COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Frank Thomas choked back tears, Joe Torre apologized for leaving people out of his speech, and Tony La Russa said he felt uneasy.
Being enshrined in the Hall of Fame can have those effects, even on the greats.
Thomas, pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, and managers Bobby Cox, Torre and La Russa were inducted into the baseball shrine Sunday, and all paid special tribute to their families before an adoring crowd of nearly 50,000.
"I'm speechless. Thanks for having me in your club," Thomas said, getting emotional as he remembered his late father. "Frank Sr., I know you're watching. Without you, I know 100 percent I wouldn't be here in Cooperstown today. You always preached to me, ‘You can be someone special if you really work at it.’ I took that to heart, Pop."
"Mom, I thank you for all the motherly love and support. I know it wasn't easy."
Ever the diplomat as a manager, Torre somehow managed to assuage the most demanding of owners in George Steinbrenner, maintaining his coolness amid all the Bronx craziness while keeping all those egos in check after taking over in 1996. The result: 10 division titles, six AL pennants, and four World Series triumphs in 12 years as he helped restore the luster to baseball's most successful franchise and resurrected his own career after three firings.
Torre, the only man to amass more than 2,000 hits (2,342) and win more than 2,000 games as a manager, was last to speak, and in closing delivered a familiar message.
"Baseball is a game of life. It's not perfect, but it feels like it is," said the 74-year-old Torre, who apologized afterward for forgetting to include the Steinbrenner family in his speech. "That's the magic of it. We are responsible for giving it the respect it deserves. Our sport is part of the American soul, and it's ours to borrow — just for a while."
The day was a reunion of sorts for the city of Atlanta. Glavine, Maddux, and Cox were part of a remarkable run of success by the Braves. They won an unprecedented 14 straight division titles and made 15 playoff appearances, winning the city's lone major professional sports title.
"I'm truly humbled to stand here before you," Cox said. "To Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, and I have to mention the third member of the big three — John Smoltz — I can honestly say I would not be standing here if it weren't for you guys."
Glavine was one of those rare athletes, drafted by the Braves and the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League.
"I had a difficult choice to make, and as a left-handed pitcher I thought that was the thing that would set me apart and make baseball the smartest decision," Glavine said. "In my mind, since I was drafted ahead of two Hall of Famers in Luc Robitaille and Brett Hull, that obviously means I would have been a Hall of Famer in hockey, too," Glavine chuckled as the crowd cheered. "But I'm positive I made the right choice."
The 48-year-old Maddux went 355-227 with a career ERA of 3.16 in 23 seasons with the Braves, Cubs, Padres, and Dodgers and ranks eighth on the career wins list. He won four straight Cy Young Awards in the 1990s and won 15 or more games for 17 straight seasons with his pinpoint control.
La Russa, who ranks third in career victories as a manager with 2,728, behind only Connie Mack and John McGraw, was chosen manager of the year four times and won 12 division titles, six pennants and three World Series titles in stints with the White Sox, Oakland A's and St. Louis Cardinals.
"It's uncomfortable because I didn't make it as a player. Not even close," said La Russa, who made his big league debut as a teenage infielder with the 1963 Kansas City Athletics and appeared in just 132 games over six seasons, hitting .199 with no home runs.
"Since December, I have not been comfortable with it. There's no way to mention everybody, and that bothers me."