After a 2013 election in which no players were selected for induction into Baseball’s Hall of Fame, the 2014 class features three former on-field superstars as well as three legendary managers.
Each of the six honored this weekend in Cooperstown had a lengthy impact on the game. Their plaques will be detailed, but can be defined best by a particular accomplishment—some that took place over many years, others that were made in a short span of time. All of them are most likely going to be etched at the top of their Hall of Fame biographies.
Greg Maddux: 17 Straight Years of 15 or More Wins
A mastermind on the mound, Maddux’s unprecedented run of success (which resulted in 355 victories) began in the late 1980s as a member of the Chicago Cubs. Come 1993, he was an Atlanta Brave—and a rotation that before was top-notch now became nearly unbeatable.
Immediately, Maddux got top billing in this strong-armed staff (which included Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery). He was more than up to the task, leading the Braves to their third straight division crown in ’93 with a 20-11 record and an NL-best 2.36 ERA.
The strike-shortened 1994 did not prevent Maddux from putting up staggering numbers: 16 victories, a 1.56 ERA, ten complete games, a WHIP of .896, and the fifth of his unprecedented 18 Gold Glove Awards.
If wasn’t impressive enough, it only got better in 1995—arguably the showcase season of his 23-year career. Maddux won 19 times to just two losses, had the league’s best ERA yet again (1.63), spinned ten more complete games, posted a ridiculous .811 WHIP, and garnered another Gold Glove. And with it came the additional honor of a fourth consecutive Cy Young trophy—emphasizing his place not just among the best pitchers of his era, but one of the best of all-time.
Maddux’s remarkable streak of consistency lasted through 2004, winning 16 games in a return trip to the north side of Chicago. In today’s baseball where pitchers go on the disabled list with regularity due to arm injuries, his durability is unbelievable. The Baseball Hall of Fame honors those who have displayed greatness for a long period. And there is no better example of that than Greg Maddux.
Tom Glavine: Game 6, 1995 World Series
Like Maddux, lefty Tom Glavine also had 300-plus wins in his resume—among many other accolades. The length and breadth of his extensive, but he has one standout performance that was significant to him and the Atlanta Braves franchise.
The Braves had gone from worst-to-first in 1991 behind Glavine’s NL Cy Young efforts, only to come up short in a classic seven-game World Series. Both the team and the star southpaw were just as good the next season, but Atlanta lost another Fall Classic—this time to the Toronto Blue Jays. Glavine’s third consecutive 20-win season in 1993 helped win a division, but not a pennant.
They returned to the World Series in 1995, with the “close-but-no-cigar” moniker ever-present. The Braves took a three-games-to-one lead on the Cleveland Indians before dropping Game 5 in northeast Ohio
Game 6 at Fulton County Stadium beckoned, with Glavine getting the start. He didn’t disappoint, as he mastered the best offense in baseball with his usual pinpoint control. Over eight innings of work, Glavine held the mighty Indians bats to no runs and just one hit while striking out eight.
All that was needed was a run, and David Justice provided it. His solo home run to right field in the sixth proved to be the difference. Closer Mark Wohlers finished it off with a perfect ninth. The Braves had a well-deserved championship and Glavine received the series MVP.
Frank Thomas: Back-to Back AL MVP Awards
In his prime, there was no more imposing and dangerous hitter than Frank Thomas—standing at 6’5” and weighing 240 pounds. Inflicting damage on the psyche of opposing pitchers, the man affectionately known as “The Big Hurt” racked up 521 home runs over the course of 19 years in the big leagues.
His best days came with the Chicago White Sox. During that 16-season span, Thomas hit 40 or more homers five times and hit better than .300 on ten occasions. He was a regular contender for the AL’s MVP, and found himself on top of the voting tally in 1993 and 1994.
Thomas’ first MVP was well deserved. In cranking out 41 long balls and driving in 128, he led Chicago to its first AL West Division title in ten years. The White Sox ultimately fell to eventual champion Toronto in a six-game ALCS.
