Hall ceremony full of tears, wisdom

Tony La Russa

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Greg Maddux joked about how he always got a chuckle watching his catchers take foul balls off the mask. Tony La Russa summarized his feelings about baseball with the observation, "The more you learn, the more you love it. And the more you love it, the more you want to learn.'' And Frank Thomas cried -- a lot.

Induction day at Cooperstown is always an emotionally charged event, and the 2014 ceremony will go down as some of the most jam-packed in history. A crowd of 48,000, the third biggest ever, did a Tomahawk chop in honor of Bobby Cox, waved "HRT 35'' license plates for Thomas, and held a moment of silence for recently departed baseball greats Tony Gwynn and Ralph Kiner.

Here are some other sights, sounds and observations from a very eventful summer Sunday in upstate New York:

Most well-rounded speech

Tom Glavine hit all the right notes in his speech. He evoked some cherished memories with reminiscences about throwing snowballs over trees and playing squirt hockey as a kid in Billerica, Massachusetts. At the same time, Glavine provided one of the most poignant moments of the day with a heartfelt tribute to his parents, Fred and Millie. Glavine revealed that he got his work ethic from his father and his stubbornness from his mother, and said his main objective was always to make them proud.

"I can honestly say when I was a kid, I wanted to be a professional athlete,'' Glavine said. "Red Sox or Bruins -- I didn't care. I loved Bobby Orr, Yaz [Carl Yastrzemski], Pudge [Carlton Fisk] and Jim Rice. But my role models were and always have been my parents. They gave me the two best things you can ever ask for as a kid. They gave me their time and their example.

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I've always said if I can be half the parents to my kids that my parents were to me, I will have been successful. To say thank you would never be enough.''

Most appreciative inductee

Frank Thomas was the biggest emotional wreck to take the stage at a Hall induction since 2001, when Bill Mazeroski began weeping uncontrollably and exited the stage after 2 minutes, 30 seconds. That remains the shortest induction speech in Cooperstown history.

Thomas' voice cracked with emotion from the outset, but he soldiered on for 18 minutes. At one point the fans rose and gave him a standing ovation to help pull him through. He cried when reminiscing about his late agent and advisor, Robert Fraley, and had difficulty keeping it together when reflecting upon his relationship with long-time White Sox hitting coach Walt Hriniak. But his most heart-rending tributes were reserved for his wife, Megan, his mother, Charlie Mae, and his late father, Frank Sr.

"I was Cool Hand Luke sitting there watching everyone's speeches,'' Thomas said later. "As soon as I stood up, my knees started knocking and the first person I looked at was my mom. It hit me right in the heart. My mom hadn't left Columbus, Georgia, in 15 years, and she was here today. It was a huge day for me and my family. I just felt really blessed.''

Most eloquent summation

Joe Torre gave the longest speech (about 28 minutes) and failed to mention George Steinbrenner -- an oversight that he apologized profusely for after the ceremony. But Torre ended his speech with an artfully crafted ode to baseball that would have made former commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti proud.

"Baseball is a game of life,'' Torre said. "It's not perfect, but it feels like it is. That's the magic of it. We're 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. [It's ours] to take care of for a time and then pass it on to the next generation.

"If all of us who love baseball are doing our jobs, then those who get the game from us will be as proud to be a part of it as we were -- and we are. This game is a gift, and I am humbled -- very humbled -- to accept its greatest honor.''

Most meticulous preparation

Players invariably mention former teammates in their speeches. Thomas, who had already thanked all the trainers, managers, coaches, traveling secretaries, media relations directors and team doctors who supported him in his career, did a rapid-fire recitation that included about 130 of his 850 teammates in Chicago, Oakland and Toronto.

"I had to cut 50 guys, and I felt bad,'' Thomas said.

Biggest news flash

During the ceremony, Hall of Fame chairman Jane Forbes Clark revealed that Hank Aaron and Tom Seaver had donated their entire personal baseball collections to the shrine in conjunction with its 75th year.

Best home-made sign

A Braves fan wearing a Bobby Cox jersey held up a sign that said, "Try to throw Bobby out of this one!'' It was a reference, of course, to Cox's record 159 career ejections.

Most provocative taped comment

Each inductee's speech was preceded by a 3-minute taped segment featuring a person who was instrumental in his career. Leo Mazzone introduced Glavine, Dave Duncan spoke on behalf of La Russa, and Ken "Hawk'' Harrelson, who famously coined the nickname "Big Hurt,'' introduced Frank Thomas.

During his taped segment, Harrelson listed Manny Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera and Thomas as the "three best right-handed hitters in baseball'' over the past 50 years. That's an impressive list, to be sure, but some St. Louis Cardinals fans might contend that Harrelson should have expanded the group by one and mentioned Albert Pujols' name as well.

Self-deprecation award

Cox began his speech with a reflection on how he was sitting with broadcaster Steve Stone at an Arizona Fall League game several years ago when a fan came up and asked for Stone's autograph. Stone obliged, then asked the fan if he might like Cox's autograph as well.

"The guy just stared at me,'' Cox said. "Then he says, 'Yeah, I know you! You're that guy from Atlanta that gets thrown out all the time!' I said, 'Yeah, that's me. But Tommy Lasorda had to quit too early in his career, or he would have had the record.''

Self-deprecation award II

"I had one accomplishment with the Mets as a player,'' Torre said. "I hit into four double plays in a game. But I have to share the credit. I couldn't have done it if Felix Millan hadn't hit four singles in front of me.''

Most intriguing interview

Jane Forbes Clark filled the time during TV commercials asking Hank Aaron, Bud Selig and Barry Larkin a series of questions in an "Around the Bases'' segment. Among the questions posed: "If you could pick three people to have dinner with, who would you choose?''

Aaron mentioned his mother, father and Dr. Martin Luther King, while Selig picked Franklin D. Roosevelt, Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson.

Larkin, taking a less traditional approach, selected Jackie Robinson, President Barack Obama and Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors.

Larkin also threw the audience a bit of a curve when asked to recall his favorite baseball memory.

"As a kid who grew up in Cincinnati, it would have to be Pete Rose breaking [Ty Cobb's] hit record,'' Larkin said.

That's the same Pete Rose who has been banned from the game since 1989 and can't be voted on for the Hall of Fame by the baseball writers because he's on the ineligible list. Rose is a man whose name tends to make some people in Cooperstown squirm whenever he's mentioned on induction weekend.

Best running joke

Glavine and Maddux both had a little fun at the expense of former teammate John Smoltz, who was at the proceedings as an analyst for the MLB Network. They both lobbied for Smoltz to be voted into the Hall when he goes on the ballot next winter, while simultaneously throwing a jab or two his way.

"Greg, as a teammate and a friend, you made me better through our conversations,'' Glavine said. "You made me better through watching you pitch. And you made me wealthier with all the money we took from Smoltzie on the golf course.''

Maddux, in turn, reflected on his early years in the Atlanta organization as a time spent "winning division titles, watching the kids grow up, and watching John Smoltz's hairline recede.''

Best pre-speech advice

Whether it's in the lobby of the Otesaga Hotel or on the bus on the way over to the Clark Sports Center, the incoming Hall of Famers invariably receive advice from the established members on how to keep their nerves in check or stay on message.

"Johnny Bench gave me a tip,'' Torre said. "He said, 'Don't look at your family, or you'll cry.'' I tested him. I looked. But I had the last speech, so I was already dried out by then.''

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