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.”
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“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 runs batted in in a 19-year career mostly with the Chicago White Sox.
Ever the diplomat as a manager, Torre somehow managed to assuage the most demanding of owners in George Steinbrenner. His teams won 10 division titles, six AL pennants and four World Series triumphs in 12 years.
“Baseball is a game of life. It’s not perfect, but it feels like it is,” said the 74-year-old Torre, who apologized afterward for forgetting to include the Steinbrenner family in his speech. “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.”
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 in 1995.
“I’m truly humbled to stand here before you,” Cox said. “To Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, and I have to mention the third member of the big three — John Smoltz — I can honestly say I would not be standing here if it weren’t for you guys.”
Glavine was one of those rare athletes, drafted by the Braves and the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL.
“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,” Glavine said. “Of course, I always wondered what would have happened had I taken up hockey.”
“In my mind, since I was drafted ahead of two Hall of Famers in Luc Robitaille and Brett Hull, that obviously means I would have been a Hall of Famer in hockey, too,” Glavine chuckled as the crowd cheered. “But I’m positive I made the right choice.”