A display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame honors former Braves manager Bobby Cox, who is part of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2014 along with former Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and Columbus native Frank Thomas. (Reuters)
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — This bucolic village in upstate New York, baseball’s epicenter this weekend, is anticipating a potential record-breaking crowd today for the annual Baseball Hall of Fame induction, a crowd that will include a whole lot of folks with Georgia on their minds.
Former Braves teammates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, both 300-game winners, and their beloved former manager Bobby Cox are part of a six-man Class of 2014 — the most living inductees since 1955 — that includes three others with ties to the Braves or Georgia: Two-time American League MVP Frank Thomas is from Columbus; Joe Torre played for and managed the Braves before his greatest glory as manager of four World Series champion Yankees teams, and Tony La Russa played briefly for the Braves long before managing Oakland and St. Louis to three World Series titles.
Maddux, Glavine and Thomas were all elected on the first ballot by the Baseball Writers Association of America, while the three retired managers were unanimous selections by the Veterans Committee.
Cooperstown has never inducted a living trio in the same year from the same team the likes of Maddux, Glavine and Cox, who spent a decade together during the Braves’ remarkable run of 14 consecutive division titles.
“From my standpoint, going in with two of my own guys is like hitting the lottery,” Cox said. “To have that happen in the same year, it’s just about impossible.”
Maddux and Glavine, along with John Smoltz, formed the pitching “Big Three” that was the foundation of the Braves’ success. Smoltz retired a year later than Maddux and Glavine and will be Hall-eligible next year.
“Wow, that (three Braves inducted together) is kind of out of the norm,” said former National League MVP Andre Dawson, one of 55 Hall of Famers who’ll welcome the new class at weekend events around Cooperstown including receptions, a golf outing Saturday morning, a parade Saturday evening, and today’s 1:30 p.m. induction on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center.
“Because of the timing, Smoltz is just missing out; he’ll probably be a first-ballot guy also,” Dawson said. “Those teams were dominating. They had that pitching staff. They’ve come full circle as a result, going into the Hall of Fame.”
There are indications the crowd today could rival the unofficial record crowd of about 75,000 that attended the 2007 induction of Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken.
Maddux and Glavine are the first- and fourth-winningest pitchers of the five-man rotation era, and combined for 660 wins and six Cy Young Awards, including 438 wins and five Cy Young Awards as Braves. Maddux’s 355 wins were the most since Warren Spahn recorded his 363rd win in 1965.
While his greatest success came as a Brave — 194 wins and three of his four consecutive Cy Young Awards — Maddux also has an attachment to the Cubs, with whom he spent his first seven seasons. Maddux decided — with the Hall’s approval — to have no team logo on his cap for his bronze plaque to be unveiled today. La Russa also went with the no-logo option.
Maddux and Glavine pitched together for Cox’s Braves from 1993-2002, winning division titles in every completed season and the World Series in 1995, still Atlanta’s only major pro-sports title. Cox’s 29 managerial seasons included a quarter-century as Braves skipper over two stints in 1978-1981 and 1990-2010.
Thomas grew up in Columbus and hoped he would be drafted by the Braves. “But that didn’t happen,” said the slugger known as The Big Hurt. He spent the first 16 of his 19 seasons with the White Sox, winning consecutive MVP awards in 1993 and 1994. A .301 hitter with 521 home runs, 1,704 RBIs, a .419 on-base percentage and .555 slugging percentage, Thomas had nine seasons with 30 or more homers and 11 with at least 100 RBIs.
Braves fans have filled Delta flights from Atlanta to Albany, N.Y., and Syracuse, N.Y., the closest big airports to Cooperstown. The Braves chartered a Delta flight to bring team officials for one of the biggest days in franchise history.
Meanwhile, New Yorkers are driving in to see Torre, a wildly successful Yankees skipper who also had stints with the Mets at the end of his playing career and start of his managerial career. Glavine, too, won 61 games in four seasons with the Mets before returning to Atlanta to finish his career, and Cox was a former Yankees third-base prospect who hit .225 in two seasons for New York before moving into managing.
Though most known by younger fans as manager of the Yankees, Torre was a nine-time All-Star. He played nine seasons with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves and managed Atlanta for three seasons, replacing the fired Cox after the 1981 season. Torre’s Braves won the 1982 National League West title.
Torre was a .297 career hitter with 252 homers in 18 seasons including six for the Milwaukee Braves and three for Atlanta after the team moved in 1966. He had a career-high 36 homers and a .943 OPS for the ‘66 Braves.
La Russa had eight plate appearances for the ‘71 Braves, after being traded from the A’s. He was a .199 career hitter in parts of six seasons before he, like Cox, went on to far greater success as a manager.
La Russa (2,728 wins), Cox (2,504) and Torre (2,326) are the third-, fourth- and fifth-winningest managers in history.