This weekend, Major League Baseball, and fans from all over the world, will converge on the tiny village of Cooperstown, New York, to celebrate the history of our National Pastime as the Hall of Fame opens its doors to six of the greatest of all time.
It’s a stellar class, no doubt.
So, Place to Be Nation, let’s celebrate these six individuals with some interesting, unique, odd, and, hopefully, entertaining facts about each.
Let’s start off with the “Big Hurt,” Frank Thomas.
Thomas is the first player elected to the Hall of Fame to play more games as a designated hitter (1,310) than in the field (971).
Thomas was born on May 27, 1968, the same day as Houston Astros’ great Jeff Bagwell. The two combined for a .299 average, 970 home runs, 3,233 RBIs, and 147.8 bWAR over the course of 4,472 total games played.
Those numbers break down thusly for Thomas: .301, 521 HR, 1,704 RBIs, 68.2 bWAR, 2,322 games. His home run total is tied for 18th all-time with Willie McCovey and Ted Williams. He’s also 22nd in RBIs, 22nd in slugging percentage (.555), and 19th in on-base percentage (.519).
Thomas received 83.7% (478 out of 571 votes) for HOF election.
Thomas won two Most Valuable Players Awards, becoming (at that time) the 11th player in history to take home the trophy in back-to-back seasons after winning the American League MVP in 1993 and the strike-shortened 1994.
Bagwell was the N.L. choice for MVP in 1994, marking the only time two players with the same birthdate won shared those honors.
Thomas was given his “Big Hurt” nickname as a rookie by longtime White Sox broadcaster Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, when Thomas belted a home run and Harrelson said he had “put a big hurt” on the ball.
In 1990, Thomas’ rookie year with Chicago, he hit the final home run in “old” Comiskey Park. The next season, the Sox moved into “new” Comiskey Park, and Thomas blasted the first home run in that stadium, known today as U.S. Cellular Field.
Growing up in Columbus, Ga., Thomas was an outstanding high school athlete, playing basketball, baseball, and football. During his sophomore year there, he helped the Blue Devils to a state baseball championship. As a senior, Thomas hit .440 on the diamond and was named an All-State tight end on the gridiron.
Despite this, he went undrafted in the 1986 amateur draft. Thomas then accepted a scholarship to play football for the Auburn Tigers. He also ended up on the baseball team, and after a few football injuries jeopardized his scholarship, Thomas continued to play baseball, eventually being drafted with the seventh overall pick of the 1989 draft.
The six players drafted ahead of “Big Hurt” that year included: pitcher Ben McDonald, catcher Tyler Houston, pitcher Roger Salkeld, and outfielders Jeff Jackson, Donald Harris, and Paul Coleman.
Frank Edward Thomas is one of the most famous players to have three first names make up his entire name. Others? George Herman Ruth. Anthony Keith Gwynn. Henry Louis Aaron. (Note: You could include fellow inductee Gregory Alan Maddux in this too, I suppose.)
Perhaps Thomas’s greatest accomplishment was being credited as “Rookie” in the 1992 film Mr. Baseball. Thomas is the young hot-shot slugger responsible for sending Tom Selleck (and his moustache) to Japan.
Longtime teammate Tom Glavine, born on March 25, 1966, is three weeks older than Maddux. A fact I’m sure he lorded over “Mad Dog” every day.
Maddux, nicknamed “The Professor,” was born in San Angelo, Texas, but spent most of his early years in Madrid, Spain due to his father’s work in the U.S. Air Force. Maddux ended up spending most of his childhood in Las Vegas, NV, though.
Maddux graduated from Valley High School, home of the Vikings, in 1984. Because when I think “Las Vegas”, I think “Vikings”!
Maddux made his MLB debut on September 2 and 3 of 1986 for the Chicago Cubs. His first game — between the Cubs and the Houston Astros — started on Sept. 2, but was suspended due to rain with the score tied 4-4 in the 15th inning. Maddux appeared in relief when the game was restarted on Sept. 3rd. He allowed one run on one hit in one inning of work, taking the loss.
