New Hall of Famers reflect on highest honor

New Hall of Famers reflect on highest honor

NEW YORK -- It doesn't matter when a player is elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame once he gets in. Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez are the latest members, and they all shared the same sentiment on Thursday: They are just grateful to be there.

The trio was elected by eligible voters of the Baseball Writers' Association of America in results that were announced on Wednesday night. They shared the same stage for the first time on Thursday during an afternoon media conference at the St. Regis Hotel.

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"I am happy to be here with all you guys, just being together with two good friends, even though we never played together," Rodriguez said. "But as baseball players, we are like a family, even though we play against [each other]. We respect each other. Play the game hard, play it the right way."

For Bagwell and Raines, their pending induction on July 30 in Cooperstown, N.Y., is coming after lengthy waits on the ballot -- seven and 10 years, respectively. Rodriguez, one of the top catchers in history, made it on his first try. The trio will be inducted along with Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig and Braves vice chairman John Schuerholz on the stage behind the Clark Sports Center.

"It's truly, truly just an honor to be here," Bagwell said. "To be in the Hall of Fame, that's crazy, man. I'm just happy to be here and trying to take this all in."

Pudge on 2017 Hall of Fame class

The three players make it an even dozen selected by the BBWAA from the past four ballots after no one was picked in 2013. Raines, 57, is the oldest of the bunch, and he became only the third player to make it in his final year of eligibility. Jim Rice ('09) and Ralph Kiner (1975) were the others.

Raines' 23-year career began with the Montreal Expos in 1979. He played at least a part of his first 12 seasons for the Expos before joining five other teams and returning to Montreal for 47 games in 2001.

"Once you're on the ballot, you just hope you get in," said Raines, who retired in '02. "It doesn't matter when or how. Once we retire as players, we're done. There's nothing we can do to change our stats or make it even better or sweeter for the writers to see. It took me 10 years, but my stats never changed from 15 years ago.

"It took a while. Better late than never. … I'm so proud to be here. ... The writers finally got it right."

Raines on entering as an Expo

Raines said he would go into the Hall wearing an Expos cap, despite participating as a super sub on the 1996 and '98 World Series-winning Yankees. He stole 635 of his 808 bases for Montreal, and he will join fellow former Expos Andre Dawson and the late Gary Carter in the Hall.

"I won two championships in New York, played in Chicago [with the White Sox] for five years. Later, Baltimore for a week and finished in Miami," Raines said. "But my career started in Montreal. I spent my first 12 years there, so it's only fitting that I go in as an Expo."

Rodriguez said he also was going back to his roots. He played for six teams as well, beating the Yankees in the 2003 World Series during his one year with the Marlins, and returning to the Fall Classic in '06 as a member of the losing Tigers.

The Rangers, though, are where Pudge's heart is. He came up with Texas in 1991 and also played his first 12 seasons there, returning for 28 games in 2009. Rodriguez notched 1,747 of his 2,844 hits wearing a Rangers uniform. Nolan Ryan is the only other member of the Rangers in the Hall.

"I'm going to go in as a Texas Ranger," Rodriguez said. "I'm going in wearing their cap. I know I played for five other teams and some very good organizations. If they'd let me, I'd put all the caps [on my plaque] if I could. But you have to go with one."

Pudge entering HOF with Rangers

Bagwell will enter the Hall as an Astro, as he played his entire 15-year career in Houston. He came up in 1991 and amassed 2,314 hits and 449 homers before his surgically repaired right shoulder gave out. Bagwell had to retire after collecting a single in 10 plate appearances as his club was swept by the White Sox in the 2005 World Series, Houston's only Fall Classic appearance. Friend and teammate Craig Biggio, who was inducted as an Astro in '15, also played his entire 20-year career in Houston.

"I'm an Astro, man," Bagwell said to the laughs of the assembled family and media. "It's kind of surreal. I have no idea what I'm doing, but enjoying every moment of it. To be with Pudge and Rock, I couldn't be happier. Great dudes. Having a lot of fun together, just laughing at each other. In the baseball world, you need to be able to laugh at each other."

Bagwell's reaction to vote

That still leaves five clubs with no representatives in the Hall -- the Angels, Rockies, Rays, Marlins and Nationals, where Pudge played his last of 21 seasons and record 2,422nd game as a catcher in '11. Technically, the Nats are the former Expos, who moved to Washington in '05.

Pudge was only the second catcher elected on the first ballot. Johnny Bench was the first in 1989.

"To me, we're going to have a great team in Cooperstown," Rodriguez said. "Just being there and being right next to all these Hall of Famers, it's a privilege just to be there. I'm fortunate to be there as a first-timer. Five years ago I retired and now I'm going to be in Cooperstown, so to me, I can't wait for July."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.