- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2001

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) Bill Mazeroski worked magic with his glove perhaps better than any other second baseman. Kirby Puckett wore a smile that didn't fade even when glaucoma shortened his superlative career.
Until now, this oft-overlooked star from the 1960s and a sometimes underappreciated talent of the late 1980s and early '90s were linked mostly by their history-making Octobers.
Mazeroski hit what is regarded as the greatest World Series home run; Puckett played one of the greatest World Series games.
But today, along with Dave Winfield, the consummate athlete, and Hilton Smith, a Negro League star who proved a pitcher could thrive in Satchel Paige's shadow, they will become members of the most privileged and toughest-to-reach club in sports: the Baseball Hall of Fame.
For Mazeroski, the journey was as agonizingly slow as a Hoyt Wilhelm knuckleball, through 15 failed rounds of voting by baseball writers and another decade of snubs by the Veterans Committee. For Puckett and Winfield, the trip couldn't have been much faster or smoother, coming barely five years after they played their final games.
That they are going in together is merely coincidental, but their inductions illustrate what many find fascinating about the game that it can be played by the short (Puckett), the tall (Winfield) and the in-between (Mazeroski). By men who hit with grace (Puckett) and power (Winfield) and by those who are as skilled at taking runs away (Mazeroski) as others are in creating them.
"Some people have that defining moment or great achievements that they are remembered for," Winfield said. "My hallmark is a high level of consistency over a long period of time plus, I hit a lot of screaming line drives."
Mazeroski had the defining moment of all World Series defining moments his 1960 homer to beat the New York Yankees in one of the wackiest and most unpredictable series ever. It remains the only homer to end a Game 7, and the magnitude of his Pittsburgh Pirates' upset of the Maris-Mantle Yankees adds even more to its significance.
Yet, that very homer might have at least partially blocked Mazeroski's path to Cooperstown until now.
Overshadowed during his glory days by stars like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Mickey Mantle and his own teammate, Roberto Clemente, Mazeroski is remembered by many only for that homer, not for being a slick-fielding second baseman who set double-play records that might never be broken.
"He's the best second baseman ever and it's not even close," said Hall of Fame chairman Joe L. Brown, the Pirates' general manager during Mazeroski's career. "He was the best fielder I ever saw and a great clutch hitter."
Mazeroski's enshrinement the first in recent times by a player elected primarily for his glove and not his bat could pave the way for more two-way players to be inducted.
Shortstop Ozzie Smith, for example, was only a .260s hitter like Mazeroski, but he could be a first-ballot Hall of Famer next year after redefining how the position is played.
"There is a place for defense," Mazeroski said. "I know I stopped a lot of runs from scoring."
Puckett, unlike Mazeroski, had an easier time getting into the Hall because of a World Series performance.
In the Twins' pivotal 4-3 victory in Game 6 against the Atlanta Braves in 1991, he had an RBI triple, an excellent leaping catch, a go-ahead sacrifice fly, an eighth-inning single and the winning home run in the 11th. The Twins went on to win Game 7.
Puckett, who bypassed free agency to remain in Minnesota and drove a beat-up pickup truck to the ballpark even after he made millions, still was one of the game's best players when glaucoma forced him from the game in 1995 at age 36.
A six-time Gold Glove outfielder who had three 100-RBI seasons, Puckett has promised an induction speech that will "leave you thinking," even if, "I can't find the words to say what this all means."
Winfield is one of the first of a new breed of Hall of Famers from the free agency era who played for a multitude of clubs in his case, six yet still had solid statistics and a long, significant career.
The only player to be drafted by teams in major league baseball, the NBA and the NFL, Winfield first gained national attention as a basketball star at Minnesota, but quickly made the majors as a graceful yet strong line-drive hitter.
He is one of seven players with 3,000 hits and 400 home runs and remained a star at age 40, driving in 108 runs and hitting a decisive World Series double for Toronto in Game 6 in 1992.
Winfield averaged 27 homers a season in seven years with the Yankees but chose to be inducted wearing the hat of his first team, the San Diego Padres.
"Being the first Padre is a little extra special," he said. "It's like your first love, your first home run."
Hilton Smith, who died in 1983, was one of the greatest Negro League pitchers, winning 20 or more games in each of his 12 years with Kansas City even while Paige was the team's top-billed star. He was 93-11 from 1939 to 1942 and might have had the best curveball of his era.
Also being honored today are Los Angeles Times baseball writer Ross Newhan, who will receive the J.G. Taylor Spink award for writers, and Florida Marlins announcer Felo Ramirez, the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide