COOPERSTOWN — Lee Smith and Mariano Rivera combined to finish 1,754 games as big leaguers. On Sunday afternoon, they closed things out one more time.
In an appropriate touch, Smith and Rivera were the last two people to take the podium at Clark Sports Center, where an estimated 55,000 fans gathered on a warm afternoon for the ceremonies inducting the two closers as well as Harold Baines, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina and the late Roy Halladay into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Rivera opened his speech with a line that indicated he could have a second career as a stand-up comic.
“I don’t understand why I always have to be last,” said Rivera, who racked up a record 652 saves and finished 952 games, the most in history, before becoming the first player to ever earn unanimous election into the Hall of Fame.
Smith, who was the all-time leader in saves (478) and games finished (802) upon his retirement in 1997, earned some laughs a few minutes earlier, when he touched on his brief stop with the Yankees in September 1993, when he collected three saves while Rivera was still in Class-A ball.
“The Yankees, who it turns out, didn’t need a closer,” Smith said.
Smith, who spent 15 years on the writers ballot before being elected by the Today’s Game Era Committee last December, wasn’t the only specialist who waited a long time for Sunday. Martinez, who batted .312 while spending most his time at designated hitter during his 18-year career with the Seattle Mariners, got in on his 10th and final year of eligibility (the eligibility limit was reduced to 10 years in 2014).
“There were times over the last 10 years I didn’t think it was going to happen,” Martinez said.
Fellow designated hitter Baines finished with 2,866 hits but played just 38 games in the outfield after the 1989 season. Baines, who never got 10 percent of the vote during his time on the writers’ ballot, joined Smith as a Today’s Game Era selection.
“I stand here today very humbled for this honor,” Baines said. “It has taken time to sink in.”
Mussina, who won 270 games for the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, noted his career was defined by near-misses. He threw four one-hitters and came within a strike of throwing a perfect game against the Boston Red Sox in 2001. Mussina never won a World Series, though he twice reached the Fall Classic with the Yankees, and finished in the top five six times in the Cy Young Award balloting without winning.
“Maybe I was saving up from all of those almost achievements for one last push,” Mussina said. “And this time, I made it.”
The most poignant speech was delivered by Halladay’s widow, Brandy. Roy Halladay, who joined Rivera as a first-ballot inductee after winning 203 games and two Cy Young Awards for the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, died in a plane crash on Nov. 7, 2017.
“This is not my speech to give,” Brandy Halladay said. “I’m going to do the best I can to say the things I believe Roy might have said or would have wanted to say if he was here today.”