During his 23-year-career, Maddux won 355 games (good for eighth all-time), with a 3.16 ERA in 5,008 ⅓ innings pitched. He walked just 999 of the 20,421 batters he faced with 3,371 strikeouts, ranking him 10th on the career K list.
In homage to Negro Leagues pitching great Satchel Paige, Maddux’s children are named Amanda Paige and Satchel Chase.
Maddux won 18 Gold Gloves in his career, the most of any player in the 57-year-history of the award.
He also picked up four Cy Young awards (1992-1995). Randy Johnson (1999-2002) is the only other pitcher in the award’s history to win four back-to-back trophies.
Maddux received 97.2% (555/571) of the BBWAA votes for HOF election, the eighth-highest total of all-time.
Thomas Michael Glavine was born March 25, 1966 in Concord, Massachusetts.
Both Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine had brothers named Mike who played in the big leagues. Mike Maddux pitched from 1986-2000 for nine different teams, while Mike Glavine played in six games for the 2003 New York Mets.
Glavine received 91.9% (525/571) votes for the HOF, the 24th-best percentage in history.
Over his 22-year career, Glavine compiled a 305-203 record with a 3.54 ERA. He tossed 4,413 ⅓ innings with 1,500 walks and 2,607 strikeouts.
Glavine won 20 games five times in his career (1991-1993, 1998, 2000) and earned a pair of Cy Young awards in 1991 and 198, both with the Atlanta Braves.
Glavine is the sixth MLB pitcher in history to win 300 or more games as a left-hander. His win total of 305 ranks fourth among southpaws, behind Warren Spahn (363), Steve Carlton (329), and Eddie Plank (326).
Glavine and Maddux are the first pair of 300-game winners to be elected to the HOF in the same year since Spahn and Mickey Welch in 1973.
After graduating from Billerica Memorial High School in 1984, Glavine was drafted by both the Braves (2nd round) and the Los Angeles Kings (4th round).
Glavine dated Alyssa Milano briefly. Because being really good at baseball apparently wasn’t enough.
Glavine led the Braves to their lone World Series title during the team’s dynastic run of 14 consecutive playoff appearances from 1991 to 2005. He won Game 6 with a masterful performance of eight-inning, one-hit, shutout ball. Atlanta won 1-0 on a home run by David Justice in the sixth inning.
From 2003-2007, Glavine pitched for the New York Mets, angering every Braves’ fan on the planet. He went 61-56 for the Mets, compiling a 3.97 ERA in 164 starts.
He then returned to Atlanta in 2008 for one final season at the age of 42. Glavine won twice in 13 starts, posting a 5.54 ERA during an injury-plagued swan song.
Glavine’s number 47 was retired by the Braves on August 6, 2010, just over a year after the retirement of Maddux’s number 31. Fellow 2014 HOFer Bobby Cox had his number 6 retired by the team in September of 2011.
Speaking of Bobby Cox…
(Note: The manager “fun facts” will seem more like full-blown bios because less is generally known about the early careers of these men.)
Robert Joe (Joseph?) Cox was born May 21, 1941, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After graduating from Selma (Ca.) High School and then Reedley Junior College, Cox was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers for $40,000.
He spent the next seven years, primarily as the third baseman, in the Dodgers’ system, never cracking the Majors. From 1965 to 1967, Cox bounced back-and-forth between minor league affiliates of the Braves and Cubs. He finally landed with the New York Yankees in 1968.
Cox made his big league debut for the Yankees on April 14, 1968. (Greg Maddux was two years old at the time.) He entered the game as a pinch-hitter for future-executive, then-SS Gene Michael and struck out.
Cox ended up playing parts of two seasons with New York before heading back to the minors for good. He called it quits on his playing career after the 1970 season and began managing in the Yankees’ minor league system in 1971.
