COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Frank Thomas is one of the most physically imposing players ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
However, the 6-foot-5 slugger, whose playing weight was 240 pounds, was the only one of six inductees Sunday reduced to tears during the ceremony in front of an estimated crowd of 48,000 in the field behind the Clark Athletic Center.
Immortalized along with Thomas — nicknamed “The Big Hurt” — were pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and managers Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre.
Also honored during the induction ceremony was New Yorker baseball writer Roger Angell, who has a home in Brooklin, Maine. Angell, 93, received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor that can be bestowed to a baseball writer. The award is given annually for meritorious contributions by a baseball writer and Angell is the first winner who has never been a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, which votes on the award.
During the induction ceremony, Thomas choked back tears from the start of his speech and voice often quivered until the end.
“I wear my emotions on my sleeve,” Thomas said. “I knew I was going to choke up as soon as I started talking about my father. As many times as I practiced it and got all the way through the speech without getting emotional, I knew when it was time for the real thing that it would be hard to get through.”
Thomas hit 521 home runs in his 19-year career from 1990-2008 with the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics and the Toronto Blue Jays. Thomas won consecutive American League Most Valuable Player awards in 1993-94 and his .419 career on-base percentage is the third-highest in major league history by a right-handed hitter.
Maddux won 355 games, eighth-most in history, during his 23-year career with the Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. Maddux had a run of four consecutive National League Cy Young Awards from 1992-95 and also won 18 Gold Gloves, more than any player at any position.
“I never gave a thought to the Hall of Fame as I was going through my career,” Maddux said. “My goal as a baseball player was very simple: All I wanted to do was try to get better for my next start.
Glavine gave an eloquent speech while talking about his 22-year career with the Braves and Mets that included 305 wins, the fourth-most among left-handed pitchers. Glavine also won the NL Cy Young in 1991 and 1998 and was MVP of the 1995 World Series when the Braves beat the Cleveland Indians for what remains the only major professional team sports championship in Atlanta history.
Glavine called being inducted “the ultimate honor of a career in baseball.”
La Russa (2,728), Cox (2,504) and Torre (2,326) are Nos. 3, 4 and 5 in career managerial victories.
La Russa managed 34 seasons with the White Sox, Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals. He won World Series in three different decades — 1989 with Oakland and 2006 and 2011 with St. Louis but said he felt uncomfortable about being a Hall of Famer.
Cox managed the Braves for 25 years and the Blue Jays for four seasons. His 16 postseason appearances are an all-time record and he led the Braves to their World Series title in 1995 when Maddux, Glavine and John Smoltz anchored the starting rotation.
Torre’s luck did not change until after he was fired by the Mets, Braves and Cardinals.
He then spent six years as a broadcaster with the then-California Angels before getting before getting another chance to manage when the New York Yankees hired him prior to the 1996 season. He guided them four World Series titles and six AL pennants in a 12-year span before finishing his 29-year managerial career with the Dodgers.
Torre also had 2,342 hits in an 18-year playing career from 1960-77 as a catcher and third baseman with the Braves, Cardinals and Mets. He is only man in baseball history with 2,000 hits and 2,000 wins as a manager.