the situation differently," Winfield said. "I've been a little emotional with me and my family, too, from the time that I got that phone call. . . . But Maz had a long wait. He might have thought this day would never come. But he deserves it, man. I'm happy as heck for him."
Remember, though, that Mazeroski is a guy who hit arguably the most significant home run in baseball history, then strolled out of the locker room to sit quietly on a park bench outside Forbes Field. So we should have known 40 years ago he wasn't exactly Reggie Jackson.
"Sitting on that bench was easier than this," he said. "There wasn't a soul around -- just a squirrel or two. That was so relaxing. But this . . . From the day I was elected to the Hall of Fame, I was worried about this day. I knew this was gonna happen."
But despite it all, despite all the "bad golf" he'd played and all the off-the-podium stories he'd exaggerated and all the tears he'd cried when he was supposed to be spinning poetry, he didn't sound like a man who wished he'd never been elected.
"It's been a great weekend," said Bill Mazeroski. "Even though I had to go through what I went through, it's something I'll always cherish."
He won't be the only one. Words are just words. Words aren't always real. But tears never lie. Tears are as real as the man who cried them in front of the whole world Sunday.
His speech was almost as quick as all the double plays he turned, as short as the swing he laid on that Ralph Terry slider. But for Bill Mazeroski and all those who care about him, that's OK. We got the message, loud and clear.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
|Bill Mazeroski could not hold back the tears on Sunday.|