There are few topics that get baseball fans more riled up than the question of who should (or should not) be in the Hall of Fame. People tend to take that shit extremely personally, as if denying your pet case for induction a plaque in Cooperstown — or giving one to an “undeserving” player ahead of him — is somehow tantamount to negating your fandom, your childhood or even your very existence as a human being.
We’ve all got our top five or ten players who “should” be in the Hall, and most of us have at least a handful we’d like to see unceremoniously booted out. The debate rages year-round, never more fiercely than during the HOF voting every January and the induction ceremonies every July. Not that the archaic Hall of Fame voting system hasn’t resulted in numerous legitimate beefs over the years; members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, the Hall’s main gatekeepers, still harbor far too many hacks within their ranks who view voting as an opportunity to grandstand, settle scores or strike a blow for an idealized version of the game that never actually existed. And yes, there have been some painfully egregious oversights on the part of the Veterans Committee (or the three era-specific committees that have replaced it).
But with the Cooperstown Class of 2014 set to receive the highest honor in baseball this Sunday, I’m calling on baseball fans everywhere to give the squawking, teeth-gnashing and hair-tearing a rest this weekend. I don’t want to hear about how you think Craig Biggio or Jack Morris or Tim Raines got screwed again, or how Jeff Kent or Mike Mussina or Curt Schilling and his bloody sock should have gotten more votes, or whether or not “the steroids guys” should be allowed in the Hall. I want you to just shut up and enjoy this, because you’re about to witness one of the greatest induction weekends of all time.
Sure, nothing will ever top 1939, when the first four Hall of Fame classes (including Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner and Cy Young) showed up for the Hall’s first-ever induction ceremony. But it’s not like you and your family gathered around ye olde Philco radio console for that one, right? Likewise, you probably weren’t able to tune in for the 1955 induction festivities, which featured Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons, Ray Schalk, Dazzy Vance and “Home Run” Baker — and which, until this weekend, was the last time that six living inductees were present for the same ceremony.
That’s right; this weekend, we’ll get to see Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas — the first trio of first-ballot inductees since Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount in 1999 — going into the Hall alongside managerial greats Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. Maddux and Glavine have 660 wins, 5,978 strikeouts and six Cy Young Awards between them, and they’re the first pair of 300 game-winners to be voted into the Hall together since Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson in 1936. Frank Thomas has an eye-popping career slash line of .301/.419/.555 to his credit, along with 521 home runs and two MVP awards. And in La Russa, Cox and Torre, you’ve got the third, fourth and fifth-winningest MLB skippers of all time, who combined for 7,558 victories, 17 league pennants and eight World Series titles. (Torre had a fine playing career as well, even leading the National League in batting and badass sideburns in 1971, but his success as the Yankees’ skipper sealed his HOF deal.)
These aren’t borderline candidates who needed grassroots campaigns or favors from former colleagues to help them into the Hall. These are all-time greats who simply belong — and for once, both the voters and the Expansion Era Committee (who gave the nod to La Russa, Cox and Torre) got it right across the board.
And unlike last year, when the Hall inducted a class made up entirely of guys who died before America even entered World War II, all six of these gents made their HOF bones during the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s. In other words, they’re ours; if you’re a baseball fan of legal drinking age, you must at some point have rooted for (or against) these guys, while witnessing and debating and marveling at their respective accomplishments in real time. We went along them on the wild career rides that ultimately led to Cooperstown — which means that, in a sense, we’re all going into the Hall with them.
Barring some radical changes or major surprises in future Hall balloting, we’ll most likely never see this many living greats from the same era — our era — enshrined together again. So raise a glass to these all-time greats, bask in the glory of baseball history, and put a (striped) sock in it for a couple of days. You can always start bitching about Jeff Bagwell again on Monday.
Dan Epstein’s latest book, Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76, is now out via Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. He’s on Twitter at @BigHairPlasGras