At least for a few minutes, we need to give the Class of 2014 its due. While the voting process has many flaws, the voters elected three players who deserve enshrinement. It's not debatable if you consider the facts. So, let's appreciate the careers of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. It was a treat and an honor to watch them dominate the game for nearly two decades.
Having lived in Atlanta during the Braves' miraculous run in the 1990s, I had the privilege of watching Maddux and Glavine work their magic every five days. Their physical presence didn't wow you, but their ability to keep hitters off-kilter made you think they were throwing Wiffle balls.
Start with Maddux, who looked me in the eyes after the Braves won one of their division titles in the 1990s and asked, "You know what the key to pitching is?"
"Uh, no," I said.
"It's making strikes look like balls and balls look like strikes," Maddux deadpanned.
I'll never forget that. It seemed so simple. Why didn't someone tell me that when I was in high school? That bit of wisdom could have changed my career path. Or not. Anyway, fact is, Maddux disguised his pitches better than just about any player to toe a Major League rubber. And he has 355 career wins to show for it. That's eighth most in the history of baseball and more wins than any living pitcher. Think about that. And think about this: From 1992-2002, Maddux posted a record of 198-88 with a 2.47 ERA while walking 1.5 batters per nine innings. If MLB Network's research team didn't provide those eye-popping statistics, I'd say, "No way." That doesn't seem possible in an era that will be remembered for video-game-type offensive numbers.
Some other random facts about Maddux to chew on: his 3,371 strikeouts are 10th most in history. His 18 career Gold Glove Awards are the most all time. And Maddux was the first player to win the Cy Young Award four consecutive seasons.
Before Maddux arrived in Atlanta, Glavine was honing his craft while the Braves toiled in anonymity in the late 1980s. According to his longtime pitching coach Leo Mazzone, Glavine's strong finish to the 1990 season (4-1 in September) cemented the lefty as a key cog in the Braves' rotation the following year. Glavine won the first of his two National League Cy Young Awards in 1991 as the Braves went worst to first and came up one win shy of a World Series title. Four years later, he dominated the deciding game of the World Series like few have ever done. That 1995 World Series title is the only world title captured by an Atlanta-based professional sports team. By the time his career ended, Glavine ranked fourth all time in wins (305) recorded by a lefty.
Just to put a bow on Maddux and Glavine, consider this quote from two-time World Series champion and current MLB Network analyst Al Leiter: "Between Maddux and Glavine, we saw Picasso. Their ability to paint corners and frustrate hitters by getting them off balance and disturbing their timing was as good as I've ever seen."
When you talk about the combination of power and plate discipline, Thomas was one of the best we've ever seen. This is the perfect opportunity to quote Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Murphy. In describing a player of incredible size and strength, Murphy once said, "He's so big he could go bear hunting with a buggy whip." That applies to Thomas.
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Thomas is one of 25 players to hit more than 500 home runs and just one of eight players to hit 500 of more home runs while maintaining a .300 batting average. Throw in his career on-base percentage of .419 and you have a player for the ages. A player who in 19 Major League seasons drew 1,667 walks while striking out 1,397 times. Turns out, Thomas is also a pioneer of sorts. He's the first player who took the majority of his at-bats as a designated hitter to land in Cooperstown.
So stop arguing about the ballot. Celebrate these icons and book a hotel room in Cooperstown, N.Y., for the last weekend in July -- if there is any remaining. Even if I have to sleep in my car, the plan is to be there to watch three of the best players in my lifetime take their place in the Hall of Fame.