In 1994, he led the league in runs scored, walks, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Thomas was also in hot pursuit of Roger Maris’ home run record—posting 32 home runs at the All-Star break. He would finish with 38 thanks to the infamous players’ strike, but his overall numbers were more than enough for the writers to name him MVP again.
Joe Torre: Four Yankees World Series Titles in Five Years
Upon being hired as the Yankees manager prior to the 1996 season, the New York Daily News had a front page headline: “Clueless Joe.”
As insulting as that may sound, it wasn’t entirely off-base. After a successful playing career that saw him make nine All-Star teams and win the NL MVP in 1971, Torre fielded inconsistent clubs in his time on the bench. In his first 14 seasons as manager, he had just five winning seasons.
The Yankees took a chance. And Torre, who was just recently fired by the St. Louis Cardinals, had nothing to lose.
While wearing the pinstripes, he rarely lost.
In his first year at the help, New York won the AL East, took care of Texas in the Division Series, beat Baltimore in the ALCS and defeated defending champ Atlanta in six games to capture its first World Series trophy since 1978.
It may have been the ultimate relief for Torre, who had gone 4,268 games without even reaching the World Series. But it was just the beginning.
The 1998 squad may be the greatest team in baseball history. It was a 125-win club that didn’t have a standout superstar performer, but was nary a weak link. The Yanks rolled past all opponents—lastly sweeping the San Diego Padres to confirm their place in the game’s lore.
Torre’s club would sweep Atlanta the next year and then beat the New York Mets in 2000 for a fourth World Series title.
When his time in the Bronx was finished, Torre had lasted 12 years under the watch of the autocratic owner George Steinbrenner—and made the playoffs in each season.
Bobby Cox: Record 16 Playoff Appearances
There may be some critics who harshly judge his teams as having underachieved in the postseason. But it would be wrong to underestimate the significance of reaching the playoffs 16 times.
For 15 of those years, it came while wearing the uniform of the Atlanta Braves.
Cox’s teams dominated the National League, winning five pennants in the 1990s and the World Championship in 1995.
Yes, they should have won more titles. But getting in the hunt is an accomplishment in itself. So is winning 2,504 games—fourth most in baseball history. He thrived mainly with starting pitching (Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz), but also had the on-field leadership of Chipper Jones.
But he didn’t just succeed in Atlanta. Often forgotten, he guided the Toronto Blue Jays—in its ninth season of existence—into the ALCS, where they were on the brink of a World Series. A three-games-to-one lead against the Kansas City Royals faded away, and Cox was off to greener pastures down south.
Bobby Cox’s consistency as a manager earned him respect among his players, the fans and his opponents—even until his very last moments.
Tony LaRussa: Leading Cardinals to 2006 World Series Title
From “winning ugly” with the Chicago White Sox, to the bashing Oakland A’s to the Albert Pujols-led St. Louis Cardinals, LaRussa accumulated 2,728 victories and three World Series rings over 33 seasons.
He even revolutionized how baseball is played today (for better or worse), as specialized relief pitching and the one-inning closer came into prominence under his watch with Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley in Oakland.
His first title came with arguably his best team in the 1989 Athletics. His last one came in heart-stopping fashion with the Cards coming through twice in Game 6 against Texas to ultimately win the series in seven and send out LaRussa a winner in his final season as skipper. However, his best managerial job occurred when he took 83-win St. Louis to a championship—and put him in rarified air among his profession.
The Cardinals staggered at the end of the regular season, and weren’t expected to make much progress in the postseason. They quickly put those thoughts to rest with a NLDS sweep of San Diego. Then, behind LaRussa pushing all the right buttons with his lineup and rotation, St. Louis stunned the heavily-favored New York Mets in seven games to win the NLCS.
With a ton of momentum on their side, the Cards took care of the younger Detroit Tigers in five—and LaRussa became just the second manager to win a World Series in both leagues (Sparky Anderson was the other). He is one of just nine managers to have at least three World Series titles and is No. 3 on the all-time win list.