They are descending upon Cooperstown, N.Y., en masse from all points of the country next weekend to attend the induction of one of the most glamorous classes in the history of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Big Six include 300-game winners Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, plus slugger Frank Thomas, all of whom were elected this past January by eligible writers of the Baseball Writers' Association of America the first time they were on the ballot. All were elected by big margins.
Also set for induction on July 27 on the stage behind the Clark Sports Center are three of the greatest managers of all time -- Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre -- selected unanimously by the Expansion Era Committee late last year. They rank third, fourth and fifth in managerial victories in Major League history, each winning more than 2,000 games and combining to capture eight World Series titles.
Early estimates by Hall officials were of a crowd of about 50,000, but the august nature of the induction coupled with its proximity to New York City may indeed contribute to dwarfing that figure.
"You just never know with that New York crowd and Joe Torre going in," Thomas said during a series of conference calls on Friday with five of the six inductees. "There could be another 100,000 walk-up crowd with everybody from New York in Cooperstown. It's a three-, four-, five-hour drive and they can come up just for the day. I'm looking for a big crowd up there because it's three great players and three great managers. I'm looking forward to a huge day."
Torre, of course, grew up in Brooklyn, played for and managed the Mets and won four World Series titles and six American League pennants as skipper of the Yankees. And Glavine, who played 17 years for the Braves, won his 300th game for the Mets.
"I think we're all going to take a back seat to Joe," said La Russa, who is now chief baseball officer of the D-backs after two years as a consultant for Major League Baseball in his post-managerial career. "He is New York and the size of the family he's bringing."
All six inductees have some ties to either Georgia or the Braves. Torre played for the Braves and managed in Atlanta, winning the 1982 National League East title. It was one of his five managerial stops in 29 seasons. Maddux and Glavine pitched together for 10 years in Atlanta, all under Cox, who managed the Braves in two stints for 29 years and combined with the starters to win the 1995 World Series. Even La Russa had eight plate appearances and two hits for the Braves in nine games after the A's traded him to Atlanta during the 1971 season.
"I tried to tell Mr. [John] Schuerholz that I was a lifetime .286 hitter in the National League," La Russa said. "He reminded me that it happened in seven at-bats and the two hits were bloopers. But [all kidding aside], I give my time with the Braves a lot of importance in what happened later on."
Thomas, who grew up in Columbus, Ga., played 16 years for the White Sox and will draw a big contingent of fans from Chicago. He said he wished he was drafted by the Braves. "But it didn't happen," he said.
So will Maddux, who played 10 years for the Cubs and was drafted and raised in that organization. Let's not forget, either, that La Russa managed the White Sox for nine seasons and won the 1983 AL West title there. La Russa won the '89 World Series in Oakland with the A's and still resides in the Bay Area. But he's best known for his 16 seasons in St. Louis, where the Cardinals won a pair of World Series and three NL pennants. Closing the loop, Torre played for the Cardinals and managed six seasons there.
"I think it's going to be a pretty good celebration," said Torre, who has worked as MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations pretty much since retiring as manager of the Dodgers after the 2010 season. "I know MLB is going to have quite a representation. On Saturday, both they and the Yankees are hosting a party in my honor. I've had so many calls aside from family -- I mean family was a given. But friends and people who are important in my life are making their way from all over the country. It's amazing.
"And, of course, the New York fans and the fact that it's in New York. My managing career started in New York with the Mets, and my years with the Yankees certainly got everybody's attention with what was accomplished. As far as the numbers, I'm not sure. But it's not just me. This is a proud class to be going in with."
Cooperstown has had huge Hall of Fame inductions, but few of this magnitude. The recently celebrated first induction of 1939, 75 years ago, boasted the induction of the first three classes of 26 players, managers and executives. The first class of 1936 included Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner.
In a day when it was much harder to travel, the inductees all arrived by train and a few thousand people crowded Main Street for the induction and opening of the Museum.
In 1999, when Robin Yount, Nolan Ryan and George Brett were all first-ballot members of the induction class, 50,000 baseball souls traveled to Cooperstown for the ceremonies.
And only seven years ago, the duel inductions of Cal Ripken Jr. and the late Tony Gwynn drew crowds estimated at 75,000 to 80,000, the most attended ceremony to date. Bus loads of people came north from Maryland, where Ripken played his entire 21-year for the Orioles, and planes full of fans traveled from San Diego, where the man nicknamed "Mr. Padre" played his entire 20 years.
And that sized crowd hailed mostly from only two destinations. With New York City so close and Atlanta, Chicago and St. Louis within hailing distance, this upcoming ceremony has a pretty good chance to eclipse that one.
"From Atlanta, there's going to be a ton," Cox said. "I know the front office has rented a chartered airplane from Delta. There won't be any work done next weekend at Turner Field. I can only go by my friends. I know Tommy and Greg have tons and tons, and so do I. They're coming."
Ditto the La Russa contingent.
"I've heard and I'm really pleased that members of the White Sox, the Cardinals and the A's are going to be there, friends from those places and players," he said. "About every place I've ever been is going to be represented. And that's perfect. I think it's going to be a really neat turnout that I'll appreciate personally. The whole spectacle of the six guys and the whole weekend is going to be remarkable."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.