By Dan Schlossberg
Once rivals, they now regard each other with affection rather than apprehension.
“He tried to disrupt my timing and he handled that balance so well,” Jones told the crowd. “You couldn’t sit on his 75 mph pitch and you still hit his low 90s pitch.”
According to Hoffman, Jones managed better than most.
“I do remember you circling the bases a few times,” he said. “It was no fun coming to Atlanta and hearing Crazy Train (when Chipper came to bat). But we loved the competition.”
Jones, who spent his entire 19-year career with the Atlanta Braves, played on the last 11 of the 14 Braves teams that won consecutive division crowns (a major-league record). By the time he retired after the 2012 season, he had a .303 batting average, 468 home runs, and more runs batted in than anyone whose primary position was third base.
With the TBS SuperStation beaming Braves games all over the country, Jones received instant exposure the minute he reached the big leagues in 1995. That created a lot of pressure for a country kid barely old enough to vote.
“With time, age, and experience, you learn to handle it better,” he said. “I’ve grown up a lot. If I could (go) back in time to the 23-year-old me, I’d slap myself upside the head.”
Jones, who joined Ken Griffey, Jr. as the only first-in-the-nation amateur draft picks in Cooperstown, never forgot life in the minor leagues.
“Some of the guys you rode the buses with in the minors became friends for life,” he said. “We used to sleep in the luggage rack of the Bluebird bus going from Jacksonville to Memphis. We all had to make adjustments.”
Hoffman certainly did; he made a career-saving move from shortstop to pitcher.
“I was aware of my situation,” said Hoffman, who hoped to follow in the footsteps of older brother Glenn, a major-league infielder 10 years his senior. “The writing was on the wall. I had to deal with a little adversity and take a path that was different than Glenn’s.”
The new path was worth the effort.
“San Diego is a great baseball town,” said the former pitcher, whose 601 saves are the most ever recorded by a National League closer. “There are some fans there that really appreciate the game. They really respected my career.”
So did his peers – including the 51 incumbent Hall of Famers who sat behind the Class of 2018 for their inductions outside the Clark Sports Center.
“We earned this gray hair,” said Morris, who needed the Veterans Committee to override his omission by the Baseball Writers Association of America. “Patience has been a virtue for us. We live in an imperfect world but time has a way of figuring things out.”
Morris, who played for winning World Series teams four times in three different cities, pitched the 10-inning, 1-0 Game 7 win that enabled the Minnesota Twins to beat the Atlanta Braves in the first match-up of worst-to-first teams. Seven years earlier, his pitching helped the Detroit Tigers beat the San Diego Padres.
When he mentioned both events, he drew playful boos from the crowd assembled in the bleachers along the first-base line.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” he said to the boo-birds. “Those ’91 Braves played so well we should have cut the trophy in half.”
Morris and Trammell, a long-time Tigers teammate also tapped by the Veterans Committee, joined Jones, Hoffman, Jim Thome, and Vladimir Guerrero at this year’s roundtable. Of the group, Thome had the most home runs (612) and the longest career (22 seasons).
“Seeing all of you embrace us as players meant so much,” said Thome, like Jones a first-ballot choice of the writers. “For me, the inductions got emotional right away.”
Although Jones spoke first Sunday in the event his pregnant wife went into labor, the Thome family actually led off: the slugger’s daughter sang the National Anthem that preceded the ceremonies.
After the hour-long discussion ended, Jones grabbed a PVC pipe and took a few swings at a tennis ball tossed by his dad, Larry Wayne Jones, Sr. After producing only a couple of fouls, Jones yielded to Thome, who nearly hit one over the right-field fence of the compact ballpark.
“I remember those Indians teams of the ’90s,” Thome told the crowd. “We had all those sluggers but we also had Omar Vizquel. He keeps moving up in the Hall of Fame voting and I’d like to see him get in. We share a bond with our teammates.”
Guerrero, whose .318 career batting average was the best of the new class, got a nice surprise on roundtable day when son Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. was promoted from Double-A to Triple-A by the parent Toronto Blue Jays.
“I’m so happy for him,” said the former outfielder, the first Dominican position player enshrined in Cooperstown. “I asked God to provide him good health and a good career.
“I could never get him away from the batting cage. He used to wear out Andres Galarraga in Montreal.”
Although there is one brother tandem in Cooperstown (Lloyd and Paul Waner), there are no father-and-son combinations. If the 19-year-old Guerrero Junior lives up to his scouting reports, that could change.
A notorious bad-ball hitter, Guerrero started his career in Montreal, playing in front of sparse crowds, but went west when the Los Angeles Angels signed him as a free agent. In 2004, his first season in Anaheim, he was named Most Valuable Player of the American League.
The only other regular-season MVP in the Class of 2018 was Jones in 1999, though both Trammell (1984) and Morris (1991) were named MVPs of the World Series.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, New Jersey is the author of 38 baseball books, including The New Baseball Bible: Notes, Nuggets, Lists & Legends from Our National Pastime. He is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest, and he can be reached at email@example.com.