They are who we've always thought they are ... pure class. What else needs to be said after Atlanta Braves legends Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were all inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday?
The only thing lacking was John Smoltz joining them, and that should be taken care of a year from now during his first year of eligibilty.
Or as Glavine said during his magnificent acceptance speech, "Our good friend Smoltzie better be here next year and there will be more to come [presumably Chipper Jones]."
And if for some convoluted, wrong-headed reason Smoltzie's 213 wins and 154 saves aren't enough to make him a fellow first-ballot Brave, they ought to do away with the Hall, or Glavine, Maddux and Cox should at least return their plaques until he's voted in.
But Sunday was about Tommy Gun, and Mad Dog and Bobby, who all have untouchable credentials and unchallenged integrity, which they displayed with much style and warmth and intelligence.
While fellow inductees Tony LaRussa may have rambled a bit and Joe Torre went on a bit too long, the Three Bravos and Columbus, Ga., native Frank Thomas were all perfect in their own distinctive ways. From Cox's typical gushing over everyone but himself, to Maddux's trademark shyness in interview situations, to Glavine's polish and professionalism to Thomas's unabashed emotion, tears required, each man was gracious and grateful, entertaining and enlightening.
There was Glavine, recalling how he was actually drafted ahead of hockey Hall of Famers Luke Robitaille and Brett Hull in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft.
"So I guess I would have been a Hall of Famer in that sport, too," he joked. There was Maddux busting on Smoltz, saying the seven years he remained with the Braves after the 1995 World Series crown were spent, "Winning more division championships, watching our kids grow up and watching John Smoltz's hair recede."
There was Cox recalling a meeting on the mound with Maddux in the ninth, the Braves clinging to a one-run lead and the manager a bit concerned that there were two on and two out for the opposition. Cox said that Maddux, always a stickler for detail, always gave him a sheet at the start of every game detailing what the pitcher intended to do in very specific situations. Cox hinted that he didn't always pay terribly close attention to those outlines.
So when Cox approached the mound, Maddux apparently brought up the pregame plan. Cox kind of shrugged it off, then asked what the plan was now.
"Greg looks at me and says, 'I'm trying to pop him to Chipper at third on the second pitch,'" Cox said of the magician who once won a nine-inning game throwing but 78 pitches. "And that's exactly what he did."
Even Torre's best story concerned the Braves, for whom he both played and managed, taking them to the playoffs in 1982.
"When I first went to Atlanta as manager I asked [former Braves owner Ted Turner] if I could have an advance so I could buy a house," Torre said. "He told me to rent. Sure enough, after three years I was fired."
Cox told of his father making his first pair of spikes from an old pair of shoes. Maddux recalled how his first manager with the Chicago Cubs, Gene Michael, thought he was the bat boy the first time he saw him in the dugout. Glavine said that no matter how bad he felt on a particular day that he always played hard because, "You never know who's watching you for the first time."
It's not that any of us who covered these guys from the beginning of the pennant runs in 1991 didn't expect such performances. With Cox at the helm and Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz leading the pitching staff, the team was always bigger than the individual, though Cox always put the confidence of each individual Brave above the team.
"I'd read Bobby's comments after I'd lost one and think, 'What game were you watching?' and 'How did I not win?'" chuckled Glavine.
One ESPN.com article over the weekend even went so far as to credit Cox with the two World Series titles the Toronto Blue Jays won in 1992 (against the Braves) and 1993 because Cox had basically built both those teams before coming to the Big Peach.
Said Toronto president Paul Beeston -- who also ran the Jays in those days -- "We wouldn't have been there without the lessons he passed on to our players. To know the guy, to play for the guy, was to love him."
It was an immensely lovable team in 1991, the magical ride from worst to first that didn't end until the painful seventh game of the World Series against Minnesota. It became an immensely admirable organization from that point forward, Cox leading Atlanta to 14 straight division titles and that single World Series crown in 1995.
Said Smoltz on Sunday from the MLB television network booth: "We should have given him more rings."
But what they gave the South was almost as valuable. They gave it dignity and decency and integrity with a work ethic to make any day laborer proud.
And when inducted into baseball's most coveted club, the Three Bravos delightfully displayed such cherished character traits by both what they said and left unsaid.
As he wrapped up his own talk, Torre said, "Our sport is part of the American soul. It's ours' to borrow -- just for awhile." Perhaps. But when it comes to conducting yourself the way you'd expect a Hall of Famer to do so, Cox, Glavine and Maddux have never behaved like borrowers or renters, but rather responsible owners of the right way to play and promote the game.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.