Vladimir Guerrero thanked the Canadian people he grew so fond of in his many years playing in Montreal, and his countrymen in his native Don Gregorio, Dominican Republic, where he has a home. He even thanked the Baltimore Orioles, who gave him a chance to become the all-time hits leader for Dominican-born players when his career was on its way out.
But on Thursday, the day after the rightfielder’s election to Cooperstown, he thanked the Angels in the biggest way possible: by becoming the first major-league player to represent that franchise in the baseball Hall of Fame.
Quelle surprise, as our neighbors to the north would say. Or maybe they’d go with quel dommage (what a pity).
“Those are seven years in Montreal that I’ll never forget — very special years for me,” Guerrero said through an interpreter at the news conference for this year’s inductees, including Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman, held in the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan. “I toiled over this for a long time because the Canadian people mean a whole lot to me, but [choosing] the Angels means a whole lot because of what it represents now, [as well] as the winning that happened there.”
Technically, the Hall of Fame decides which cap a player wears, but a player’s preference holds significant sway. On Thursday, Guerrero checked with Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson after he made his announcement, and Idelson nodded his head in approval.
Guerrero spent the first eight years of his 16-year career with the Expos and the next six with the Angels, leading that team to five AL West championships. He said he got the phone call introducing him to the Hall at his home on Long Island, and “when [that phone] rings, it’s just joy.”
There was no doubt about the caps on the other three. Jones represented the Braves for his entire 19-year career, tormenting Mets fans on his way to becoming one of the best switch hitters of all time and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Hoffman, who was second only to Mariano Rivera (652) with 601 saves, was the shining bright spot during some dark days for the San Diego Padres and spent 16 of his 18 seasons with them. Thome, whose 612 home runs rank eighth in major-league history, played for six teams in his 22-year career but was the face of the Indians throughout most of the ’90s. He played for Cleveland for 13 seasons.
Jones and Thome are two of 54 players to be elected on their first try, and Jones is only the sixth third baseman.
During their playing careers, “we immerse ourselves in the game and all we ever want to do is be one-ninth of the equation that tries to help us win a ballgame,” Jones said when asked if he ever thought he’d get to this position. “You’re not really thinking down the road that much. I think it’s a compliment when someone at the end of your career says that you have a chance to go to the Hall of Fame, but we’re too busy” with the day-to-day grind to pay it much mind.
All four expressed gratitude to people ranging from the family members who supported them throughout long seasons to the 422 qualified members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who voted.
Jones ended up with 97.2 percent of the vote and was this year’s highest vote-getter. Edgar Martinez, in his ninth and penultimate year of eligibility before moving to the Modern Baseball Committee, fell just short with 70.4 percent (candidates need 75 percent to be enshrined).
“I certainly think Edgar is a tremendous athlete and his time will come next year,” Hoffman said. As for himself: “I’m thankful for the opportunity to be here today and, as a closer, I’ll try to keep it short: Thank you.”
Thome described the excitement of the process and the slight sense of disbelief that comes with getting that call. “It’s a little surreal,” he said. “Going to sleep, I said to my wife, I’m a first-ballot Hall of Famer. This is very, very special, and I don’t take it for granted.”