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Class Of '99 Inducted To Hall

Nolan Ryan,George Brett,Robin Yount and Orlando Cepeda officially became members of the Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday as the Class of 1999 was honored.

Ryan -- the all-time strikeout leader among pitchers -- and Brett and Yount -- members of the 3,000-hit club -- each ended their playing careers in 1993 and were first-ballot electees in January.

Cepeda waited 25 years after his retirement to be honored. In March, he was selected by the Veterans Committee with umpire Nestor Chylak (SHY-lack), Negro League pitcher Smokey Joe Williams and 19th century manager Frank Selee (seh-LEE).

January's elections raised the number of first-year honorees to 29. The last first-year player selected was Mike Schmidt in 1995.

Ryan, Brett and Yount became the first trio of first-year candidates to be elected since the five-member inaugural class of 1936, which featured Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.

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  • "This is the best event in baseball -- the Hall of Fame -- because of tradition," former major league commissioner Bowie Kuhn said. "During my reign (1969-84) I think I inducted about 70 players, something I am very proud of. But this is the greatest group going in at one time."

    It marked the first time as many as three players were elected since 1991, when Rod Carew, Ferguson Jenkins and Gaylord Perry were enshrined.

    The election of three players is even more noteworthy since baseball writers have been quite picky of late. Just three players have been elected in the previous four years, with Don Sutton the lone choice last year.

    Ryan and Brett each were named on more than 98 percent of the record 497 votes cast by the veteran members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

    Ryan's 491 voes represented a 98.79 percentage, second only to the 98.84 percent for Tom Seaver in 1992. Brett's 488 votes constituted a 98.19 percentage, fourth all-time behind Cobb's 98.23. Ryan and Brett each surpassed the previous record vote total of 444 (of 460) by Schmidt in 1995.

    Yount's vote was far closer. He earned 385 votes, just 12 more than necessary. To gain election this year, players needed to be named on 75 percent of the ballots cast.

    January's results were the most anticipated in decades since the ballot included several other individuals with a realistic chance at making it.

    One of those was Carlton Fisk, baseball's all-time leader in games caught. The former member of the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox failed in his first try this year, finishing fourth with 330 votes, 43 shy of induction.

    Tony Perez, the first baseman for the powerhouse Cincinnati Reds of the mid-1970s, was fifth with 302 votes, 19 less than he garnered a year ago. He was on the ballot for the eighth time.

    One of the most overpowering pitchers in history, Ryan is the all-time leader in strikeouts (5,714), no-hitters (7) and walks (2,795). He pitched his last two no-hitters after turning 40, when his fastball -- dubbed "Ryan's Express" -- still hummed at about 98 mph.

    "This is a tremendous honor and I'm humbled by it," Ryan said during his induction speech. "My ability to throw a baseball was a gift. It was a God-given gift. And I truly appreciate it."

    "The first time I faced him I was batting seventh in the lineup and Tom Poquette was batting sixth," Brett said. "Nolan threw a pitch that plunked him right in the ribs and stuck there for about two minutes. Obviously, seeing that would intimidate just about anyone. So I was very happy to strike out on three pitches."

    Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson once said that hitting against Ryan was like trying to drink coffee with a fork.

    Ryan, who pitched for four teams, had back-to-back 20-win seasons with the California Angels in 1973-74 and led the National League in ERA in 1981 and 1987 with the Houston Astros.

    He broke in as an erratic right-hander with the New York Mets in 1966 and won his lone World Series championship in 1969, when he served as a long reliever and spot starter.

    Ryan recorded at least 300 strikeouts six times, including a major-league record 383 in 1973. He led the American League in strikeouts nine times and the NL twice, retiring after the 1993 season with a 324-292 record, 61 shutouts and a 3.19 ERA for four teams.

    In 1973, Ryan recorded his first two no-hitters against Kansas City and Detroit. He added no-hitters against Minnesota in 1974, Los Angeles in 1981, Oakland in 1990 and Toronto in 1991 at the age of 44. He spent his final five seasons with the Texas Rangers.

    Critics note that Ryan had a losing record nine times and nver won a Cy Young Award in his 27 seasons. But Sutton and Juan Marichal also failed to win the coveted pitching award and still gained election to the Hall.

    While the 51-year-old Ryan wore a multitude of uniforms, Brett and Yount, both natives of Southern California, are part of a vanishing breed, playing their entire careers with the same team.

    "It couldn't be any better to be inducted with anyone else," Brett said. "I don't know how we became such good friends, but our careers did parallel each other. We started the same time, spent about the same years with the same team, got to the 3,000-hit mark, both played in small markets and both played in World Series."

    Brett spent 21 seasons with the Kansas City Royals, capturing batting crowns in 1976, 1980 and 1990. In 1980, he mounted a captivating pursuit of the magical .400 mark before finishing at .390 and winning AL Most Valuable Player honors.

    "This is a dream come true," a teary-eyed Brett said Sunday. "Today is the conclusion to a long journey for me."

    Brett debuted in 1973 as a third baseman with an inconsistent arm but worked hard on his fielding and won a Gold Glove in 1985.

    A 13-time All-Star, Brett made six trips to the AL Championship Series, leading the Royals to World Series appearances in 1980 and 1985, when they won the only title in franchise history.

