Glavine and Thomas shoot right to the top of what will be an exemplary roster of first-time candidates -- those who played in the Majors for 10-plus seasons and have been retired for five years -- joining Greg Maddux and Jeff Kent, who also had taken their last Major League bows during the 2008 season.Each of those have legitimate hopes, and unassailable qualifications, for being a first-ballot selectee. Never in 73 years (with the obvious exception of the charter 1936 class) have there been four first-time inductees into the Cooperstown shrine. The standard of three first-time electees was set in 1999, when Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount received the ultimate honor that has been bestowed only a total of 39 times. On seven other occasions, a pair of first-time electees shared the spotlight: 1962 (Jackie Robinson and Bob Feller), 1982 (Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson), 1989 (Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski), 1990 (Jim Palmer and Joe Morgan), 2001 (Dave Winfield and Kirby Puckett), 2004 (Dennis Ecksersley and Paul Molitor) and 2007 (Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr.). Four? Not once. But in looking forward to 2014, whom do you easily exclude? Maddux, who won a total of 355 games and 15-plus for a record 17 consecutive seasons? Glavine, who won 305 games with five seasons of 20-plus?
Thomas, who totaled 521 home runs with a career OPS of .974 and whose primary-designated hitter roadblock should by then have been knocked down by Edgar Martinez?Or Kent, whose profile might be a little lower than those of the others but who set the career record for homers by a second baseman across a hard-nosed 17-year career in which he also averaged nearly 100 RBIs? And that quartet still is merely the cream of a dazzling crop that will also include (in alphabetic order): Moises Alou, a .303 hitter across 17 seasons.
Luis Gonzalez, who 11 times in his 19-year career had 50-plus extra-base hits and drove in a total of 1,439 runs.
Mike Mussina, who won in double-figures the last 17 seasons of an 18-year career he ended with 270 wins, and who also has a bona fide claim to eventual Hall induction.
Hide Nomo, who won 123 games in his delayed big league career and has two no-hitters and historical weight as the guy who threw open the door from Japan.
Kenny Rogers, a 219-game winner with a perfect game.Whew. There might be some confusion regarding Glavine's eligibility timetable since he did see action last season on three rungs of the Braves' Minor League system working toward a possible return. However, the Hall of Fame clock starts ticking from the time of a player's last Major League appearance. We saw this at work only last summer, when Rickey Henderson was enshrined four years after having played the 2005 season in the independent Golden Baseball League, but with the appropriate lapse since his last big league action with the '03 Dodgers. Sharing a stage on the Cooperstown lawn would be a poignant reunion for Glavine and Maddux, who won 347 games and four Cy Young Awards as Atlanta Braves teammates but haven't worn the same uniform since 2002. "If you're fortunate enough to go in the Hall of Fame, it's a special day for you," Glavine said upon transitioning into the Braves' front office as a special assistant to club president John Schuerholz. "If you have the opportunity to go into the Hall of Fame with friends and teammates at the same time, that's even more fun." When it comes to anticipating the Hall of Fame elections of 2014, the fun is just beginning.