Trio marked largest group of first-ballot inductees to Cooperstown
By Austin Laymance
It's been just under two decades since George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame as part of a historic class.
Thursday marks the 18th anniversary of the election of the Hall of Fame Class of 1999, which included an unprecedented three first-ballot inductees in Brett, Ryan and Yount. The class also featured four selections by the Veterans Committee: Orlando Cepeda, Nestor Chylak, Frank Selee and Joe Williams.
The Class of 2017 will be announced by Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson on Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.com.
At the time, the Hall of Fame had not seen a class with more than two first-ballot inductees since the inaugural Class of 1936, which started with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.
There have since been two more instances of a trio of first-ballot inductees. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas accomplished the rare feat in the Class of 2014, which was followed by Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz in the Class of 2015.
Candidates for the Class of 1999 needed 373 of 497 votes for election. Ryan led the way with 491 votes, followed by Brett with 488 and Yount with 385.
Brett, a third baseman, spent his entire 21-year with the Kansas City Royals. As one of the greatest hitters in the game, Brett's lifetime numbers include a .305 average, 317 home runs, 1,595 RBIs and 3,154 hits. A 13-time All-Star, Brett was the first player to win batting titles in three decades (1976, '80, '90), and he had 11 seasons with a .300 batting average, including a career-high .390 in 1980, when he was the MVP of the American League. He led the Royals to their first World Series title in '85.
"I dreamt the same way Nolan did and I dreamt the same way Robin did, and this is a dream come true," Brett said during an emotional induction speech. "It is such an honor to stand here and be inducted with such good friends. Of all the guys that I did play against for all that length of time, Robin, you are the one I enjoyed playing against the most. So congratulations to all you people in Milwaukee -- you saw one of the best ballplayers I ever saw."
Yount, who spent his entire 20-year career with the Milwaukee Brewers, won AL MVP awards as a shortstop and a center fielder. Yount debuted in 1974 at age 18 and later broke Mel Ott's record for most MLB games played as a teenager with 243. He had more hits than anyone in the 1980s (1,731) and finished his career with 3,142 hits.
Yount shared a few anecdotes during his speech and said he "couldn't have handpicked a better class to go to Cooperstown with."
"When I was 18 years old, I spent the day in a rowboat fishing with Nolan Ryan," Yount recalled. "There wasn't a lot of conversation that day. On the field, he let his pitching do the talking. I never faced a pitcher with better stuff than Nolan Ryan.
"George was the guy I used to watch and say, 'Man, I wish I could play like that guy.' With a fun-loving attitude and a burning desire to win, nobody played the game any harder than George. He is what baseball is all about."
Ryan, a 300-game winner and the all-time Major League leader with 5,714 strikeouts and seven no-hitters, went into the Hall of Fame as a Texas Ranger. He also pitched for the Astros, Angels and Mets during a decorated 27-year career that spanned four decades. An intimidating figure on the mound, Ryan led his league in strikeouts 11 times and struck out 300 batters in a season six times.
"I'd like to say thank you to the guys that I faced over my career, which some of them are here and sitting on this stage today, and I can honestly say I'm enjoying seeing them now more than I ever have and I really didn't particularly care for them when they had their uniforms on," Ryan said at the beginning of his speech. "I appreciate it, I enjoyed the competition and it was indeed an honor to face you."
The excitement surrounding the Class of 1999 was so great, 41 Hall of Famers returned to Cooperstown that summer for the enshrinement.
Some of the Hall of Famers in attendance at the 1999 induction included: Hank Aaron, Yogi Berra, Lou Brock, Steve Carlton, Larry Doby, Bobby Doerr, Bob Feller, Rollie Fingers, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, George Kell, Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner, Tom Lasorda, Lee MacPhail, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Phil Niekro, Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry, Robin Roberts, Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt, Tom Seaver, Enos Slaughter, Warren Spahn, Willie Stargell, Don Sutton, Billy Williams and Ted Williams.
Austin Laymance is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.