COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Hank Aaron received the longest ovation among 55 returning Hall of Famers introduced at before Saturday’s Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and an impromptu tomahawk chop and chant started among thousands of Braves fans as commissioner Bud Selig introduced Bobby Cox.
Braves love was the order of the day at the 75th induction ceremony Sunday, where former Braves manager Cox and two of his Big Three starting pitchers, Greg Maddux and Tommy Glavine, made up half of the Class of 2014 before one of the largest crowds ever to attend the annual event on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center.
Former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, a native Georgian from Columbus, and former managers Joe Torre and Tony La Russa joined the three iconic Braves in one of the most illustrious classes the Hall has inducted in decades.
“Beautiful,” said Bill Bartholomay, Braves chairman emeritus, as he and other top-ranking Braves executives in a front section heard the Braves chant coming from fans spread throughout the estimated crowd of 48,000.
“To say that this day, this weekend, has been unbelievable, would definitely be true,” Glavine said at the conclusion of his speech, which lasted just over 17 minutes (including applause), about seven minutes longer than Cox and Maddux spoke.
Thomas broke down crying when he looked at his mother, Charlie Mae, whom Thomas said had not left Columbus in 15 years before coming to Cooperstown. He said saw his mother and thought immediately of his father, Frank Thomas Sr., who died in 2001.
“You guys don’t understand, my dad was my everything,” Thomas told reporters afterward.
Torre won four World Series titles as Yankees manager and was another member of the class with Braves ties, having played his first eight seasons with the Braves and managed the team for three seasons. “Playing eight years with Hank Aaron was quite a learning experience,” Torre said afterward.
Glavine thanked an array of former and current Braves employees ranging from former scouting gurus Paul Snyder and Tony DiMacio, who were in his parents’ kitchen in Billerica, Mass., when he signed out of high school; pitching coach Leo Mazzone, and team trainers and Dr. Joe Chandler for helping him avoid the disabled list until late in his 22-year career.
“Joe, to this day you have not missed a spot when I needed a cortisone shot,” Glavine quipped.
He talked about how special it was to share the induction with Cox and Maddux.
“It’s hard to imagine that a day like this could get any better,” Glavine said. “But for me, it does. To have the opportunity to go into the Hall of Fame with these guys, two guys that have such a profound impact on me as a person, and on my career.”
He said to Maddux, “You made me better through our conversations. You made me better watching you pitch. And you made me wealthier from all the money we took from Smoltzy on the golf course.”
Maddux said he had never given a formal speech before Sunday. The man with the most wins (355) of baseball’s five-man rotation era, he also has a notably irreverent sense of humor and actually cracked a joke early in his speech about how his brother Mike had taught him how to light flatulence with a lighter.
“Pretty funny, huh?” Maddux said as most of the crowd laughed
Maddux lavished praised upon Cox, thanked Mazzone, and explained again why he elected to have no logo on the cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, unlike most who choose the logo of the team with which they had the most impact. (Maddux started his career with the Cubs, but won three of his four Cy Young awards as a Brave).
“I learned how to pitch in Chicago, and I learned how to win and raise a family in Atlanta,” Maddux said. “Both places were equally important in my career.”
Each Braves inductee mentioned how they hoped to soon welcome to the Hall of Fame John Smoltz, the other of the Big Three, who is eligible for induction next year. Smoltz, who was at Sunday’s induction as a MLB Network broadcaster, had a video testimonial about Cox that played before his former manager was introduced.
Between managerial stints, Cox was the Braves’ general manager who made the trade that brought then-Tigers minor leaguer Smoltz to Atlanta in exchange for veteran pitcher Doyle Alexander.
“He changed my destiny as a general manager trading for me,” Smoltz said. “And then when I got an opportunity to play for the man, I knew exactly at that moment that within my power, I was going to do everything I could to stay wherever he was. He was a guy who everybody would fight for, because he fought for you.”
Glavine thanked former Braves owner Ted Turner, who funded payrolls that routinely ranked among the top five in baseball for much of the 1990s. He said it was a treat to play for the maverick billionaire.
“And when I say it was a treat, it was a treat,” Glavine said. “Thank you Ted, for providing the likes of John Schuerholz, Stan Kasten and Bobby Cox to lead our organization. Thank you for providing the resources to get the players that enabled us to have such an unbelievable run of success.”
Glavine saved his most emotional moments to praise his parents and his wife, Chris, whom he called his favorite teammate and best friend.
Cox said he was so nervous at the beginning of his speech than his hands shook as he turned the pages of his notes. He praised Maddux and Glavine “and 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 also noted another iconic Braves player, Chipper Jones, who, like Maddux and Glavine, is expected to be voted in on the first ballot when he becomes eligible in three years.
“Chipper, you’ll be standing here soon,” Cox said.
Like Glavine and Maddux, Cox thanked his wife, Pam, for keeping order at home when he was away for road trips and spring training. He introduced Pam and six of his children in attendance, and two daughters watching from home.
“Not in my wildest dreams did I ever thank this could happen, but I’m sure glad it did,” Cox said.