Class for the ages received Hall call in 2014
Players Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, managers Torre, La Russa, Cox make up all-time great group
As the baseball world reminisces about all that transpired in 2014, many fans will fondly remember what transpired during July's final weekend, when six legendary figures were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Those who made the pilgrimage to Cooperstown were privileged to watch the induction of three of baseball's top five winningest managers -- Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa -- two 300-game winners -- Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine -- and Frank Thomas, who stands as one of the greatest designated hitters in Major League history.
The Hall is expected to immortalize another impressive group of players this upcoming summer, but this most recent induction class currently ranks as one of the finest assembled since Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson became the Hall's first inhabitants in 1936.
"It's obviously the biggest honor you can give to a ballplayer," Maddux said during his induction speech. "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."
As each of these individuals shared baseball's greatest honor during their first year of eligibility, they expressed the mutual admiration that developed as they competed with and against each other during their respective careers.
Though Thomas, who enjoyed his finest years with the White Sox, did not have a direct link to any of the Hall's other most recent enshrines, he is a south Georgia native who grew up rooting for Braves clubs that were managed by Cox and Torre. Cox's first managerial stint in Atlanta preceded Torre's and created the relationship that brought him back to the Braves for a historic tenure significantly influenced by the presence of Maddux and Glavine, who were part of the same rotation for 10 seasons (1993-2002).
"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," Cox said while standing on the same stage that he hopes will have a spot for Smoltz during next summer's ceremony.
With Maddux, Glavine and Cox all present, the induction weekend provided Braves fans another chance to celebrate the glorious 1990s, which might have been even more special had Torre's Yankees not proven victorious in two of the five World Series Atlanta participated in during that decade.
While Torre will be forever remembered for the four World Series titles the Yankees captured under his guidance, La Russa guided the A's to a world championship in 1989 and then proved victorious in two more Fall Classics while serving as St. Louis' skipper.
As they established themselves as three of the five managers in baseball history who have won at least 2,300 games, La Russa, Cox and Torre were fierce competitors who did not do much fraternizing. But as they spent this special weekend together in Cooperstown, it was obvious that they had the utmost respect for each other.
"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."
In a perfect world, Smoltz would have shared been enshrined alongside Cox and his two long-time Atlanta rotation mates. But there was still something magical about watching Maddux and Glavine stand side-by-side reminiscing about their time together in Atlanta and the eight-year stretch (1991-1998) during which they accounted for six National League Cy Young Awards.
"I think the odds of hitting the lottery would be better than this ever happening again," Cox said of being inducted alongside two of his players. "It's pretty darn special. I like the way [the Hall of Fame] laid it out. I got to [speak] between Greg and Tommy, which I thought was really neat."
La Russa's wit was on display as he thanked the White Sox, A's and Cardinals for the opportunity to manage their clubs. He reminisced about how former White Sox player personnel director Paul Richards gave him his first Minor League managerial gig and then touted him using the premise that the "worst players make the best managers."
"I thought, 'It always hurts to hear the truth,'" La Russa said. "Then [Richards] watched me manage four or five games. He comes in and says, 'I think you may have been a better player than I thought you were.'"
Thomas's physically imposing figure and disciplined approach made him one of the most feared hitters of his generation. But as he thanked his parents and 138 of his former teammates during his induction speech, he wiped tears from his face and displayed his genuine appreciation for being part of this cherished event.
"I was so overcome with emotion," Thomas said. "I'm sorry about it, but I'm not sorry about it, because it is what I am, and I'm proud to be here with these great legends."