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Class of 2014 just what Cooperstown needed

Hall of Fame induction day to be quite special after gloomy event last year

NEW YORK -- If 2013 was one of the darkest moments for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, 2014 will be one of its brightest.

Circle July 27 on your calendar. That's the day when six of the greatest men who've been so important to the history of the game will be inducted into the most prestigious Hall of Fame in all of sport.

The doors swung open for managers Tony La Russa, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox in December.

On Wednesday, tickets were punched by the writers for Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.

This comes one year after eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America were caught in the undertow of performance-enhancing drugs and didn't elect anyone. What they did was send a strong message that there's no place in Cooperstown for any player connected to steroids and other PEDs.

The same message rang loud and clear this year, with players such as Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, et al, soundly rejected.

But now just picture the Atlanta Braves reunion on the stage in July, skipper Cox congratulating Maddux and Glavine and vice versa.

And the Big Hurt, Frank Thomas, taking his place among the game's greatest sluggers with elite managers La Russa and Torre complementing the lineup.

The emptiness of 2013 was changed greatly Wednesday, when the Maddux-Glavine-Thomas trio -- all on the ballot for the first time -- left little doubt in voters' minds who should be in this year's Hall of Fame class.

"We feel that giving the individual voter the opportunity to make his or her own judgment is important to the process," said Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson.

By the same token, Idelson and Hall chairman Jane Forbes Clark were more than disappointed when no one was elected a year ago.

Now, not only will three of the winningest skippers in Major League history receive their plaques, but two 300-game winners who combined for six Cy Young Awards, Maddux and Glavine, will become the first teammates to be inducted together since 1974 (Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle).

And, oh, just for the record, Maddux and Glavine will be just the second duo of pitchers to be elected together in their first year on the ballot since Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson. They were in the Hall of Fame's first class in 1936.

And, really, no one is more deserving than Thomas.

Cooperstown should enjoy its biggest induction weekend since 1999, when Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount were enshrined.

The little village in upstate New York was a virtual ghost town last July.

"Were we disappointed? Absolutely," Idelson said about 2013. "But all along, we remained confident in the process. Just because no one was elected didn't mean the process was broken."

And it obviously wasn't broken. Of course, I believe it's shameful that 16 BBWAA voters did not deem Maddux worthy of the Hall of Fame.

But this dramatic turnaround comes at a time when the Hall of Fame needs a huge boost. Revenues and attendance have been down in recent years, and that no living person was inducted in 2013 added to the problem.

Maddux and Glavine, who pitched together for 10 years in an outstanding Braves rotation, remind me of the Dodgers' Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. It would have been a shame had Maddux and Glavine not been elected together.

"It really would have been disappointing not to have the opportunity to go in with Bobby and Greg," Glavine said. "If there's anything that would've killed me, so to speak, about not getting the phone call today, that would've been it. It's such a rare opportunity to go into the Hall of Fame.

"It's even rarer to have a teammate and your manager go in at the same time."

Glavine was as durable as they come. During a 20-year stretch, he missed just one start. He needed a GPS to find the trainer's room; it was that foreign to him.

"'Glav' taught me that you don't have to be 100 percent to pitch," Maddux said. "He showed me, which really is more important than telling me."

It will be interesting to hear the acceptance speeches on July 27, because throughout the time Maddux and Glavine were on the same team, they pushed and fed off each other.

Maybe they should stand at the podium together.

"He made me want to work harder to keep up with him," Glavine said of Maddux. "Greg's influence on me was how he would go out there ... and not only do what he wanted to do, but pay attention to what the hitters were telling him. That never occurred to me until I talked with Greg Maddux.

"My approach was, 'Here's my game plan and I'm going to do it.' He would watch the hitters -- how they took a pitch, how they fouled off a pitch, how they swung and missed a pitch. That was all valuable information he processed."

John Smoltz, another key ingredient to that great Atlanta rotation, would have made it even more meaningful had he been on this year's ballot. That won't happen until next year, when it's likely Smoltz will be elected along with fellow pitching greats Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.

For now, though, there's a warm feeling melting the bitter cold in Cooperstown: It's the thought of what next July is going to be like there.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for