Cox became the manager of the Atlanta for the first time in the fall of 1977. He amassed 266 wins over four seasons before moving on to manage the Toronto Blue Jays.
During four season with the Jays, Cox guided them to 78, 89, 89, and 99 wins. The 99 victories in 1985 is still the franchise record.
After the 1985 season, Cox took a job as general manager of the Braves. He held this post for just under five years before deciding to replace then-manager
Richard Otis Russ Nixon with himself.
Cox famously helped the Braves go from worst-to-first in 1991, as the team that had won just 65 games and finished in the basement of the six-team N.L. East in 1990, but proceeded to win 94 games in 1991 and take the N.L. pennant, losing the World Series to Minnesota in seven games.
Over the next decade-and-a-half, the Braves were a near-dynasty, winning 13 more division titles, three league pennants, and the 1995 World Series.
Cox won the Manager of the Year award four times: 1985, 1991, 2004, and 2005.
Over his 25 years with Atlanta, Cox won 2,149 games while losing 1,709 for a .557 winning percentage. Overall, he was 2,504 managerial victories, which is fourth on the all-time list, fittingly sandwiched between fellow 2014 inductees Tony LaRussa (2,728) and Joe Torre (2,326).
Anthony LaRussa, Jr. was born in Tampa, Fla. on October 4, 1944. One of his childhood friends was Lou Pinella, another would-be MLB manager.
LaRussa was signed by the Kansas City Athletics shortly after graduating from Jefferson HS in Tampa, and made his major league debut on May 10, 1963 at age 18 as a pinch-runner in a 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
This makes LaRussa part of the answer to a great trivia question: Since baseball expansion began, only three 18-year-olds have started a game at shortstop in the major leagues. All three men have overwhelming Hall of Fame credentials. Who are they? (Answer later.)
LaRussa went down to the minors for the next few seasons, getting called up every so often between 1968 and 1973. He played for the A’s in both Kansas City and Oakland, then wrapped up his big-league career with nine games for the Braves in ‘71 and one game with the Cubs in ‘73.
In between the end of his playing days and the beginnings of his managerial career, LaRussa earned his Juris Doctor from Florida State University (the alma mater of one Ron Simmons). Good thing the managerial side of things worked out.
LaRussa started out in the minors, managing the Knoxville Sox and the Iowa Oaks, both Chi-Sox affiliates in 1978 and 1979 until getting hired to manage the White Sox in 1979.
LaRussa led the White Sox to 27-27 record during the latter part of the ‘79 season. Overall, he spent eight years with the Pale Hose, guiding his teams to a 522-510 record. LaRussa was fired by the White Sox (the only firing of his career) when the team started off with a 46-60 record. He was fired by then-GM-not-yet-worst-announcer-ever Hawk Harrelson.
He moved on to Oakland beginning in 1986, just three weeks after getting axed by the White Sox. LaRussa led Oakland to a 798-673 record over a decade with the A’s, capturing three pennants (1988, 1989, 1990) and one World Series ring (1989, the infamous Earthquake Series) during that time.
Over his time in Oakland, LaRussa helped usher in
the end of enjoyable baseball the era of specialized bullpens, often bringing in relievers (usually lefties) to match up with opposing batters as the game situations dictated. We all hate him for making the game intolerably longer and creating so much anger and stress over the years.
In 1996, LaRussa moved on to the St. Louis Cardinals where he led the Redbirds to a 1,408-1,182 record during his 16 seasons. The Cards captured three pennants and two World Championships — one over my beloved Detroit Tigers in 2006, and one over the Texas Rangers, to whom I’m most ambivalent, in 2011.
The World Series win over Texas was LaRussa’s final game, making him the only manager in history to retire in such fashion.
LaRussa was Manager of the Year four times during his career: 1983, 1988, 1992, and 2002. His overall total of 2,728 wins gives him the third-most wins in MLB history, behind only Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763).
