Tears flow as six inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Frank Thomas is one of the most physically imposing players ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
However, the 6-foot-5 slugger, whose playing weight was 240 pounds, was the only one of six inductees Sunday reduced to tears during the ceremony in front of an estimated crowd of 48,000 in the field behind the Clark Athletic Center.
Immortalized along with Thomas — nicknamed “The Big Hurt” — were pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and managers Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre.
Thomas choked back tears from the start of his speech and voice often quivered until the end.
“I wear my emotions on my sleeve,” Thomas said. “I knew I was going to choke up as soon as I started talking about my father. As many times as I practiced it and got all the way through the speech without getting emotional, I knew when it was time for the real thing that it would be hard to get through.”
Thomas’ father, Frank Sr., was the designated hitter/first baseman’s first coach while growing up in Columbus, Ga.
“He was the one that told me as a kid that you can be special if you really work at it,” Thomas said during the most emotional moment of his speech. “I took that heart, Pops, and look where we are today.”
Thomas hit 521 home runs in his 19-year career from 1990-2008 with the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics and the Toronto Blue Jays. Thomas won consecutive American League Most Valuable Player awards in 1993-94 and his .419 career on-base percentage is the third-highest in major league history by a right-handed hitter.
Thomas has been outspoken about the use of performance enhancing drugs and how they tainted the era in which he played. However, he did not touch on the subject directly in his speech and only alluded to it briefly at the end of his speech that included thanks to 164 of his former teammates in rapid-fire fashion.
“To all you kids out there, just remember one thing from today: There’s no shortcuts to success. Hard work, commitment, dedication, stay true to who you are,” Thomas said.
Maddux won 355 games, eighth-most in history, during his 23-year career with the Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. Maddux had a run of four consecutive National League Cy Young Awards from 1992-95 and also won 18 Gold Gloves, more than any player at any position.
“I never gave a thought to the Hall of Fame as I was going through my career,” Maddux said. “My goal as a baseball player was very simple: All I wanted to do was try to get better for my next start.
“And to think it all ended here, it’s pretty cool.”
Always cool, calm and collected on the mound, Maddux admitted he was extremely nervous while giving the first public speech of his life. However, he mixed humor in with thank yous and explained while there is no logo on the cap on his plaque.
“I played in Chicago for 11 years and I played in Atlanta for 12 years,” Maddux said. “I learned how to pitch in Chicago and I learned how to win and raise my family in Atlanta. I love both cities and fans equally, and I’d never be able to choose one over the other.”
Glavine gave an eloquent speech while talking about his 22-year career with the Braves and Mets that included 305 wins, the fourth-most among left-handed pitchers. Glavine also won the NL Cy Young in 1991 and 1998 and was MVP of the 1995 World Series when the Braves beat the Cleveland Indians for what remains the only major professional team sports championship in Atlanta history.
Glavine called being inducted “the ultimate honor of a career in baseball.”
“My career saw a lot of ups and downs, a lot of sacrifices on and off the field and more than a few times when I questioned what I was doing,” Glavine said. “There are no more questions now, only gratitude towards those who were so helpful along the way.”
La Russa (2,728), Cox (2,504) and Torre (2,326) are Nos. 3, 4 and 5 in career managerial victories.
La Russa managed 34 seasons with the White Sox, Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals. He won World Series in three different decades — 1989 with Oakland and 2006 and 2011 with St. Louis but said he felt uncomfortable about being a Hall of Famer.
Cox managed the Braves for 25 years and the Blue Jays for four seasons. His 16 postseason appearances are an all-time record and he led the Braves to their World Series title in 1995 when Maddux, Glavine and John Smoltz anchored the starting rotation.
Torre’s luck did not change until after he was fired by the Mets, Braves and Cardinals.
He then spent six years as a broadcaster with the then-California Angels before getting before getting another chance to manage when the New York Yankees hired him prior to the 1996 season. He guided them four World Series titles and six AL pennants in a 12-year span before finishing his 29-year managerial career with the Dodgers.
Torre also had 2,342 hits in an 18-year playing career from 1960-77 as a catcher and third baseman with the Braves, Cardinals and Mets. He is only man in baseball history with 2,000 hits and 2,000 wins as a manager.
The last inductee to speak, Torre ended the ceremony quite eloquently.
“Baseball is a game of life,” Torre said. “It’s not perfect, but it feels like it is. That’s the magic of it. We are responsible for giving it the respect it deserves. Our sport is part of the American soul, and it’s ours to borrow — just for a while.
“If all of us who love baseball and are doing our jobs, then those who get the game from us will be as proud to be a part of it as we were. And we are. This game is a gift, and I am humbled, very humbled, to accept its greatest honor.”