January 8, 2015 / 12:27 AM / 3 years ago

Cooperstown's Class of 2015 reflects diversity in game

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Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez slaps hands with fans before MLB's 2010 season opener between the reigning World Series Champions New York Yankees and the Red Sox in their American League baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts April 4, 2010.Gretchen Ertl

NEW YORK (Reuters) - From tallest to shortest, from a hybrid starter/reliever to a versatile regular who went from catcher to infield to outfield, the Hall of Fame Class of 2015 embodies the diversity that is part of baseball's appeal.

Pitchers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, and Houston Astros stalwart Craig Biggio showed how players of different shapes could take different paths to Cooperstown.

A shared sensation was how humbled they felt to be joining the sport's greatest players with their July 26 induction.

"I'm very grateful, honored and humbled that I would be here at this dais," Johnson told a news conference on Wednesday, "and to be going in July to grace the stage with the greatest players who have ever played the game.

"And I'm really excited to meet Babe Ruth."

Johnson, who entered Major League Baseball as its tallest player ever at 6-foot-10, will stand alongside Dominican Martinez, who at 5-foot-11 will be the first pitcher shy of 6-foot to be inducted since the Yankees' Whitey Ford in 1974.

Smoltz will take his place after a schizophrenic career in which he sparkled as a starter, then dazzled as a closer before returning to the rotation in becoming the only player to amass more than 200 wins and 150 saves.

"This is just a humbling experience for me," said Smoltz. "I'm like a chameleon of finding a way to get it done in my career."

Biggio began as a catcher, became an All-Star second baseman and then patrolled center field as a quintessential team player willing to do whatever asked of him.

"We're part of history now," said Biggio, the only player to register 3,000 hits, 600 doubles (an MLB record for a right-handed hitter), 400 stolen bases and 250 home runs.

Three-time Cy Young winner Martinez answered doubters who at first wondered whether he would prove too fragile to flourish.

"I wasn't supposed to be in the Hall of Fame, so I took every game like it was my Hall of Fame game," said the supreme competitor, the second Dominican welcomed into the Cooperstown shrine following pitcher Juan Marichal of the Giants in 1983.

Their election increased the number of players admitted by Baseball Writers' Association of America balloting to 119, with another 96 voted in by special committees.

"I'm now in one of the greatest fraternities of all sports," said five-time Cy Young winner Johnson.

Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue

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