Thank you. Let me say, first of all, how grateful I am to be here. I would like to thank the Hall of Fame voters. It’s obviously the biggest honor you can give to a ballplayer. To put me here in Cooperstown with all of my childhood heroes, it’s sort of hard to believe I’m standing here today.
I never gave a thought to the Hall of Fame as I was going through my career. My goal as a baseball player was very simple: All I wanted to do was try to get better for my next start. And to think it all ended up here, it’s pretty cool.
To have the long career I did, I never really considered it work because it was so much fun.
The guys I played with and against, the coaches, managers, even the umpires, were always great to be around.
Those of us who play this great game and make a living at it are all extremely lucky. I would not be standing here today if it weren’t for all the positive people I’ve had in my life.
When I was six years old, my dad, Dave, was my first coach. He taught me to enjoy the game. He would hit my brother and I countless ground balls every day after work and we had fun doing it.
My brother, Mike, led by example. Everything I was about to do on and off the field, he had already done. I was very fortunate to have a brother that I could learn from. He even taught me a little bit about science. It has to do with a little methane and a lighter, and I still get a huge kick out of it today. That’s funny, huh. OK.
My mother, Linda, who is here today, was the perfect mom. She drove us to practice after every game and made sure we were never late. I love her and she is my biggest fan.
As I entered my sophomore year in high school, I was lucky enough to have Ralph Medar as my first true pitching coach. He taught me my basic pitching fundamentals: Movement, location, the ability to change speeds and velocity, in that order. He said, “You throw hard enough, but as you face better hitters, you’re going to need more than just velocity to get hitters out. Movement and location will last longer than hard and straight.”
At first, just like any other kid, all I wanted to do was throw hard but as I matured, I realized how right he was. Rodger Fairless, my coach at Valley High School, taught me the work habits that I used my whole playing career.
At age 17, Keith Kleven taught me how to take care of my arms, legs and core. I didn’t know the impact Keith would have on my career until some 5,000 innings later with no arm problems. I thank him very much for keeping my body healthy through my entire career, and I consider him the best in his field.
I’d like to thank my scout, Doug Mapson, who took a chance and signed me to my first contract.
In the minor leagues, there were three coaches that helped me along the way. First it was Rick Kranitz, who helped me with my change-up. Jim Wright helped me locate my fastball to both sides of the plate and Dick Pole, who taught me my delivery and started teaching me the basics on pitch selection.
After arriving in Chicago, I married my high school sweetheart, Kathy. She took care of everything off the field, which allowed me to put all my focus on baseball. I’m lucky to be married to her, and I love her more today than when I first married her.
My first day in the big leagues, the starting pitchers were Nolan Ryan and Jamie Moyer. Twenty minutes before the game, I was sitting on the bench, and my first manager ... thought I was the bat boy. The nickname stuck for a few years but faded over time.
Billy Connors asked me a question one day. He asked, “Do you ever wonder how good you can be?” Of course I said no. And he said, “Why don’t you go out there and try to find out.” I’ve been trying to find the answer to that question every day since.
Don Zimmer made me realize there was a difference between winning and pitching just good enough to lose. After many failures in baseball, I met Harvey Dorfman. He taught me to focus on only the things I can control. Those lessons spilled over to my personal life, as well. I consider him to be one of the best coaches I’ve ever had.
With the Cubs, I had the opportunity to play with Andre Dawson, Rick Sutcliffe, Ryne Sandberg and two fine catchers, Damon Berryhill and Joe Girardi. The City of Chicago and the Cub fans were awesome, maybe the best in baseball.
I was glad to be part of a Division Championship in ‘89, although we didn’t get to the World Series that year, playing all the home games at Wrigley Field were really special.
With the help of Scott Boras, I moved on to Atlanta.
I picked Atlanta because I finally wanted to get a World Series ring and start a family (Laughter). All right, sorry, Chicago, but yeah.
My wife, Kathy, really stepped her game up then as we started our family. Our daughter Paige and my son Chase, as I was on the road or at the park all day, my mind was at ease knowing things were OK at home. I don’t know how she was able to balance the kids going to schools in both Atlanta and Las Vegas, but she did an amazing job with that.
After many near misses, we finally got our ring in ‘95, which was great to share with our coaches, teammates and the City of Atlanta.
Bobby Cox, who I’m honored to be with on the dais today, led us to the promised land. Bobby taught us how to play winning baseball and enjoy our time away from the park. Thank goodness Dave Justice hit that homer when he did and Glav threw one more clutch game.
No one wanted to win more than our pitching coach, Leo Mazzone. He stressed that you needed to pitch for 200 innings and everything will take care of itself from there.
The next seven years were spent winning division titles, watching the kids grow up, watching John Smoltz’s hair line recede.
Smoltzie remains one of my all-time best teammates and I hope he joins me and Glav in Cooperstown shortly.
Javy Lopez, Eddie Perez, Charlie O’Brien, Paul Bako were my catchers in Atlanta and we used to get a nice chuckle when they would get hit in the face by foul tips.
I would like to thank my doctor, Joe Chandler, for making it easier for me to start every five days.
I love Chicago so much. The first time I played there, and I was very grateful that Gary Hughes and Jim Hendry brought me back over to Chicago. That would give me a second chance to win there, and maybe retire where it all started, but I wouldn’t be a Cub if I couldn’t handle a little heartache and we missed the postseason by one game my first year back.
I was thankful I got a chance to play for Dusty Baker and work with Larry Rothschild. I enjoyed throwing most of my games to Henry Blanco and Michael Barrett, and again, it was even funnier when they would get hit in the face.
At the end, I spent time with the Dodgers and the Padres and was treated great in both places. I love the California weather and being closer to Vegas. I enjoyed playing for both Joe Torre and Buddy Black, two great managers, and I learned more about throwing a change-up a better way from Darren Balsley. That was 24 years after first learning from Rick Kranitz. Just goes to show that you no matter how old you are, you’re still looking to get better.
People ask me why ... my Hall of Fame plaque has no logo. I spent 12 years in Chicago, 11 in Atlanta and both places are very special to me. Without experiences in both cities, I would not be standing here today.
On behalf of my family and all those I’ve mentioned, thank you for this incredible honor.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun