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A time to cherish for game's newest immortals

Maddux, Glavine, Thomas join the greatest in reaching the pinnacle of their sport @RichardJustice

They defined excellence, all three of them. No secret there. At some point, they simply were looked at differently than other players. That's how it is with greatness. There's a respect factor, an awe factor.

We salute you, Greg Maddux. You, too, Tom Glavine. And you, Frank Thomas. Here's to soaking in every moment of this wonderful day, breathing it deeply and appreciating that you have been bestowed your sport's highest honor.

As great as this day is, there's an even better one coming. No, seriously. That'll be in the summer when you take the stage in Cooperstown along with Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson and Frank Robinson and the others. They're your peers now.

Let that thought roll around in your brains for a bit. Think of all the hundreds of thousands of kids who had your dreams and even all the kids who made it to the big leagues for a cup of coffee or even a nice long career. In the end, they were unable to get to the mountaintop you've just reached.

This year's induction class -- and with six members, including managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa, it's a big one -- will bring the number of Hall of Famers to 309. Only 71 of them are living.

There may be more exclusive clubs on earth, but not many. And the thing about this club, the thing that makes it so special, is that it's filled with iconic names, men whose names have been passed from generation to generation by people who saw them play, who've told tales of their accomplishments.

That's where you three are now. You all will be remembered forever. You will permanently be some of the very few players every other player is measured against. At a time when it has become harder than ever to get into the Hall of Fame, you breezed in beyond the 75-percent voting requirement.

Voters clearly are conflicted by an assortment of issues, including figuring out how to factor performance-enhancing drugs into the ballot. For you, though, there were no doubts, none, zip.

Maddux won 355 games in 23 years. He did it with a fastball that might not have broken glass. Maddux was a reminder that pitching well is an art, that thinking and locating and moving pitches around are every bit as important as velocity.

Almost everyone in the game has a story or two about Maddux. For instance, there was the day then-Astros manager Jimy Williams summoned me to his side during his team's batting practice.

"Take a look in the other dugout," he said.

There sat Maddux studying the Astros taking their cuts. Did he ever get anything out of it? Maybe not.

But Maddux thought he could pick up something, some tendency by watching. Very few players did this. For Maddux, it was leaving no stone unturned.

Near the end of his career, the Dodgers handed Maddux computerized game-by-game scouting reports. He studied them for a few minutes, then pointed to an at-bat that occurred several years earlier.

"Would you check that pitch?" Maddux asked. "I don't think I threw him a slider."

Seriously, Greg?

"We checked it," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said recently. "He was right! Now, how did he remember that one at-bat?"

Maddux won four straight Cy Young Awards, but he finished in the top five of voting five other times. In a generation dominated by offense and smaller ballparks and strike zones, Maddux registered a dazzling 3.16 ERA in 23 seasons.

Glavine was similar in so many ways. Every opposing hitter has tales of frustrations in facing him, how his control was precise, his competitive fires raging. Glavine would start by throwing his heater -- like Maddux, he did not have blazing velocity -- on the outside corner and then proceed to take whatever the umpire would give him.

Glavine was so consistent and so dogged that umpires respected his strike zone almost as much as their own.

Glavine, Maddux and Cox will give the 2014 induction weekend a distinctly Atlanta flavor, and for a franchise that has accomplished so much and is held in such high regard, that's appropriate.

Thomas is a fitting partner for Glavine and Maddux, for he approached the game much the same way they did. He knew the strike zone, knew the umpires, knew the game from a cerebral perspective.

Thomas led the American League in on-base percentage four times but also had nine seasons of 30-plus home runs. He did it all with an easygoing nature that played well during the grind of a long season.

There are players who barely missed on Wednesday, including Craig Biggio by two votes. There are players like Alan Trammell and Tim Raines who should have gotten in. But those are discussions for another place and time.

Nothing should take away from what this day means for Glavine, Maddux and Thomas. Their greatness is unquestioned. This day should be theirs.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.

Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas