You don’t make it to Cooperstown without a moment. Greatness happens often. But indelible moments created by unforgettable players? They don’t come along every day.
With baseball’s Hall of Fame inductions happening Sunday, we’re looking at the most iconic moments of all six members of this year’s class: Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Jack Morris, Jim Thome and Alan Trammell.
Some achieved on the biggest stage. Some carved their name into the history book. Others left their mark on the game in ways that are the thing of urban legends.
The man they just call Vlad could do many things wonderfully on a baseball field — he had an amazing bat, a fantastic arm, he could hit for power or hit for average. But what made Guerrero a stunning player wasn’t just anything you saw on a stat sheet. People talk about the “it” factor with athletes and celebrities. Boy, did Vlad have it.
Guerrero was a player who commanded your attention. A player you had to watch. In that respect, it wasn’t hard to pick a moment that defined the Vladimir Guerrero you just had to keep your eyes on. It was a little bit past his heyday and his MVP season, but it’s the thing of legend all the same.
August 2009, against the Orioles, when he was still with the Angels — Vlad saw a curveball bounce in front of the plate and still knocked it into left field for a hit. We knew Vlad was a free swinger, but this was something else. It was proof of what the Hall of Fame is getting: A man who can do things with a bat that not many others could. (Mike Oz)
Chipper Jones’ most notable accomplishments all came very early in his 19-year career with the Atlanta Braves. In 1995, he finished runner-up to Hideo Nomo in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Later that same season he helped lead Atlanta to a World Series championship. In 1999, he was voted NL MVP at age 27.
Make no mistake though, the eight-time All-Star never stopped shining or fueling the Braves with consistent and timely production. He won a batting title at age 36. He was an All-Star again at age 39 (and 40). And perhaps most amazing of all, he provided his most iconic moment right at the very end.
On Sept. 2, 2012, Jones hit the 468th and final home run of his Hall of Fame career in dramatic fashion against the Philadelphia Phillies. Atlanta started the bottom of the ninth inning trailing by four runs, but mounted a rally that brought the game down to one decisive matchup: Jones vs. All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon. What followed was a vintage Chipper Jones moment as the 40-year-old absolutely demolished Papelbon’s 95-mph fastball.
The epic three-run walk-off homer capped a career of clutch moments, while setting off a celebration fit for a future Hall of Famer. It mattered to the Braves too, because that win helped the team secure a spot in the NL Wild Card Game. (Mark Townsend)
The Hall of Fame is a pretty exclusive club, but strong-as-an-ox slugger Jim Thome belongs to an even more exclusive club than that. It’s one that has only eight other people in it and doesn’t look to be adding anybody else soon.
It’s the 600 Home Run Club — in which Thome is joined by the likes of Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. That’s some pretty rarified air. The homer that put him in the club came in August 2011, when Thome was with the Minnesota Twins. He hit No. 599 and No. 600 that night against the Detroit Tigers, pumping his arm as he touched first base and grinning a huge grin when he touched home plate.
Six hundred homers means a lot more than just having power. It means longevity — which is the foundation of Thome’s career. He played 22 years in the big leagues and hit at least 30 homers every full season between 1996 and 2008 (he only played 59 games in 2005). Six times he passed 40. Once, in 2002, he hit 52. You know what they say about numbers: They don’t lie.
In Thome’s case, they tell a big truth: He’s in one of baseball’s most elite groups. (Mike Oz)
The save stat is the reason San Diego Padres reliever Trevor Hoffman is in the Hall of Fame. So Hoffman breaking the all-time saves record stands out as his best highlight. On Sep. 26, 2006, Hoffman recorded his 479th career save, passing Lee Smith for the all-time record.
Prior to Hoffman’s induction, only five other players who spent the majority of their career as closers have made it to Cooperstown: Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Hoyt Wilhelm. Of that group, Hoffman is the only one who never threw 100 innings in a single season.
That says less about Hoffman’s ability and more about how the closer role has changed since the 1970s. The role slowly shifted toward one-inning specialists who could shut down the opposing team in the ninth inning. Hoffman was one of the best ever to be used in that role.
Hoffman’s induction signals that Hall of Fame voters have embraced how the closer role has shifted since the ’70s. It opens the door for other closers from the modern era to make their way to Cooperstown.
Hoffman retired as the all-time saves leader with 601 career saves. That record has since been broken by Mariano Rivera, but that shouldn’t diminish Hoffman’s accomplishments. Hoffman defined the modern closer role. He provided the template for what a successful closer looks like today.
Because of that, it’s only fitting that he becomes the first closer of his era to get the Hall of Fame call. (Chris Cwik)
Jack Morris has one of the most obvious career-defining moments of any Hall of Fame player. Any time his name came up in Hall of Fame debates, you knew Game 7 of the 1991 World Series was soon to follow. On the biggest stage possible, Morris dominated his competition. He threw a 10-inning complete-game shutout against the Atlanta Braves to lead the Minnesota Twins to the World Series.
Turning in that type of performance against the Braves was no easy task. After finishing in last place in 1990, the Braves surged to the top of the National League. The team’s offense, led by NL MVP Terry Pendelton, finished second in the NL in runs scored. The pitching staff was led by Tom Glavine, Charlie Leibrandt, Steve Avery and a 24-year-old John Smoltz.
Smoltz grew up in Michigan idolizing Morris, so it seemed like fate that the two would face each other in the biggest game of their careers to that point. For a little over seven innings, the two matched zeroes on the scoreboard. After putting two men on in the eighth, Smoltz was removed from the contest. Despite a rising pitch count, Morris was determined to remain in the game as long as possible.
It took 126 pitches, but Morris managed to shut out the Braves for 10 innings. Whether he could have gone longer, we’ll never know. Gene Larkin hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the inning, giving the Twins the World Series win and Morris the well-deserved win after the best performance of his career. (Chris Cwik)
In a career spanning two decades, Alan Trammell was the author of several moments that will forever be etched in the hearts and minds of Tigers fans. Of those moments, none will stand the test of time like his performance in Game 4 of the 1984 World Series, which helped Detroit take control of the series and bring home the franchise’s fourth world championship.
Trammell had power, but was never known as a huge home-run threat. He finished his career with 185 home runs in 9,376 plate appearances. In Game 4, he was more than a threat. He was a difference maker, connecting for two home runs against the San Diego Padres to seal a 4-2 win and cement his status as World Series MVP.
Trammell started the game by launching a two-run home run off Padres starter Eric Show in the bottom of the first inning. Two innings later, he hit another two-run homer against Show. In both instances, his famed double-play partner Lou Whitaker scored ahead of him. Fitting considering their almost career-long connection, which many argue made them the greatest shortstop-second base combo in league history.
The four runs Trammell drove in were all the support starter Jack Morris would need in Detroit’s win. Trammell’s teammate and now fellow 2018 Hall of Fame inductee went the distance in a vintage Jack Morris postseason outing. Trammell hit .450 during that Tigers’ five-game World Series win, while scoring five runs and knocking in six. (Mark Townsend)
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