Three pitchers who became dominant after trades and a rock-solid catcher-turned-second baseman entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperston, New York, on Sunday.
Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio basked in the moment, with at least 40,000 fans cheering them one more time.
Many waved Dominican flags for one of their own. Martinez joined former San Francisco Giants great Juan Marichal as the only Hall of Famers from the Caribbean nation.
"We waited 32 years another Dominican,'' Martinez said. "I hope all Dominicans remember this.''
Playing through an era tainted by steroids and ruled by offense — compliments of bulked-up sluggers, a smaller strike zone and smaller ballparks — Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz proved indomitable. They combined for 735 wins, 11,113 strikeouts and nine Cy Young Awards.
Biggio, who played four positions in his 20-year career, all with the Houston Astros, was indefatigable, becoming an All-Star at second base and behind the plate.
"We changed the culture in Houston by making it a baseball city,'' said Biggio, who grew up on New York's Long Island. "To the Astros fans, you guys are the greatest fans in the world.''
Credit to brother
Martinez, 219-100 for his career, was the first Boston Red Sox pitcher inducted. He grew up with five brothers and sisters in a one-room home on the outskirts of Santo Domingo. He credits brother Ramon, a starter with the Los Angeles Dodgers during Pedro's rookie season in Los Angeles, as a key to his career.
"I have a second dad,'' said Martinez, whose blue jacket had emblems on each arm from his country's flag. "Ramon, you are my second dad. I followed in his footsteps and it led me to where I am today.''
Remarkably, all three pitchers didn't stick around with their first clubs very long. Drafted by Montreal, Johnson made the Expos roster in 1988 and midway through the 1989 season was traded to the Seattle Mariners.
Smoltz, signed by his hometown Detroit Tigers after being selected in the 22nd round of the 1985 amateur draft, was dealt to Atlanta for veteran Doyle Alexander in August 1987. And the Dodgers traded Martinez to Montreal after the hard-throwing right-hander with the pinpoint control had a solid rookie season in the bullpen.
On this day, that was ancient history.
Johnson, at 6 feet 10 inches (2.08 meters) the tallest player elected to the Hall of Fame, gave special thanks to his parents. His father died in 1992. His mother, Carol, was watching from the front row.
"Thank you, Mom. You're the Hall of Famer,'' Johnson said.
Johnson became a 20-game winner in 1997 and won four consecutive Cy Young Awards with the Arizona Diamondbacks, leading them to the World Series championship in 2001. He finished with 303 victories in 22 seasons.
'A medical miracle'
Smoltz won the 1996 Cy Young Award and reached the playoffs 14 times with Atlanta. The Braves won five pennants and the 1995 World Series with Smoltz on the roster. He's the first pitcher to win more than 200 games and save at least 150 games. He's also the first player inducted with Tommy John surgery — a type of ligament reconstruction — on his resume. The surgery is named for John, who pitched for the Dodgers, because he was the first baseball player to undergo it.
Smoltz understood his debt to John. "I'm a miracle. I'm a medical miracle,'' Smoltz said. "I never took one day for granted.''
Biggio became the only player in major league history with at least 3,000 hits, 600 doubles, 400 stolen bases and 250 home runs while being asked to play four positions in his career. He thanked coach Matt Galante, who worked tirelessly over six weeks as Biggio made the transition from catcher to second base.
Biggio looked at Galante in the audience. "I'm not here without that man,'' he said.