This year’s Hall of Fame ceremony will be a living lesson in baseball’s minority history

COOPERSTOWN, NY — Dave Winfield has attended Baseball Hall of Fame ceremonies for the past 20 years since his own induction, but this one, he says, might just be the most historic weekend of them all.

This seven-member class of 2022 connects more than 150 years of baseball history, dating back to the roots of the first black baseball players, Cubans who fled their country for freedom, Dominicans and white players, all wonderfully intertwined.

It starts with Bud Fowler, the first black professional baseball player; to Buck O’Neil, the face of Negro League baseball; to Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers teammate who crossed the color barrier in 1947 when they were together; to Minnie Minoso, the Latin version of Jackie Robinson; to Tony Oliva, who idolized Minoso and credits him with opening the door to others; to Jim Kaat, who played with Oliva on the Minnesota Twins; to David Ortiz, who was mentored by Oliva while with the Twins before becoming a hero with the Boston Red Sox.

It will be an idyllic postcard of baseball’s diversity from its earliest days.

“It’s so cool for so many reasons,” Winfield told USA TODAY Sports. “Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva were on the teams I watched growing up in St. Paul, so I know them well. I’m so happy for Buck O’Neil; I just wish it had happened in his lifetime. And I’m honored to speak on behalf of the Bud Fowler family.”

Winfield plans to stop at Fowler’s grave in Franklin, New York, 30 minutes from Cooperstown, where he lay for 74 years in an unmarked grave, with a headstone now reading in part: “Black Baseball Pioneer .” He will pay his respects and on Sunday let the baseball world know all about him, playing in 21 states and territories during his career, fighting hate and racism every step of the way, the Jackie Robinson who came before Robinson , when he speaks to the crowd of fans.

Dave Winfield visited Bud Fowler’s grave in Franklin, New York, 30 minutes from Cooperstown.

“Bud was born in 1858, before they even allowed black people to play anything, before Jackie Robinson was born, before the black leagues,” Winfield said, “but there was a black man who played It was a game he loved, a game he played, a game he coached, and a game he promoted for many years.

“I’m telling you, it’s going to be so special, not just for me, but for all of us.”

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The star of the ceremony will be Ortiz, the beloved Red Sox slugger who is still revered throughout New England, especially after his infamous “It’s our (expletive) town” speech after the marathon bombing. from Boston in 2013. He helped end the curse of the Bambino by leading the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years, with the Red Sox winning three championships in nine years.

“He was not only a great player on the court,” commissioner Rob Manfred said, “but what he did in the community, what he meant to the Boston community in times of crisis, what kind of public things. But maybe more importantly, the little things that he’s done throughout his career through his foundation, he’s the kind of player that makes our game what he does is.

Ortiz also becomes the first Hall of Famer to test positive for steroids in his career, an anonymous test in 2004 that was leaked to The New York Times.

Ortiz’s test result could have been a false positive, and there have certainly been plenty of others tainted with suspicion of performance-enhancing drugs, from Mike Piazza to Pudge Rodriguez to Jeff Bagwell. Whether he’s been clean or not throughout his career, there’s no question of sullying his celebration.

“Just forget the numbers and forget what he did on the court,” said future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, who is retiring after this season from the St. Louis Cardinals. “For me, that’s what he does off the pitch with his foundation and the impact he’s had and the life changes he’s made for others. That’s what I admire the more at David Ortiz. He’s humble and never forgets where he’s from. He’s something really special and he’s someone I respect so much.

“I’m honoured, honoured, as a Dominican player – and I can speak for all Dominicans – I think we’re so proud to see another Dominican player inducted into the Hall of Fame. I know our country going to party, maybe for months, but I’m really excited to see David and all he’s achieved in his life and career.’

Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz acknowledges the crowd as part of the pre-game ceremonies in his honor.

Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz acknowledges the crowd as part of the pre-game ceremonies in his honor.

Detroit Tigers star and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera from Venezuela called Ortiz a role model for all Latino players and spoke about the impact he had on his own career.

“To me, he’s like my big brother,” Cabrera says. “When I came to the big leagues, he (treated) me like family. The fact that he’s in the Hall of Fame is everything because he brings so much to this game and outside of this Game.”

Manny Machado of the San Diego Padres, who ridiculed teams earlier this season for not celebrating Pujols’ legacy, says Ortiz still remains underappreciated. He wasn’t just a puncher who led the Red Sox to World Series championships, but was larger than life on and off the field.

“For me, he’s an ambassador of the game,” Machado says. “We admire him. He is the most swaggi, the most humble, the happiest, the craziest (dest); he did everything. Entering the Hall of Fame is going to be special not only for him and his family, but for all Dominicans.”

The brotherhood is no different in Minnesota, which welcomed Oliva with open arms after leaving Cuba. He didn’t know a word of English when he joined the Twins, but he had five other Cubans on the team with him, including All-Star Camilio Pascual and future MVP Zoilo Versalles. Oh, and a white pitcher from Michigan named Jim Kaat.

“I remember when I came here to Minnesota,” Oliva said, “Jim Kaat told me that you’re going to feel at home because a third of our team is from Cuba. He was right. It was like a family

Oliva came to Minnesota in 1961 and never left. He was so beloved that U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar recently helped Oliva’s brother, Juan Carlos Oliva, get a visa so they could be together at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. They last saw each other in 2009.

“I was very, very, very happy to see him come to the United States,” Oliva said. “A lot of people worked really hard to get him here. The people here are so wonderful.”

Now he will enter the Hall with his former teammate and longtime friend in Kaat, a puncher he mentored in Ortiz and a man he idolized in Minoso.

“I don’t think I would go to the Hall of Fame without Minnie Minoso,” Oliva said. “When I was little, I would listen to the Cuban Winter Baseball League talk about Minnie Minoso. He was all about baseball.

“He was the Jackie Robinson of Latino players. He should have been in the Hall of Fame a long time ago. He could have been in two Halls of Fame – the black league one and the white league one. The time when “He played was tough. The years I played were tough. But he had such a good attitude. He deserves it so much.

“This ceremony is going to be beautiful for everyone.”

The induction promises to be a living history lesson of men showing their courage, surviving in a country steeped in racism, refusing to back down, fighting back and achieving baseball immortality.

The Baseball Hall of Fame will never look so glorious.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 2022 an idyllic postcard of diversity