Much of the focus in baseball this time of year revolves around the trade deadline, but this weekend Cooperstown, New York, will take center stage for the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame ceremony.
There are times when it is hard to get excited about a Hall of Fame class, like last year when the only people inducted were a former executive (Jacob Ruppert), a player who died in 1939 (Deacon White) and an umpire (Hank O'Day).
No disrespect to those men, who were all worthy additions, but it's hard to tell fans they need to watch and appreciate what they are seeing when only the most-devoted baseball historians would know who they are.
This year is almost like a makeup to the fans, with three legendary managers—all of whom retired within the last four years—being inducted: Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox. There will also be three all-time great players inducted: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.
Just on star power alone, the 2014 class is the best in at least seven years when Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn were inducted. In anticipation of Sunday's ceremony, we have television information and notes on the three players being inducted.
|2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Class|
|Name||Vote Total & Percentage|
|Greg Maddux, RHP||555, 97.2%|
|Tom Glavine, LHP||525, 91.9%|
|Frank Thomas, 1B/DH||478, 83.7%|
|Tony La Russa, Manager||Veterans Committee|
|Bobby Cox, Manager||Veterans Committee|
|Joe Torre, Manager||Veterans Committee|
When: Sunday, July 27
Where: Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York
Watch: MLB Network coverage starts at 12 p.m. ET
The fun thing about seeing Maddux on a stage where there really is no filter is that he can do whatever he wants. Known for his precision on the mound, the four-time Cy Young winner was big on practical jokes behind the scenes, including instances where he used to urinate on rookies while pretending to listen to them talk, via ESPN.com's David Fleming (NSFW).
While that may not be hilarious to the players on the receiving end, apparently it was all part of the Maddux mystique.
No one is expecting "The Professor" to have a moment like that during his Hall of Fame speech, but it's just a way to say that no one knows what to expect when he opens his mouth.
There will certainly be warm reflections of pitching with fellow inductee Glavine, as well as their former manager Cox. You have to imagine that John Smoltz will be in attendance to bring out stories from the big three who dominated baseball in the 1990s.
For all the great things Maddux was able to do on a baseball field, Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria, who was on San Diego's staff in 2008 when the right-hander pitched there, made a great point about durability, via Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune:
The ability for him to stay healthy and do what he did is a gift. You are either born with the genes to be able to do things like that or you're not. There are some things that contribute to the deterioration of the body, but he was able (stay) on the field a long time. He was a very gifted athlete and very prepared. Obviously, he knew what he was doing, he's going into the Hall.
Maddux was a rock in the rotation every year, making at least 30 starts every season from 1988 to 2008 except the 1994 and 1995 seasons because they were shortened due to the strike.
In an era where we shrug off Tommy John surgery as something that just happens, Maddux's ability to take the ball every fifth day for a 20-year stretch is incredible. That he did it at an all-time great level is unfathomable.
Atlanta baseball fans don't have a great reputation when it comes to supporting their team in the stadium. When the team was in the middle of a playoff race in September 2012, Chipper Jones took to Twitter begging people to show up:
However, just because the fans weren't in attendance doesn't mean they don't care. Tom Glavine will attest to that, telling Marty Noble of MLB.com that they didn't like him signing with the New York Mets after the 2002 season:
I knew I upset some people around (Atlanta) when I signed with the Mets. And my last game with the Mets was, probably, the worst performance of my career, considering what was at stake. It certainly wasn't what I had in mind for how I might be remembered.
Glavine's last performance for the Mets in 2007 lasted one-third of an inning against Miami with seven runs allowed on five hits in a game they needed to win to tie Philadelphia for the National League East title.
The left-hander did return to Atlanta for the 2008 season, pitching in 13 games with a 5.54 ERA before retiring. It wasn't a banner sendoff but shouldn't take away from what he did over 22 years, winning two Cy Young awards and a World Series MVP (1995).
Doesn't it feel like we forgot how great The Big Hurt was in his prime because it was so long ago? From 1991-97, Thomas led the American League in on-base percentage and OPS four times, OPS-plus three times and finished in the top eight of MVP voting each year.
Diving deeper into Thomas' outstanding career mark, he ranks 18th all-time in home runs (521) 19th in on-base percentage (.419), tied for 19th in OPS-plus (156) and 22nd in slugging percentage (.555).
Christina Kahrl of ESPN.com had the best line about Thomas, noting that he was basically a "Moneyball" player before anyone knew what that meant:
Thomas remains one of just four hitters to wind up with career numbers of a .300 average, 500 or more homers, 1,500 RBIs, 1,000 runs scored and 1,500 walks, and he is the only one who didn't debut before WWII (the others are Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Mel Ott). Thomas wound up with five 40-homer seasons, and hit 39 at age 38 to help propel the Oakland A's into the ALCS.
The only real tragedy of Thomas' career is that he never got to be a significant part of a championship team. He was on the White Sox team that won the 2005 World Series, but he played just 34 games that season due to injuries and never got into a playoff game that year.
For any player who defined his team for so long, as Thomas did the White Sox from 1991-2005, it would have been nice to see him rewarded for all those years by playing a key role on one of the most-improbable championship runs in recent memory.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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