Baseball's two newest Hall of Famers, Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen, joined the ranks of the immortals on Sunday in the same understated manner that marked both players' long careers.
McGriff and Rolen were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday during a ceremony on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York, when two players who often shunned the limelight were tasked with speaking to a throng of fans in attendance as well as a national television audience on the MLB Network. Both responded with eloquent speeches.
"This is baseball's biggest honor," McGriff said. "This is like icing on the cake. You see, my goal was simply to make it to the big leagues."
Now McGriff has made the biggest league of all after his long wait for enshrinement finally ended on Sunday. Passed over during his 10-year stay on the BBWAA ballot, McGriff was unanimously voted in at the winter meetings in December by one of the Hall's era-based veterans committees.
McGriff finished with 493 career homers, likely missing the ballyhooed 500-dinger club because of the 1994-1995 work stoppage that cost him parts of two seasons when he was producing the best numbers of his career. His speech recounted his childhood in the Tampa, Florida, area, not far from the spring training complex of the Big Red Machine-era Cincinnati Reds teams.
His words built on a theme of continuing to work in pursuit of your dreams, an ethic McGriff embodied from the time he was cut from his 10th grade team.
"I was on a mission to improve as a hitter," McGriff said. "It was time to work. That meant becoming a student of the game, reading books, watching videos about hitting. Charlie Lau's 'The Art of Hitting .300' became my go-to book. It was like my bible."
It was a Hall of Fame moment: The player featured in Lau's seminal work was his most famous pupil, George Brett, who was among the greats seated behind McGriff on stage.
Perhaps the part of McGriff's speech that encapsulated his journey the best came when he thanked members of his family, including his late parents, siblings and children. He finished with his wife of 34 years, Veronica, who he noted has been with him "since we worked together at Burger King."
Known for consistency, McGriff played for six teams during his career and twice was traded at midseason to contenders hoping the slugger would put their club over the top in a title pursuit. He hit 30 or more homers in a season for a record five different teams.
A member of the 1995 World Series champion Atlanta Braves, McGriff's Hall plaque will not feature a team logo. If the delayed entry bothered McGriff, he wasn't showing it Sunday, especially after he was greeted with unusual enthusiasm by fellow Hall of Famers when he walked onto the stage.
"I'm humbled to be standing on a stage with some of the greatest players to ever play this game," McGriff said. "Honestly, I would have been happy just playing one day in the big leagues."
While Rolen didn't have to wait as long as McGriff -- he was voted by the BBWAA in his sixth year of eligibility -- his starting point was historically low. In 2018, the first time Rolen's name appeared on the ballot, he received just 10.2% of the vote, the lowest initial percentage for a player who eventually was inducted. His rise from a ballot afterthought to a Hall of Famer was as startling as it was unlikely.
"I assumed that this group would be quite intimidating," Rolen said in acknowledgment of the thousands of fans gathered across the vast lawn on which the ceremony is held every summer. "It is, but way more intimidating is the group behind me and standing here in front of these legends. On this stage is baseball greatness."
Rolen becomes the 12th Hall of Famer to feature a St. Louis Cardinals logo on this Hall plaque. Rolen was traded to the Cardinals from the Phillies at the 2002 trade deadline. He went on to play in four All-Star Games and win three Gold Gloves during his time in St. Louis for his highlight-reel work at third base. He was a member of two pennant-winning Cardinals teams (2004 and 2006) and won a ring in 2006.
A small-town standout from Jasper, Indiana, in both baseball and basketball during his prep days, Rolen stayed true to his roots at the very beginning of the speech by recognizing two attendees who are members of the Indiana Bulls, the youth team he coaches.
Most of Rolen's speech went on to celebrate the work ethic and simple values of his small-town background, manifested in the support and guidance from his parents, including his father urging him to focus on what he can do, not what he can't, with the words "do that, then."
"'Do that, then' carried me into the minor leagues and gave me a simple mindset that I would never allow myself to be unprepared or outworked," Rolen said. "'Do that, then' put me on this stage today."
Rolen finished his speech by taking out a Hall of Fame cap and tipping it to his family and everyone else on hand.
If there was one overriding connection between Rolen and McGriff, it might simply be that after years of uncertainty, both stars entered the Hall despite many moments of wondering whether Sunday would ever arrive. The days of wondering are over.
"At no point in my lifetime did it ever occurred to me that I'd be standing on this stage," Rolen said early in his speech. "But I'm glad it occurred to you, because this is unbelievably special."
In addition to Sunday's induction, the Hall held its annual awards ceremony at Doubleday Field on Saturday.
Among those honored were 96-year-old former pitcher Carl Erskine, the last surviving key member of the famed "Boys of Summer" Brooklyn Dodgers teams from the 1950s. Erskine received the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.
Also honored was John Lowe, who won the BBWAA Career Excellence Award, marking his work covering the Detroit Tigers for the Detroit Free Press. Longtime Chicago Cubs broadcaster Pat Hughes was honored as this year's Ford C. Frick Award winner.