    A tremendous clutch hitter, Brett's home run off New York Yankees closer Goose Gossage in Game Three of the 1980 ALCS sent the Royals to the World Series.

    But Brett is remembered more for a homer off Gossage on July 24th, 1983 that first was disallowed because the bat had too much pine tar. Brett went ballistic on the field and the ruling later was overturned by AL president Lee MacPhail.

    Brett, who is the Royals vice president, finished with a .305 average and 3,154 hits, including 317 home runs. He batted .337 in the postseason.

    Yount also played for a small-market team, the Milwaukee Brewers, and collected 3,142 hits, reaching a plateau that is considered worthy of "automatic" induction. Although all-time hits leader Pete Rose is ineligible, all 15 previously eligible players with 3,000 hits have been voted into the Hall.

    Brett and Yount become the 11th and 12th members of the 3,000-hit fraternity to be elected on the first try.

    "We've always had so much in common throughout our careers," Yount said. "Obviously, George is a little better, but I can live with that. If I was even close to what he's done I'd feel very good about that. If there was one person for me to pick to go in the Hall of Fame with it would have been George."

    Yount won the AL MVP at two positions, capturing the 1982 award as a shortstop and winning again in 1989 as an outfielder. He played 20 seasons with the Brewers, debuting as a skinny 18-year-old in 1974.

    Afer failing to win with the Brewers and considering retirement in 1978, Yount emerged as a dominant offensive player in 1980, hitting .293 with a league-leading 49 doubles, 23 homers and 87 RBI.

    Two years later, he helped the Brewers reach the World Series for the only time in their history by batting a career-high .331 with 29 homers and 114 RBI. Milwaukee lost the World Series in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals, but Yount batted .414 with 12 hits and six RBI.

    A three-time All-Star, he went on to hit .300 five more times, including every year from 1986-89.

    The early start allowed Yount to collect his 3,000th hit at 36 years, 11 months, 24 days, the third-youngest player to reach the plateau behind Cobb and Hank Aaron.

    While not as flashy as Ryan or Brett, he qualified instead with his steady, consistent play. Yount finished his career with a .285 average, 251 homers and 1,406 RBI. Only five players have more at-bats than his 11,008.

    Brett and Yount are the first Hall of Famers to play the majority of their careers with the Royals and Brewers, respectively. Brett, 45, and Yount, 43, are two of the more youthful inductees, becoming the 16th and 17th to be elected by age 45.

    Cepeda, the 1958 National League Rookie of the Year with the San Francisco Giants and the 1967 Most Valuable Player with the St. Louis Cardinals, fell just seven votes shy of induction by the baseball writers five years ago.

    Nicknamed both "Baby Bull" and "Cha Cha," Cepeda posted a .297 average over 17 seasons while hitting 379 homers and driving in 1,365 runs. He hit over .300 nine times and remains the only player unanimously selected as both Rookie of the Year and MVP.

    Plagued by injuries late in his career, Cepeda also played for Atlanta, Oakland, Boston and Kansas City before retiring in 1974 at 36.

    Cepeda, elected in the players category, likely saw his candidacy with the writers crippled by a 1975 arrest for smuggling marijuana in his native Puerto Rico. While claiming he was only doing a favor for a friend, Cepeda still was convicted and spent 10 months in prison.

    "I knew it would happen eventually some day," Cepeda said. "But I'm glad it's happening right now. People say to me that it's a shame that it didn't happen before. But for me right now is the best time because before I was not ready mentally to handle it, accept it."

    Cepeda is the second native of Puerto Rico to enter the Hall, joining Pittsburgh Pirates star Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash in 1972.

    "I'm proud to be the second Puerto Rican inducted into the Hall of Fame, following Clemente," Cepeda said. "I'm the only living Puerto Rican, which is a great honor, and I know what comes with it as far as what responsibilities I have and a (role) model."

    The Veterans Committee looked past the conviction and found oom for the 61-year-old Cepeda, who works as a community representative for the Giants.

    Cepeda becomes the 48th Hall of Famer to have spent at least part of the his career with the Giants franchise. During his tenure in San Francisco, Cepeda played with three other Hall of Famers -- Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Marichal, who is in his first year on the Veterans Committee.

    Chylak, the choice in the composite category of managers, umpires, executives and Negro Leaguers, umpired in the American League from 1954-78, working five World Series, three AL championship series and four All-Star Games. The 17th umpire to be elected to the Hall of Fame, Chylak died in 1982 at age 59.

    Selee, elected from the 19th century category, managed five National League pennant winners for the Boston Braves in the 1890s.

    The committee also chose Williams, who was believed to have had 20 or more strikeouts in a game 15 times and to have posted a 41-3 record in 1914. Nicknamed "Cyclone," Williams pitched for several teams, including the Homestead Grays and New York Lincoln Giants.

    Selee and Williams are deceased.

    The Veterans Committee has met annually since 1961 and has chosen 96 members in 39 elections. They failed to elect a candidate just three times -- in 1988, 1990 and 1993.

    Today's induction gives the Hall of Fame 244 members, including 182 major leaguers, 23 pioneer executives, 16 Negro Leaguers, 15 managers and eight umpires.

    The Hall of Fame Game on Monday will feature teams of two of the inductees -- the Rangers and Royals.

    © 1999 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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