After closing its doors to pretty much all candidates last year, Cooperstown opens its doors once again, this time to six candidates - first base slugger Frank Thomas, long-time Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and managers Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre. Let's share a few memories about these players.
Frank Thomas 1990-2008
.301/.419/.555, 521 home runs, 73.7 WAR
Five-time All-Star, two-time MVP (1993, 1994), 1997 AL batting title
18th most home runs all-time, 19th best on-base percentage all-time, 10th most walks all-time
Frank was nicknamed the "Big Hurt" and its easy to see why. He was a massive mountain of a man, a former football player at Auburn University. Frank faced Royals hitters 802 times in his career, hitting .303/.411/.540 with 37 home runs, numbers that are actually a bit lower than his career totals. The Frank Thomas memory that stands out to me is the division chase in 1993. The Royals had stumbled in the early 90s, but in 1993 they appeared to be pretty decent. They hovered around .500 as no one really pulled away in the Royals division (then the Western Division). On August 12, the second place Royals pulled to within 3 1/2 games back of Chicago as they went up to the Windy City for a big series. The Royals won the opener to tighten things up, and led 4-2 in the 8th inning of Game Two. Jeff Montgomery came in and with two on and two outs, faced Frank Thomas. The Big Hurt hit a hanging Monty slider into Lake Michigan. That pretty much ended the Royals pennant dreams with one swing.
Tom Glavine 1987-2008
305-203 3.54 ERA, 74.0 WAR
Ten-time All-Star, two-time Cy Young winner (1991, 1998), five-time 20-game winner
21st most wins all-time
In the second round of the 1984 draft, the Royals selected first baseman Luis de los Santos, a few picks later, the Braves took a hockey player from Massachusetts named Tom Glavine. Glavine's SAT score wasn't good enough to get him into Harvard to play hockey there, so he signed with the Braves. Things worked for him I guess.
Glavine spent his entire career in the National League, so he only faced the Royals once, in 2004 when he was with the Mets. He was 38, well past his prime, but still effective so of course he carved up the Royals, allowing just two unearned runs over 7 2/3 innings in a 5-2 Mets win. Tony Graffanino led off for us. Wow.
Greg Maddux 1986-2008
355-227 3.16 ERA, 104.6 WAR
Eight-time All-Star, four-time Cy Young winner (1992, 1993, 1994, 1995), eighteen-time Gold Glove winner
Eighth most wins all-time, tenth most strikeouts all-time
Greg Maddux is the posterboy for the adage that velocity isn't everything, but of course, Maddux threw pretty hard when he wanted to, regularly throwing in the 90s. I don't know if you'll see too many dominant stretches by a pitcher like Maddux had from 1992-1995. He led the league in innings pitched every year, three times led the league in ERA, and posted an ERA of 1.98 during that stretch. Over those four seasons he gave up 33 home runs combined. And this was as the PED/sillyball era was ramping up. Darrell May gave up 38 for the Royals in 2004 alone. In 1994 Maddux posted an unbelievable ERA+ of 277. That's ridiculous.
On the other hand, the Royals are the only team Greg Maddux never faced in his career, so its pretty hard to call him among the best in the game's history, when he never faced the best.
Bobby Cox 1978-2010
Braves, Blue Jays
2504-2001 (.556), 16 post-season appearances, five pennants, 1995 World Champion
Fourth most wins in baseball history
Bobby Cox originally managed the Braves in the late 70s and posted a .452 winning percentage, worse than Ned Yost with the Royals. He was considered a smart baseball guy with a good pedigree coming up as a coach in the Yankees system, so he got another chance with a very talented Blue Jays club and led them to the 1985 Eastern Division title where he faced the Kansas City Royals. The Blue Jays had a 3-1 series lead when Royals lefty Danny Jackson pitched a gem for a 2-0 win to stave off elimination. In Game Six, George Brett homered in the fifth to give the Royals the lead for good. In Game Seven, Jim Sundberg finished off the Blue Jays collapse with a three-run triple to give the Royals the lead and eventually, the pennant. Bobby Cox's epic collapse would be a premonition for the post-season disappointments he would lead Braves fans for over two decades.
Tony LaRussa 1979-2011
White Sox, Athletics, Cardinals
2728-2365 (.536), 14 post-season appearances, six pennants, 1989, 2006, 2011 World Champion
Third most wins in baseball history
LaRussa was long a thorn in Royals fans sides, managing three of the Royals biggest rivals - the White Sox, Athletics, and Cardinals. He actually began his career in Kansas City, playing as an 18 year old bonus baby for the awful Kansas City Athletics. LaRussa got his managing start in Chicago, leading the White Sox to the 1983 Division title, but was eventually fired by General Manager Hawk Harrelson. LaRussa moved on to Oakland where he innovated the game using statistical evaluation.
I always hated his Oakland teams because they were quite frankly, awesome, complete teams built with power and speed and great pitching. As a kid, I thought they had to be cheating, but of course I was just a silly kid. LaRussa's Athletics won three-consecutive pennants from 1988-1990, destroying the Giants in a sweep in the World Series in 1989. LaRussa eventually moved on to St. Louis where he led the Cardinals to three pennants and two World Championships, their first since 1982.
Joe Torre 1977-2010
Mets, Braves, Cardinals, Yankees, Dodgers
2326-1997 (.538), 15 post-season appearances, six pennants, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 World Champion
Joe Torre was a heckuva ballplayer who would probably have a pretty good case as a player if voters cared about on-base percentage and the defensive spectrum and the fact that catchers are criminally under-represented in Cooperstown. Torre has an interesting managerial career in that he was a bit of a disaster in his first stop with the Mets, then did well with a flawed roster in Atlanta. The Cardinals hired him in 1990, and he led them to arguably their worst stretch of baseball in fifty years. Torre kept getting chances and after St. Louis fired him in 1995, he took over the Yankees and led them to a stretch of dominance.
The Yankees won three World Championships in four seasons, and made the playoffs in all twelve of Torre's seasons in New York. Back then Royals-Yankees series were just a laugher. It was like Alabama playing a FCS-level school in football. From 1996-2001, the Yankees went 44-14 against the Royals, including a clean 10-0 sweep in 1999. Now we're both chasing the same Wild Card spot. WHO' S LAUGHING NOW?
Here is the potential 2015 Hall of Fame Ballot. Names like Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling are still on the outside looking in, not to mention controversial candidates like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro. Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Pedro Martinez add to the glut meaning former Royals like Jermaine Dye and Tom Gordon will get little consideration at all.