COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — They were just hanging out at the Otesaga Resort Hotel on Thursday evening when a few Hall of Famers spotted them, telling Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza it was time for a little ol’ fashioned hazing.
They were told that it’s a tradition for the new Hall of Fame class to sing in front of everyone in the lounge of the Hawkeye Bar & Grill.
Piazza walked over to the band in the bar, grabbed a pair of drumsticks, sat down and started beating away, playing some of his favorite heavy metal music.
The Hall of Famers told Piazza to stop and ordered him to sing.
So Piazza started singing Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer, when his wife, Alicia, walked over and whispered a new request.
“My wife said the bartender said, ‘Quick, get him back on the drums,’ '' Piazza said, laughing. “Even though my drumming is underwhelming, it’s a lot better than my singing.
“When Wade Boggs tried to sing Nights in White Satin from the Moody Blues, it got a little scary and a little weird. I knew I had to get out of there.’’
“I pretended I had to go the bathroom,’’ he said. “I wasn’t singing.’’
Now, the two of them, who took almost polar opposite paths to reach the major leagues, will be performing together on stage Sunday, representing the 2016 Hall of Fame class.
Griffey, the son of an All-Star who was drafted No.1 overall, and Piazza, the son of an Italian businessman who wasn’t drafted until the 62nd round, will forever be linked in baseball history.
“We’ve taken the same path,’’ Griffey said. “We got drafted, we worked hard in the minor league system and we had an opportunity to become big-league ballplayers and produce. I grew up where my dad said, ‘If you work hard and do things right, you’re going to get rewarded.’
“He said the hardest thing about playing minor league ball is getting drafted, because not a lot of people get drafted. But once you get your foot in the door, anything goes. You’re only a first-round pick for one year. There are more second-, third-, fourth-, fifth- and so on in the big leagues than first-round picks.
“So for me, you work day in and day out, don’t take no for an answer, and be the best player you can be.’’
Yes, even if you were a 62nd-round pick, with 1,389 players taken ahead of Piazza in that 1988 June draft.
“He had unique challenges, being a first-round pick,’’ Piazza said. “I had a unique challenge, being a last-round pick. There was pressure on him; there was pressure on me. Maybe a little different, or maybe nuanced a different way. ... For me, there was a challenge to my professional life. I knew I had to play well, because I knew I wasn’t going to have a lot of leeway to fail, but it made me better.’’
This odd couple of baseball will be formally inducted at 1:30 p.m. ET Sunday, with 48 Hall of Famers on hand and a crowd of about 45,000 anticipated to pack this small village in Upstate New York. Griffey will be the first Seattle Mariners player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and Piazza will be the second to be inducted as a New York Mets player, joining Tom Seaver.
Now, they’re living, breathing legends just like the players they idolized growing up, joining the same fraternity. Piazza has been awestruck this week, he said, hanging out with Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt and chatting with Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench.
“(Schmidt) may think I’m stalking him,’’ Piazza said. “Growing up in Philly, I get a little weird around him, and Johnny, too. There are so many great guys here, so much history. It’s an amazing fraternity. They’ve made us feel so welcome.’’
It’s different for Griffey, who grew up in a baseball household, whose dad played for the Reds in the Big Red Machine era. Still, when he came to Cooperstown this week and saw Hall of Famers Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray and Rickey Henderson, it felt a whole lot different shaking their hands this time.
“They told me, ‘What took you so long to get here?’ ’’ Griffey said. “They all gave me hugs and said, ‘Welcome.’ ’’
Griffey, 46, laughed, telling them he got there as soon as he could. He was inducted on the first ballot with the highest voting percentage in history, 99.3%. Really, he could have been elected if he retired after spending a decade with the Mariners, leaving after the 1999 season, when he requested to be traded to his hometown of Cincinnati, where he spent 8½ injury-plagued seasons.
“Do I regret going there?’’ Griffey said. “No. Do I wish things were different? Absolutely.’’
While Griffey still hopes that his former teammate Edgar Martinez joins him one day in Cooperstown, there’s no doubt, he said, that another former Mariners teammate belongs, too.
Yes, Boston Red Sox DH David Ortiz, who’s retiring after this season, was once a Mariner. And a Minnesota Twin. And, of course, a legend in Boston.
“I got a chance to see him young,’’ Griffey said. “He wasn’t Big Papi. He was Thin Papi at that time. So to watch him do the things that he’s done over the years, he’s become one of the most-feared hitters in all of baseball. He’s done an incredible job in that city. ...
“Do I think he’s a Hall of Famer? Absolutely. The number that he’s put up, three titles, the list goes on of the accomplishments that he’s done on the field.’’
It’s no different than the legacies of Griffey and Piazza. Griffey will forever be remembered in Seattle for his headfirst slide across home plate, scoring the winning run in the deciding game of the 1995 American League Division Series against the New York Yankees. Piazza became a hero in New York for hitting his game-winning home run in the first professional sporting event in New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“That’s a huge part of my history with the city,’’ Piazza said. “When people do come up to me and want to talk about it, it’s something so special. The last time I was in New York, I was in an elevator and a guy said to me, ‘I was there that night. I lost my cousin, he was in Tower One. (That home run) made me try to heal a little bit.’ ’’
Now, their legacies will be celebrated by everyone, as Cooperstown, N.Y., becomes the epicenter of baseball.
“There’s not a place,’’ Griffey said, “we’d rather be.’’
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