COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Frank Thomas choked back tears, Joe Torre apologized for leaving people out of his speech and Tony La Russa said he felt uneasy.
Being enshrined in the Hall of Fame can have those effects, even on the greats.
Thomas, pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, and managers Bobby Cox, Torre and La Russa were inducted into the baseball shrine Sunday, and all paid special tribute to their families before an adoring crowd of nearly 50,000.
“I’m speechless. Thanks for having me in your club,” Thomas said, getting emotional as he remembered his late father. “Frank Sr., I know you’re watching. Without you, I know 100 percent I wouldn’t be here in Cooperstown today. You always preached to me, ‘You can be someone special if you really work at it.’ I took that to heart, Pop.”
“Mom, I thank you for all the motherly love and support. I know it wasn’t easy.”
The 46-year old Thomas, the first player elected to the Hall who spent more than half of his time as a designated hitter, batted .301 with 521 home runs and 1,704 RBIs in a 19-year career mostly with the Chicago White Sox. He also played for the A’s in 2006 and 2008.
Ever the diplomat as a manager, Torre somehow managed to assuage the most demanding of owners in George Steinbrenner, maintaining his coolness amid all the Bronx craziness while keeping all those egos in check after taking over the New York Yankees in 1996. The result: 10 division titles, six AL pennants and four World Series triumphs in 12 years as he helped restore the luster to baseball’s most successful franchise and resurrected his own career after three firings.
The day was a reunion of sorts for the city of Atlanta. Glavine, Maddux and Cox were part of a remarkable run of success by the Braves. They won an unprecedented 14 straight division titles and made 15 playoff appearances, winning the city’s lone major professional sports title.
Glavine was on the mound when the Braves won Game 6 to clinch the 1995 World Series, pitching one-hit ball over eight innings in a 1-0 victory over Cleveland. And the slender lefty was one of those rare athletes, drafted by the Braves and the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL.
The 48-year-old Maddux went 355-227 with a career ERA of 3.16 in 23 seasons with the Braves, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers and ranks eighth on the career wins list. He won four straight Cy Young Awards in the 1990s and won 15 or more games for 17 straight seasons with his pinpoint control.
La Russa, who ranks third in career victories as a manager with 2,728, behind only Connie Mack and John McGraw, was chosen manager of the year four times and won 12 division titles, six pennants and three World Series titles in stints with the White Sox, A’s and St. Louis Cardinals.
La Russa spoke from the heart. There was no written speech.
“It’s uncomfortable because I didn’t make it as a player. Not even close,” said La Russa, who made his big-league debut as a teenage infielder with the 1963 Kansas City A’s and appeared in just 132 games over six seasons, hitting .199 with no home runs. “Since December, I have not been comfortable with it. There’s no way to mention everybody, and that bothers me.”Greg MadduxHall of FameMLBOakland A's & MLBTom Glavine