COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- By all accounts, the simultaneous election of Hall of Fame inductees George Brett and Robin Yount was a perfect touch, because the two are great friends and have so much in common.
Their playing careers ran almost parallel, right up to the two-week span in which each got his 3,000th career hit in 1992. Both retired after the following year and, perhaps most significant, each played his entire big-league career for what is now considered a small-market franchise.
Two small-market guys will be inducted today in the same class at Cooperstown. When is that ever going to happen again?
"You might not see too many more players playing 20 years with those teams," said Brett, who along with Yount will join pitching great Nolan Ryan, veterans committee selection Orlando Cepeda, umpire Nestor Chylak, Negro leagues pitcher Smokey Joe Williams and turn-of-the-century manager Frank Selee on the podium for today's ceremony at the Clark Sports Center.
"I don't think you looked at Kansas City and Milwaukee as small markets 20 years ago, because in those days there wasn't a big difference between the payroll of the Royals and teams like the Yankees. Now, there's a $60 million gap, so I think it's going to be very difficult for a team to pay somebody $15 million per year when you've got a $30 million payroll."
The one-team superstar has become a rarity in the free-agent era, regardless of the economic underpinnings of the individual franchises. Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken seems certain to finish his career with the Orioles, but the lure of the mega-contract has become so great that franchise loyalty has become a rare and expensive commodity.
Brett and Yount arrived in the major leagues just before the free-agent revolution and reached the prime of their careers at a time when the Royals and Brewers were competitive teams. Both were paid well, but their careers were drawing to an end by the time superstar salaries headed into the economic stratosphere and certain low-revenue teams began to head into the tank.
Neither expressed any regret about playing in the intimate Midwestern setting that served as the backdrop for each of their careers.
"For me, Milwaukee was a perfect fit for my personality," said the soft-spoken Yount. "It's really a small town, and I'm not a real outgoing type of person. I think that my personality and the type of lifestyle they had in Milwaukee, it was a nice match."
Yount was a two-time MVP who played 20 major-league seasons, batting .285 with 251 home runs and 1,406 RBIs. He was elected to the Hall largely on the strength of his 3,142 career hits, which rank him 15th on baseball's all-time list. He was named on 77 percent of the ballots cast by ranking members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, barely more than the 75 percent required for election.
"I'm still not sure that I belong," Yount said yesterday. "It still feels strange to be mentioned in the same group of people who are here in the Hall of Fame."
Brett batted .305 during a career that included a batting title in each of the last three decades ('76, '80 and '90) and the highest single-season batting average (.390, 1980) since Ted Williams batted .406 in 1941. He is the only player in major-league history to accumulate 3,000 hits, 300 homers, 600 doubles, 100 triples and 200 stolen bases. Hall of Fame voters named him on 98.2 percent of the ballots -- just three votes behind Ryan, who got the second-highest percentage in history.