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MLB Hall of Famers set for induction

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Central New York looks more like the South this weekend.

Seemingly every other person walking the tree-lined streets of the quaint village of Cooperstown are wearing Atlanta Braves caps, jerseys and T-shirts. Motor coaches from Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina are everywhere.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will induct six former players and managers today in the field behind the Clark Athletic Center on the outskirts of town, and a crowd of 60,000 or more is expected. All but one has ties to the Braves and one who does not was born and raised in Georgia and rooted for Atlanta.

Manager Bobby Cox led the Braves to an unprecedented run of success with 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005 (the 1994 postseason was cancelled because of a players’ strike). Left-hander Tom Glavine and right-hander Greg Maddux played a major part in the Braves’ success during that period.

Furthermore, Joe Torre was a star player then later managed the Braves, Tony La Russa spent one season as a utility infielder in Atlanta and slugging designated hitter/first baseman Frank Thomas is a native of Columbus, Ga.

“When you’re playing, you never really have time to reflect and look at the big picture and I’d never even stopped to think about it after I retired,” said Glavine, now a broadcaster with the Braves. “Being here in Cooperstown this week and getting a chance to see Bobby and Mad Dog (Maddux) finally gave me the opportunity to really sit and think about what we did in Atlanta.

“It was a very special time and that’s what makes this so special. As much of an honor as it is to go into the Hall of Fame, to be inducted in the same class with Bobby and Greg makes it that much better.”

Cox managed in the major leagues for 29 seasons with the Braves and Toronto Blue Jays and his 2,504 victories are the fourth-highest total in major league history. He led Atlanta to five National League pennants and the city’s only major professional sports championship when the Braves won the 1995 World Series.

“It was a great time and it helped to have great players,” Cox said. “Two of those guys are going into the Hall of Fame this year and there will be more to follow.”

Glavine won 305 games over 22 seasons with the Braves and New York Mets, the fourth-highest total ever by a lefty. He won the NL Cy Young Award in 1991 and 1998.

Maddux finished with 355 wins in 23 seasons with the Cubs, Braves, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers and won four consecutive NL Cy Youngs from 2002-05. He is the eighth-winningest picture in major league history.

Known for his cool and collected nature on the mound, Maddux admitted he was in awe Saturday morning during a golf outing for the Hall of Famers.

“I met Lou Brock, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez ... all those guys were heroes of my childhood,” Maddux said. “It was really exciting. It brought back a lot of good memories from when I was growing up.”

Thomas made a lot of memories for his fans by hitting 521 home runs in 19 seasons with the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics and Blue Jays and won back-to-back AL Most Valuable Player awards in 1993-94. He is the first player to play more than half his games at DH and make the Hall of Fame.

While his boyhood dream of playing for the Braves was never fulfilled, being elected to the Hall of Fame is a nice consolation prize.

“When you’re a kid, you dream about playing in the big leagues, playing in All-Star Games, playing in World Series,” Thomas said. “I don’t think any kid dreams about going into the Hall of Fame. It just seems so out of reach, so impossible. I’ve been (in Cooperstown) since Wednesday and it still doesn’t feel real.”

Thomas will be remembered as the greatest hitter in the history of the White Sox, the team that gave La Russa his first major league manager’s job. La Russa also managed the Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals and won 2,728 games in 33 seasons to rank third on the all-time list while winning six pennants and three World Series.

The White Sox hired La Russa when he was 34 years old and managing their Class AAA Iowa farm club. La Russa thought general manager Roland Hemond was calling to tell him catcher Mike Colbern was being called up to the major leagues. Instead, it was La Russa who got the call after Chicago manager Don Kessinger had resigned.

“I got a call at 1 p.m. and was told they were announcing a new manager at 4 p.m.,” La Russa said. “I never dreamed it would end up here in Cooperstown all these years later.”

While Torre is remembered by younger fans for managing the New York Yankees, he was an outstanding player as a catcher and third baseman. He played for 18 seasons, participated in nine All-Star Games and was the NL MVP in 1971 while with the Cardinals.

Torre also won six pennants and four World Series during 12 years as the Yankees’ manager. He managed 29 seasons, in all, as he also had stints with New York Mets, Braves and Dodgers, finishing with 2,326 wins — fifth on the all-time list.

“It’s such a great honor that I know it’s going to be hard to get up on that stage and speak,” Torre said. “I pride myself on keeping cool but I just I hope I don’t throw up this time.”

Hall of Fame eligibility cut to 10 years The National Baseball Hall of Fame announced Saturday that it is cutting the number of years that a player can remain eligible for induction from 15 years to 10 years.

That means players including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa will have less time to remain on Hall of Fame ballots.

The Hall of Fame is also installing a new balloting and registration process for Baseball Writers’ Association of America voting members.

“The Board is committed to keeping the policies and voting procedures of the Hall of Fame relevant,” Jane Forbes Clark, Chairman of the Board of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, said in a statement. “We believe the BBWAA has done an excellent job of honoring the criteria advanced by the Hall of Fame — player’s record, contributions to the teams on which the player played, character, sportsmanship and integrity — to determine individuals who belong in the Hall of Fame by the highest threshold, a 75 percent majority. The Board believes these changes are necessary to ensure the integrity of the voting process moving forward.”

The changes are effective immediately and will reflect voting in 2015. It is the first time since 1991 and second since 1985 that the Hall is implementing new voting rules.

The names of BBWAA members casting ballots will be made public with the election results. However, an individual’s ballot will not be revealed by the Hall of Fame. Voters must also complete a registration form and sign a code of conduct.

Three players with 11 to 15 years are still on ballots and will remain eligible: Don Mattingly (15th year in 2015), Alan Trammell (14th) and Lee Smith (13th).