HOF Weekend: It’s a Braves New World

By Dan Schlossberg

The best thing the new Hall of Famers did at Induction Weekend was talk to the old ones.

That’s what all six members of the Class of 2014 revealed during an informal outdoor roundtable the day after the official ceremonies.

“I talked to Eddie Murray and found out I didn’t know anything about hitting – 55 years out the window,” said Bobby Cox, whose Braves teams won a record 14 straight divisional crowns.

“Then I talked to Sandy Koufax and found out I didn’t know anything about pitching either.”

When Cox and his wife, Pam, shared an Induction Weekend bus seat with Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr., the retired manager said, “You guys would have looked good on the left side of our infield.”

David Moriah photo

David Moriah photo

Good thing Chipper Jones wasn’t listening. The iconic third baseman is considered a shoo-in for Cooperstown when he becomes eligible in 2018. By then, John Smoltz will have joined fellow pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and perhaps long-time general manager John Schuerholz, who won world championships in both leagues.
Like Cox, Glavine found time to talk pitching with Koufax, the long-time legend of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I know I’m in the same building he is, but I can’t put myself in the same category,” said Glavine, a lefty whose resume includes five 20-win seasons, two Cy Youngs and a World Series MVP trophy. “There’s just an aura around him. He’s a sharp dresser and carries himself so well.”

The winning pitcher in the decisive Game 6 of the 1995 World Series, Glavine said it was easy to play for Cox.

“Playing for Bobby was like playing for my dad,” he said. “Guys on other teams would come up to me and ask, ‘What’s it like to play for Bobby?’ I’d love to play for him.

“I’ll tell you one thing: With Bobby, if you weren’t with the program, you weren’t going to be part of the program.”

Maddux, who combined to make a formidable right-left tandem with Glavine, grew up a Reds fan and was delighted when Tom Seaver was traded to Cincinnati. At the induction dinner, he talked pitching with Nolan Ryan and Bob Gibson. A day later, he talked about the only commercial he ever made, Nike’s “Chicks Dig the Long Ball.”
“We had a foreign director, from Amsterdam, who wanted us to say, ‘Girls really like home runs.’ We told him we didn’t talk like that. So he said ‘What would you say?’ We said, ‘Chicks dig the long ball.’ ”

Maddux, who won at least 15 games in a record 17 seasons, won the Cy Young trophy in four consecutive seasons, an achievement later copied by Randy Johnson. But he’s too humble to talk about it.

“My most vivid memory in baseball,” he said, “was seeing Mark Wohlers throw that last pitch of the World Series (in 1995).” The Braves won that game, 1-0, when Glavine and Wohlers combined on a one-hitter and David Justice hit a solo home run. It remains the only world championship in the history of Atlanta sports.

Yet another product of the Braves, Joe Torre, entertained the Cooperstown crowds.
“The one guy I would have wanted to manage is sitting right here,” he said, pointing to the always-serene Maddux. “But the guy has no pulse. He walks down the street and convinces people he’s not Greg Maddux.”

Torre broke into baseball as a catcher for the Milwaukee Braves, made nine All-Star Games, won a batting crown and an MVP trophy, and took the Atlanta Braves to a 1982 divisional title. But he reached the Hall of Fame only after his Yankees reached the postseason in all 12 of his Bronx seasons as a manager.

“I never gave the Hall of Fame a thought,” he said. “But I’m glad to be here. Even grumpy Eddie Murray was fun to be with.”

Tony La Russa, whose 33 years as a manager left him third on the list of wins by a pilot, also has Braves roots: He wore an Atlanta uniform as a light-hitting middle infielder before moving into the managerial ranks.

“I loved hearing Brooks Robinson tell Earl Weaver stories,” he said of his Induction Weekend experience.

Frank Thomas, who played for La Russa with the White Sox, said he was the best of the eight managers he had during stints in Chicago, Oakland and Toronto.

“He was direct and treated you like family but never took any B.S.,” said Thomas, a .301 lifetime hitter with 521 home runs. The 6’5” Georgia native and former Auburn star urged his young audience to stay persistent. Thomas certainly did, since he was cut by his coach in a freshman bid for a berth on his high school baseball term. “See you next year,” the coach told him.

For collectors, Induction Weekend yielded a plethora of souvenirs, from postcards of the six new Hall of Fame plaques to T-shirts and commemorative coins of each inductee.

There were special editions of Sports Illustrated, Baseball America and Memories & Dreams, the upscale magazine published by the Hall of Fame. Pens bearing the names of the six inductees – the largest class since 1971 – were scooped up, but handsome hats with the names of the three Atlanta icons were worn only by members of the large Braves front-office contingent who came to Cooperstown.

Even Torre got into the memorabilia act, relaying an incident that occurred in the Yankee clubhouse when he stopped by in his current job with the Baseball Commissioner’s office.

“I went over to see Derek Jeter, who reminded me that he had just passed me in lifetime home runs,” Torre said. “He reached up, got a baseball, and wrote, ‘I knew I should have been hitting cleanup!’”

Jeter, who will retire this fall after a record 20 years with the Yankees, is expected to be a first-ballot selection when he becomes eligible in 2020. By then, Mariano Rivera (19 years) will be sitting behind him when he gives his speech, along with such luminaries as Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, all eligible next summer; Ken Griffey Jr., certain to be added a year later; and Chipper Jones, whose number comes up in 2018.

An estimated 48,000 fans made the field outside the Clark Sports Center the equivalent of Baseball Woodstock, with bodies, blankets and coolers everywhere. There were two distinct differences: The fans kept their clothes on and the main musical theme was the Tomahawk Chop.

Since Maddux and Glavine were the first living 300-game winners ever inducted, not to mention the first pair of long-time teammates to be enshrined on the first ballot, their fans were everywhere. Their speeches, plus the calming words of Cox, were music to the ears of Atlanta fans who turned the ceremonies into a love-fest for their heroes.

Hank Aaron drew the loudest cheers of anyone introduced during the weekend, while the Tomahawk Chop broke out multiple times during the Saturday night Parade of Heroes – since Aaron, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, Cox, Maddux, and Glavine each rode down Main Street in their own open pickup trucks. Niekro even jumped out of his and ran over to wring the hand of Jason Hyman, a noted memorabilia collector who also served as co-host of a Thursday night podcast called Braves Banter.

Other Braves celebrities in attendance were president John Schuerholz, general manager Frank Wren, two-time MVP Dale Murphy, former slugger Ryan Klesko and closer John Rocker.

Sports Travel and Tours, the official tour operator of the Baseball Hall of Fame, sent 16 busloads of fans, more than 800 in all.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, N.J., is a long-time contributor to SCD. He is also the author of 36 baseball books, including The 300 Club: Have We Seen the Last of Baseball’s 300-Game Winners?

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