The National Baseball Hall of Fame held their annual induction ceremonies yesterday in Cooperstown, NY. If you’re a baseball lover or have sons who play the game, you must visit — and if you can make it during Induction weekend, all the better. I went with my Dad and brother to see the late great Phillies broadcaster, Harry Kalas, enter the Hall in 2002 just to hear him say his trademark, “Outta’ here” one more time. I had grown up a Phillies fan, listening to Harry on the radio every night. I eventually got to meet him and work alongside him a few times. I went to his induction to honor him, but to also hear his speech.
I don’t know if it’s the type of people baseball attracts, the nature of the game, the role as America’s pastime (it still is and forever will be) or something in the sunflower seeds; but when great baseball men stand up and deliver a speech from the heart, like this year’s class just did, it’s worth paying attention to.
Above all else, baseball has always been the thinking man’s game. From the elapsed time between action to the subtle nuances and strategies, it’s a game for thought and reflection. It’s no wonder baseball men give great speeches.
Career baseball man, Joe Torre, went in yesterday as a Manager, and in his own words, “cut right to the chase” and acknowleged he was there because of the New York Yankees. In 12 seasons as the Yankees skipper, Torre won 12 division titles, six AL pennants, and four World Series. Previous to the Yankees, Torre had been been fired from 3 different teams, the Mets, Braves and Cardinals. He aptly pointed out that without failure, you cannot attain success. His speech was gracious and humble, exactly what you might expect from a great man. He recounted players, mentors and moments that built his legacy — knowing he would not be standing where he was without all of them.
Perhaps, the most revealing part of Torre’s speech had nothing to do with winning. He comically recalled the single game as a player where he grounded into a record 4 double plays. In the spirit of thanking those who played a role in his now Hall of Fame career, he mentioned the player who singled ahead of him in his 4 at bats, making those double plays by Torre possible.
Slugger Frank Thomas delivered the day’s most emotional speech. Nicknamed the ‘Big Hurt’ early in his career by White Sox broadcaster, Kenny ‘The Hawk” Harrelson, Thomas put the hurt on a lot of baseballs. Known as a fierce competitor and hard worker with an imposing physical size, you wouldn’t expect such a man to break down in tears as he did Sunday. He cried from start to finish, thanking everyone in his life who contributed to his greatness, not just as a baseball player, but as a man. I got misty-eyed watching him.
One of the most memorable speeches in American history came from Yankees legend Lou Gehrig, back when baseball was the undisputed king. Gehrig was so beloved and revered, that even non-sports fans can quote his, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech. The ALS disease, which tragically ended his career and life 73 years ago, is still known today as ‘Lou Gehrig’s disease.’
Of course, sports movies have also given us some grand speeches.
The Natural’s Roy Hobbs told us he wanted to be “The best there ever was.”
And Bull Durham’s Crash Davis ever so eloquently stated what he believes in…Even Susan Sarandon’s alpha-female character, Annie, was impressed, only able to follow it up with a heartfelt, “Oh my.”
It’s not just Baseball men who can bring the heat.
Who can forget Football’s Vince Lomabrdi and his “Winning is a habit. Winning is an all the time thing” speech?
Or Herb Brook’s infamous lockeroom send-off to his 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team before they took on the mighty Russians, recreated by Kurt Russel in the film Miracle.
Sticking with Hollywood reenactments, you can’t forget Gene Hackman’s pre-game inspiration in Hoosiers.
Sometimes, reality is in even better than fiction. Battling cancer, College Basketball’s Jimmy Valvano delivered a remarkable speech on courage and living life at the 1993 ESPY awards. His message: “Never give up. Never give up.”
And then there’s Florida’s Tim Tebow’s emotionally charged, motivating “Promise” after an unexpected loss at home to Ole Miss. The Gators went on to win every game thereafter, including the National Championship.
Great speeches are not limited to just great ballplayers and their coaches. One of the reasons I love Bruce Springsteen so much is his consistent ability to craft words together that touch, move and inspire. His 2012 SXSW keynote address was a master class in oratory skill. When The Boss speaks, people (shoud) listen. Below is the insightful, poignant and highly entertaining 50-minute speech in its entirety — with Italian subtitles!
The following year Rocker Dave Grohl paid homage to Bruce in his keynote address. And like Springsteen’s, I recommend checking it out.
And how ‘bout that speech from all around Hollywood tough guy Mickey Rourke after winning an Independent Spirit award for his performance in ‘The Wrestler’ — which, oh by the way, whose title track went on to win a Golden Globe, and was written by none other than, Bruce Springsteen.
Speaking of movie stars, when it comes to the greatest movie speech of all time, did anyone do it better than John Belushi in Animal House?
From The Delta House to the White House….It’s no wonder Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, Jr. are best remembered for their extraordinary speeches.
And then there’s the penultimate of American speeches…Martin Luther King’s, “I have a dream.”
Give me a great man and I’ll give you a great speech.
Steve Matoren is writer/producer/director living in Los Angeles. He’s still waiting to give his great speech one day.