The National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony had the feel of an Atlanta Braves reunion as pitching greats Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were inducted on Sunday along with former manager Bobby Cox.
Maddux and Glavine, mainstays on the Braves team that won the 1995 World Series while Cox was at the helm, went into the Hall in Cooperstown, New York with former slugger Frank Thomas and managers Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre.
Maddux started his major league career with the Chicago Cubs, but moved to the Braves in 1993 because, as he said half-jokingly, he wanted to win a World Series.
"Those of us who play this great game and make a living at it are extremely lucky," said the four-time Cy Young Award winner.
“My goal as a baseball player was very simple. All I wanted to do was try and get better for my next start. And to think it all ended up here is pretty cool."
He thanked many who helped him along the way, including his high school pitching coach who taught him the basics: "Movement, location, the ability to change speeds and velocity, in that order.
"He (the coach) said you throw hard enough, but as you face better hitters you're going need more than just velocity to get hitters out."
Maddux won 355 games, the eighth-highest figure in major league history and the most of any pitcher since 1965. He won 194 of those games over 11 years with the Braves.
Fellow Cy Young winner and ex teammate Glavine recalled that some minor childhood mischief had shown he had a good arm.
"As a kid when I used to stand on the front porch of my parents house (in Massachusetts) and throw snowballs over the trees trying to hit cars passing by, little did I know how far my left arm was going to take me," he said.
Glavine spent 17 of his 22 seasons with Atlanta and won 305 total games, fourth most among left-handers.
But he almost took a different path. A talented hockey player, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings at the same time as the Braves in 1984, and had to choose between the two sports.
"I had a difficult choice to make and as a left-handed pitcher, I thought that was the thing that would set me apart and make baseball the smartest decision," he said.
"Of course, I often wonder what would have happened if I’d taken up hockey. I’m positive I made the right choice."
The most emotional speech came from Thomas, who broke down in tears as he remembered his late father.
“Frank Senior, I know you’re watching and smiling from heaven,” the former Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics and Toronto Blue Jays slugger said during a heartfelt speech.
“Without you, I know 100 percent I wouldn’t be here in Cooperstown today. Thanks for pushing me and always preaching to me, you can be someone special if you really work at it. I took that to heart Pops. Look at us today.”
Thomas paused to wipe tears from his eyes before continuing to thank, among others, his mother, Charlie May, who was in the large crowd.
Thomas grew up in modest circumstances in Columbus, Georgia, and played 16 years for the White Sox. He finished 19 seasons in the major leagues with a .301 batting average and 521 home runs.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Gene Cherry)