One of the biggest crowds Cooperstown has seen is expected to descend upon the bucolic upstate New York village Sunday afternoon, when as many as 100,000 people are anticipated to gather for induction ceremonies honoring the six men — Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay, Harold Baines and Lee Smith — comprising one of the most unique Baseball Hall of Fame classes in history.
Hall of Fame officials and observers have viewed 2019 as a potential record-breaking year ever since Rivera, who collected all of his 652 saves and five World Series rings as a member of the New York Yankees, retired following the 2013 season. Yankee Stadium is fewer than 200 miles from Cooperstown.
The Induction Sunday attendance record was set in 2007, when 80,000 fans watched the ceremonies celebrating Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn, a pair of first-ballot, iconic one-franchise players.
Rivera became the first player to ever earn unanimous election to the Hall of Fame when he was checked off on all 425 ballots in the voting conducted by the Baseball Writers Association of America in January.
“I remember receiving the call when they told me about it,” Rivera said during a conference call previewing the weekend ahead. “My God, it was amazing, amazing — (a) great feeling. It feels like I told someone that it feels like when you just won the championship.”
On Sunday, Rivera won’t be the only honoree with a devoted following within driving distance. His longtime teammate, Mike Mussina, earned induction on his fifth try following a career in which he won 270 games for the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles.
The late Roy Halladay, who earned 203 victories for the Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays, joined Rivera as a first-ballot inductee. Halladay’s wife Brandy is expected to speak on behalf of her husband, who died in a plane crash in 2017.
Mussina and Halladay, who may have opened the doors for starting pitchers who fell short of 300 wins, will both enter the Hall without a logo on the hats adorning their plaques.
“Both organizations were tremendously involved in this and I just don’t feel right picking one over the other,” said Mussina, who debuted with the Orioles in 1991 and signed with the Yankees following the 2000 season. “The decision to go in without one logo versus the other logo — it’s the only decision that I can make that I feel good about.”
Windy City fans should be well-represented as well as former Chicago White Sox designated hitter Harold Baines and Chicago Cubs closer Lee Smith are honored for their work as specialists. Baines collected 1,773 of his 2,866 hits during three tours with the White Sox while Smith racked up 180 of his 478 saves — the most ever upon his retirement in 1997 — with the Cubs.
Both players were elected via the Veteran’s Committee in December.
“I like this new team,” Smith said. “Man, this is awesome.”
The only inductee who played more than a day’s drive from Cooperstown will have no shortage of supporters trekking across the country. Martinez, who spent more of his career at designated hitter (68 percent of his appearances) than any other Hall of Famer, earned enshrinement in his final year on the ballot following an 18-year career spent with the Seattle Mariners.
“I think (fans) played a big role, helping me go into the Hall of Fame, because they were very active for the last few years in the social media,” Martinez said. “Seattle fans — they’ve been amazing to me through my whole career.”
–Field Level Media