Returning HOFers enjoy more each year

Returning HOFer enjoying it more

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- It was understandable for Eddie Murray to be excited about last year's Hall of Fame induction weekend because his old teammate and close friend Cal Ripken Jr. was among those being honored. Yet the special status of being a Hall of Famer can unite even long-time antagonists at this special event.

Such is the case of Goose Gossage and George Brett. They did battle with each other on a regular basis back when the Yankees and the Royals were locked in pennant contention against each other. They were hardly the best of friends. But when Gossage steps up to the podium Sunday, Brett will come to attention in his chair on the dais.

"It's really strange when you played against somebody and have a relationship with him," Brett said Friday at the "Play Ball" with Ozzie Smith event at Doubleday Field. "I had a lot of battles with Goose. People have heard of two. The home run I hit in the 1980 playoffs that got us to the World Series for the first time, and the pine tar home run in 1983.

"What they didn't hear about were the 25 times I probably struck out and walked back to the dugout. So it's always fun when you have past history with a guy going in, and I think that's what's going to make this really special."

Brett's three-run home run off Gossage in Game 3 of the 1980 American League Championship Series won Kansas City its first pennant after having lost to the Yankees three consecutive times from 1976-78. Brett called it his greatest memory from Yankee Stadium, although the pine tar home run, also a three-run shot, 25 years ago is the one that has attracted the most attention.

"Everybody has seen the pine tar home run on tape and now on YouTube," Brett said. "My kids say to me once in a while, 'Hey, Dad, let's look at the tape where you go crazy.' What a thing to be remembered for."

Brett is a mainstay at induction weekend, having returned every year after his own ceremony in 1999 with Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount and Veterans Committee selection Orlando Cepeda, one of the strongest classes in history. Like Murray and Ripken, Brett and Yount are very tight buddies, although they were not teammates.

"It's a chance for all of us to get together and welcome in the new people the way we were welcomed in," Brett said.

"Just to come back here and be in touch with everyone is a great experience," Murray said. "You had your day, and now it's time to watch others have their day. It's more relaxing for us, too."

"There's no pressure," Smith said. "The only pressure is when you have to get up there and give a speech the year you're inducted, as Goose has to do this year. For the rest of us, it's just about having fun. A lot of guys get in early and play golf or do events like this and share our experiences with the fans."

A record turnout of 56 Hall of Famers is due this weekend. For many, it will be a quick turnaround, since most also attended the All-Star Game on July 15 at Yankee Stadium, where they participated in pregame ceremonies.

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"That was my first look at the Stadium," Bruce Sutter said. "I was named to the National League team in 1977 when the game was there, but I couldn't go because I hurt my arm. I'm glad I got another chance. Just to be back with all these great players is a treat that never gets old."

"Growing up, I never put myself in the category of a Willie Mays or a Willie McCovey or a Billy Williams," Smith said. "Now, we're all together. Last week at Yankee Stadium, I looked behind me and there was Rod Carew sitting at a table saying how he was now with the big boys, so it's a pretty neat experience. It really does give you butterflies."

"I just came from Baltimore where they celebrated the 25th anniversary of our 1983 World Series championship," Murray said. "That's what it's about, seeing guys and sitting around and talking and making the stories come back. You laugh just as hard at the stories as the first time you heard them now that it's the 20th time you heard them."

"It doesn't get any better than this," Smith said. "It's kind of 'Baseball Heaven.' It's a very special group. A few of us got together last night and told stories. The stories get bigger every year, how great we all were and stuff. It's a lot of laughs. We have a good time."

But there are few laughs for Gossage, who will be putting the finishing touches on his speech.

"I'm happy he got in," Brett said. "I think it's long overdue. Nowadays, you look at closers, and they pitch the ninth inning and get a save. Goose would come into some games in the sixth inning. He came into a playoff game in 1980 in the sixth, got out of that inning, then pitched the seventh, the eighth and the ninth and got a save.

"Ask Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman or our guy in Kansas City, Joakim Soria, to do that now, the manager would be fired. Life would go on, but there would be a lot of ticked off people. But that wasn't the way it was back in the '70s and '80s when Goose pitched. You brought in the best guy in the situation you needed him, and he'd go as long as he could. And, you know what, the next day he was ready again. That's why I wondered why it took so long for Goose to get into the Hall of Fame. He was the most dominant relief pitcher in baseball for 10 to 15 years."

Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.