LaRussa currently works as the chief baseball officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks. His sole duty is to fire Kirk Gibson. He currently sucks at this.
Joseph Paul Torre was born in Brooklyn, New York on July 18, 1940. His older brother Frank, eight years older than Joe, played in the Majors from 1956 thru 1963. He and Joe were teammates during the 1960 season, Joe’s rookie year.
Joe Torre made his big-league debut on September 25, 1960, a 4-2 win for the Milwaukee Braves over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Torre pinch-hit for Warren Spahn and singled in his at-bat.
The next season Torre played in 113 games as a catcher for the Braves, finishing second in the Rookie Of the Year balloting to future Hall-Of-Famer Billy Williams. Torre hit .278/.330/.424 with 21 doubles, 10 home runs, and 42 RBIs.
Eventually, Torre developed into one of the better offensive threats for the Braves during their last few seasons in Milwaukee and their first few years in Atlanta. Torre hit a career-high 36 homers in 1966, the team’s first season in Georgia.
During spring training of the 1969 season, Torre was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for future HOF’er Orlando Cepeda. It was with the Cardinals that Torre would enjoy his greatest success as a player. His first year with the Redbirds, he batted .289 with 18 home runs and 101 RBIs, and then followed that with a .325, 21 HR, 100 RBI year in 1970 at the age of 29.
Torre’s age 30 season, in 1971, was his high-water mark though, as he had moved to third base for St. Louis and proceeded to lead the league with a .363 average, 230 hits, 137 RBIs, and 352 total bases. For this performance, Torre won the MVP award and the Cards ended up 90-72, good for second place behind the 97-65 Pittsburgh Pirates.
Joe would play for St. Louis through the 1974 season, when he was traded to the New York Mets. He’d spend three years in the Big Apple before retiring as a player in 1977 at age 36 to take over immediately as the Mets’ new manager.
He led the Metropolitans to 49-68 record to finish out the ‘77 campaign and would manage the team for five seasons, compiling a 286-420 record. For the 1982 season, Torre was hired to manage the Atlanta Braves from 1982-1984. Torre ran up a 257-229 record with the franchise he started out with as a player.
During his time away from the dugout, 1985 to 1990 did color commentary for the California Angels as well as NBC’s Game of the Week. I tried to find a clip or two of this, but was unable to. So, just close your eyes and think of what that might sound like.
From the future stomping grounds of Bobby Cox, Torre then went to Tony La Russa’s future employer, the St. Louis Cardinals. He helmed them from 1990 until 1995, ringing up a 351-354 record. To this point in his career, Torre had still never been to a single postseason game as a player or manager.
All of that changed in 1996 when the New York Yankees, tired of dicking around with the likes of Buck Showalter, Stump Merrill, Lou Pinella, et al, hired Torre to steer their ship. The Yankees would win the World Series that year, and go on to capture titles in 1998, 1999, and 2000 under Torre. The Yankees would make the playoffs in each of Torre’s 12 years with the club. Torre’s 1,173 wins as Yankees’ manager is second in franchise history to HOF skipper Joe McCarthy’s 1,460 from 1931-1946.
After the 2007 season saw the Yankees finish second in the A.L. East, Torre moved on to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers for the final three years of his dugout career. With the former Trolley-Dodgers, Torre added 259 wins (and 227 losses) to his resume, but was unable to bring postseason glory to L.A.
Joe Torre ended up with 2,326 wins, good for fifth on the all-time list, just behind (guess who?) Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa. He’s ahead of Sparky Anderson, who is responsible for this picture. You could live to be 1,000 and never be in a picture that cool. Face facts, man.
Upon retiring from his managerial career, Torre moved up to the executive levels of Major League Baseball (free donuts on Tuesdays!) as the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations. He’s basically in charge of making sure this doesn’t happen. Oh, this too. And this.
So, that’s it, PTB Nation! Hope you enjoyed it and learned something about the six newest members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.