It was a baseball love fest as the big day finally arrived for the memorable Hall of Fame Class of 2014 -- 300-game winners Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, slugger Frank Thomas and managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and La Russa.
"You're on the bus and you see it and you get goosebumps," La Russa said afterward about the crowd. "It's like the greatest rock concerts that you've ever been to."
The Big Six were inducted in front of the third-biggest throng in history behind the Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn induction of 2007 (75,000) and the Robin Yount-George Brett-Nolan Ryan induction of 1999 (50,000). As always, Commissioner Bud Selig read the inscriptions on the plaques of the six newcomers, who were joined by another 44 of the 66 living Hall of Famers on the big stage.
"I was shocked when we turned that corner this morning," Thomas said. "Ozzie Smith was in the back of the bus with me and he said, 'This is for real now. Look at all those people. Just take it all in. You've got to be tough when you get to the stage. These are the true fans. The world is watching. Do what you've got to do.'
"So for me today, to be honest with you, I was Cool Hand Luke sitting there watching everyone's speeches. As soon as I stood up, my knees started knocking and the first thing I looked at was my mom. It hit me right in my heart. My mom hadn't left Columbus, Ga., in 15 years. She was here today, so I just started crying."
Thomas didn't stop crying for his entire speech of nearly 18 minutes, during which he thanked many family members, his late father, players, coaches, managers, trainers, you name it, from the three organizations for which he played: the White Sox (1990-2005), A's (2006, '08) and Blue Jays (2007-08).
The speeches were supposed to be limited to 10 minutes each. Cox and Maddux basically hit it on the button, while Glavine, Thomas, La Russa and Torre went long. Torre hit it out of the ballpark with his speech that went 29 minutes, although he seemed devastated afterward because he failed to thank the late Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner and the Steinbrenner family. Steinbrenner's youngest son, Hal -- the club's current principal owner -- was in the crowd along with a contingent of Yankees executives and former coaches who worked under Torre.
"I missed mentioning and thanking the most obvious guy in the world when you're talking about the Yankees," said Torre, the winner of four World Series titles with New York, before taking questions at the post-ceremony media conference. "My plan was to thank him and [mention] the fact that we had a great relationship. It was so obvious that I was going to do it that I just went right past it and the whole Steinbrenner family. It was the proudest time in my career."
Maddux and Glavine are the first set of first-ballot pitchers to be elected together since Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson were part of the inaugural Class of 1936, along with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner. They are the first living pair of 300-win pitchers to be elected in the same year and only the third pair in Hall of Fame history.
"It's obviously the biggest honor you can give to a ballplayer," said Maddux, the first inductee to speak. "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 and get better for my next start. And to think it all ended up here is pretty cool."
Add Thomas, who played the first 16 seasons of his 19-year career with the White Sox, and the Baseball Writers' Association of America elected three players on the first ballot for the first time since that grand induction of 1999.
"I'm so humbled and honored to be a part of this historic class of first-ballot Hall of Famers," Thomas said in his address. "I'm speechless. I want to thank you all for being great role models and making this game what it is today. Hard work, dedication, commitment, no shortcuts to success. Thanks for having me in your club."
Maddux won 355 games, the eighth-highest figure in Major League history and the most of any pitcher since Warren Spahn retired with 363 in 1965. He garnered 97.2 percent of the BBWAA vote, appearing on all but 16 of the 571 ballots cast. The right-hander, called "Mad Dog," won 194 of those games over 11 years with the Braves. But his milestone 300th came for the Cubs, the team that drafted him and for which he played 10 seasons covering two tenures.
Glavine -- who won 305 games, fourth most among left-handers -- was named on 91.9 percent of the ballots, while Thomas was selected on 83.7. Glavine spent 17 of his 22 seasons with the Braves, but he won his 300th game near the end of a five-year tenure with the Mets.
"It's hard to imagine a day like this would get any better," Glavine said. "But for me, it does. I'm honored to go into the Baseball Hall of Fame with such a great group of men. All of you guys represent what is great about the game of baseball. I'm humbled to be a part of this class."
The 16-member Expansion Era Committee was even more magnanimous than the BBWAA, electing La Russa, Cox and Torre unanimously late last year. The three rank third, fourth and fifth, respectively, in managerial victories in Major League history, each winning more than 2,000 games.
"[Not] in my wildest dreams did I ever think this would happen, but I'm sure glad it did," Cox said to end his speech.
The three skippers inducted Sunday -- Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre -- rank Nos. 3-5 all-time in managerial wins.
|1. Connie Mack
|2. John McGraw
|3. Tony La Russa
|4. Bobby Cox
|5. Joe Torre
|6. Sparky Anderson
|7. Bucky Harris
|8. Joe McCarthy
|9. Walter Alston
|10. Leo Durocher
The Top 5 all-time managerial wins list reads like this: Connie Mack (3,731), John McGraw (2,763), La Russa (2,728), Cox (2,504) and Torre (2,326), whose additional 84 postseason wins are by far the most in history. The three combined to win the World Series eight times, with Torre's four in Yankees pinstripes leading the pack. La Russa won three titles -- one with the A's and two for the Cardinals -- while Cox won one with the Braves amid a record 14 division titles in a row.
"It was just perfect," Torre said of being inducted alongside Cox and La Russa. "Our careers just mirrored each other's. I think it would have been an injustice if we didn't enjoy this together."
Cox, Maddux and Glavine, of course, were together for 10 of the 25 seasons covering two stints that Cox managed the Braves -- including their 1995 World Series victory in six games over the Indians. In the finale of that Fall Classic, Glavine pitched eight innings of one-hit ball, David Justice hit a home run and Mark Wohlers earned the save in the 1-0 victory. Maddux won Game 1 of that series: a 3-2 complete-game two-hitter in which he allowed no earned runs.
"To Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and I have to mention the third member of the Big Three, John Smoltz, I can honestly say I would not be standing here today if it weren't for you guys," said Cox, adding Smoltz, who will be on the BBWAA ballot for the first time in this coming election.
As far as the logos on their plaques were concerned, Cox and Glavine went in as Braves, Thomas as a member of the White Sox and Torre with the Yankees -- where in addition to the World Series rings, his clubs also won six American League pennants and went to the playoffs in each of his 12 seasons. Torre also managed the Mets (1977-81), Braves (1982-84), Cardinals (1990-95) and retired in 2010 after three seasons with the Dodgers.
"Might as well cut to the chase -- I'm here because of the New York Yankees," Torre said. "However, in order, as Tommy said, to be ready, you had to make stops along the way. You had to fail along the way."
La Russa and Maddux opted to go in without affiliation, in deference to their distinguished careers with multiple clubs. Maddux mentioned both the Cubs and Braves in his speech, getting huge cheers from the large contingents of Chicago and Atlanta fans in the crowd.
Maddux said he didn't hear those responses.
"The nerves were so high that I was just trying to get through the speech," he said. "Both places were very special to me. I learned how to pitch in Chicago, and I learned how to win and raise a family in Atlanta. Both of them were equally as important in my career, and I just wanted to make that clear."