If the International League Hall of Fame were an actual building, they'd have to make the door a whole lot wider this season. Probably add another wing, too.
That's because the shrine, which is more of a road show than a permanent residence, will welcome the largest class in its history this year when 27 new members are inducted. The group election will serve as part of the circuit's 125th anniversary celebration with ceremonies taking place at each of the league's parks at some point during the upcoming season.
This year's class represents a wide spectrum of contributors to league history, including players, managers and builders. Twenty-two of those who will be inducted this year were players in the IL, with two of them -- Robert "Lefty" Grove and Tommy Lasorda -- also having places in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
"We're very excited," International League president Randy Mobley said. "We had as part of our guidelines and procedures that no more than 28 players would be elected this first year and we ended up with 27. We had some parameters and we had a committee of about a half-dozen folks who spent five months in meetings, sorting through everything.
"We had a lot of discussions and this is what we ended up with. There were some difficult spots, as you might expect. And I wouldn't say everyone was unanimous. This was debated, but at the end of the day, everyone was in agreement. And we feel that this class really represents a broad spectrum of folks from different places and times. So we feel good about the end result."
Grove won 300 games for the A's and Red Sox, including an eye-popping 31 in 1931 with Philadelphia. He won 108 games in five International League seasons (1920-24 with Baltimore) and still holds the league's single-season strikeout record (330 in 1923).
Lasorda, meanwhile, was quite the pitcher in the IL before becoming the bombastic manager of the Dodgers. He was 107-57 in nine seasons with Montreal and pitched on three Governors' Cup winners. Lasorda is the winningest pitcher in the history of the Montreal franchise and was named the league's pitcher of the year in 1958 after winning 18 games.
The induction of Grove and Lasorda brings the number of IL Hall of Famers who also have plaques in Cooperstown to six (out of 80). Lasorda and Groves will join Jackie Robinson, Joe McCarthy, Herb Pennock and Billy Southworth.
Other inductees include four league Triple Crown winners -- Dale Alexander, Frank "Pancho" Herrera, George Puccinelli and Jim Rice - while eight are former MVPs. Puccinelli has the highest lifetime batting average (.334) in league history. Rice is the last of six IL Triple Crown winners (1974). He narrowly missed election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this month.
Also inducted was Joe Hauser, who holds IL single-season records for homers (63), runs (173) and total bases (443), all of which were set in 1930.
Of the 27 inductees, 10 are living and Mobley is hoping to have each of them in attendance during his individual induction ceremony. The 17 deceased inductees are expected to have family members attend the ceremony, the most interesting of which should take place in Richmond when Tommie Aaron is honored. He was the first African-American manager in league history and is the brother of former all-time home run champ Hank Aaron, whom Mobley hopes will be in attendance.
The ceremonies, the dates for which have yet to be scheduled, will allow fans in each of the league's cities to see the official International League Hall of Fame display. The displays includes an exact replica of the IL Hall of Fame plaque that was issued between 1947-63, the years the Hall was actively inducting members prior to last season. In addition, new plaques for those inducted in 2007 and 2008 will be featured.
While inductees -- or their families -- won't be presented with plaques, they will be given special statues commissioned and created by the IL for the occasion. The 18-inch figures, titled "The Curtain Call," will feature a player tipping his cap in a gesture of thanks for the support he received during his time in the league.
"This means that you're considered one of the better players in the league," said Don Buford, a 2008 inductee who was the league's MVP in 1963. He led Indianapolis to a Governors' Cup title that year and is the last player to collect 200 hits in an IL season. "Being in the Hall of Fame puts you in a class of outstanding players that played before and after you. It's really quite an honor. Being in the Triple-A Hall gives me a feeling of ecstatic joy and delight. And I'm sure that goes for the other players selected."
Joe Altobelli also was inducted and is representative of someone who has helped and been a part of the league at every level. He led the league in homers and RBIs in 1960, was the league's manager of the year three times, leading Rochester and Columbus to Governors' Cup titles on three occasions. Altobelli's 1971 Red Wings squad is considered by many to be the greatest team in IL history.
Altobelli, whose No. 26 was retired in Rochester, served as the Red Wings general manager and continues today as one of the club's radio voices.
"I didn't realize that they had stopped inducting people in 1963 before they resumed doing it last year," Altobelli said. "That was my first year in Rochester and at the time, as a ballplayer, I didn't even know they had a Hall of Fame. I'm pleased, but I don't think I got in for my playing; I think I got in for my managing. I don't like these accolades, but it's nice to be remembered by people."
Upstate New York is well-represented in addition to Altobelli. Morrie Silver, who is credited with saving baseball in Rochester, was inducted along with Luke Easter, who starred in Buffalo and Rochester for nearly a decade. Easter had 195 home runs in his IL career, twice leading the circuit. He's had his number retired in both cities.
"Luke was a good player who was well-loved by the fans," Altobelli said. "He has the second- and third-largest cities in New York in his corner. He was an extremely powerful man and a big guy. They used to show me the places he had hit home runs in the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, and they were a long way away from home plate.
"And I never met a better gentleman in baseball than Morrie Silver. He was one of the most popular people in the city. He was a well-liked man and anyone would say the same thing about him."