Another Baseball Hall of Fame induction is almost upon us, with an impressive slate representing the 2014 class. The most celebrated HOF classes came during Cooperstown’s earliest days, but looking at the last 25 years one can pull out certain pockets of awesomeness, select groups of legends that will likely be remembered more than others.
With a few days remaining before this summer’s Hall of Fame ceremony in upstate New York, here are the five most memorable HOF classes since 1990:
5. 1992 (Tom Seaver, Rollie Fingers)
So many great classes didn’t make the list, but this one stands out — as most of the remaining four will — because of the uniqueness of the singular talents being honored. Fingers was the proto-reliever, the one who set the modern-day standard for closers and how teams go about using them situationally (be that for better or worse!). Seaver, who holds the all-time highest vote percentage in HOF history, turned a Mets franchise from an all-time joke into a serious contender and World Series champion. He gave a franchise lasting legitimacy when there was none to be found. That’s the mark of a seriously special player.
4. 2009 (Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice)
Talk about players the likes of which baseball will never see again: Cy Young, Ted Williams and Henderson would be a heck of a good start. Henderson’s Baseball-Reference page is downright Bondsian, what with all of the league-leading bold splashing around. His all-time records in runs and stolen bases will likely never be broken, and his 19th-place all-time ranking in career bWAR is a testament to his longevity and all-around talents. Rice, one of the most popular players of the ’70s and ’80s was certainly no slouch himself, but this class was (much like it was during his career) all about Rickey.
3. 2014 (Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas)
The 2013 class was a clear nadir with regards to recent induction ceremonies. No modern-era players broke the 75 percent voting threshold, but this year more than makes up for that brief blip. Glavine and Maddux were Atlanta’s unstoppable forces for pitching goodness and turned around a franchise that had been moribund for years. The Big Hurt was one of the league’s most dominant hitters of the mid-’90s and a Chicago fixture for 16 seasons.
Consider that this class also boasts managerial greats Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa as Veterans Committee selections and the Hall has added a whole other plane of baseball excellence.
2. 1999 (Robin Yount, George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Orlando Cepada)
Solid from top to bottom. Yount and Brett, two incredibly similar players who propped up their franchises to new heights, were ’70s and ’80s icons, and the Ryan Express awed so many generations over his 27 seasons that he redefined the very idea of what a power pitcher could represent. Plus, Cepada getting in 25 years after his retirement, thanks to the eternal wisdom of the Veterans Committee, was long overdue given that he was a dependable and talented first baseman for some great Giants and Cardinals teams of the ’60s.
1. 2007 (Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn)
These two iconic players — men who will be forever associated with a single team, who put their franchises in the national discussion — represented all that is great about baseball. Gwynn kept fans’ imaginations running frantic in the lead-up to the ’94 strike, whether he would eclipse .400 before it was too late, and Ripken helped bring the sport back to prominence in the wake of the damage done by a work stoppage. They each accomplished feats that will never be matched, Gwynn with his unparalleled hitting prowess and Ripken with his durability and power.
Together, it would be difficult to find a more memorable or unforgettable HOF grouping than when these two great ambassadors of the sport went into Cooperstown side by side.