COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Greg Maddux and Bobby Cox sat down together in the plaque gallery at the Baseball Hall of Fame, a sense of awe etched on their faces. Both had been here before, but this visit was entirely different.
"It's starting to hit home right now for me for the first time — how much this means to a person that spent their entire life in the game of baseball," Cox said. "This is the top of the hill. It's hitting hard today."
Cox spoke Monday after the two had finished the pre-induction tour of the Hall of Fame that all electees receive prior to induction weekend.
The 72-year-old Cox was unanimously elected by the Hall of Fame's expansion-era committee in December. The 47-year-old Maddux was chosen in January by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Maddux pitched 11 years for the Braves while Cox was Atlanta's manager. They will be inducted during ceremonies on July 27 along with former Braves left-hander Tom Glavine, Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas and retired managers Tony La Russa and Joe Torre.
"The entire thing can never happen again in a million years, I don't think," Cox said. "A manager being able to go in with two of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball, and then going in with two fellow managers at the same time. I don't think that's ever, ever going to happen again."
Glavine toured the Hall a week ago.
That Cox was Maddux's manager for so long made the trip north from spring training one they'll file in the memory bank. Maddux is now a special assistant to the general manager of the Texas Rangers, and his brother is the team's pitching coach.
"Being around spring training for the last month, you hear Hall of Famer, this and that," Maddux said. "It starts to sink in a little bit, but today it's hitting pretty hard."
Maddux was the consummate ace on the mound, a slick fielder, ace bunter and superb master of the strike zone in a career that produced 355 victories with four teams (he also played a decade with the Chicago Cubs and spent two years with the Los Angeles Dodgers and two with the San Diego Padres).
Cox guided the Braves to an unprecedented 14 straight division titles and 15 playoff appearances. When he retired after the 2010 season, Cox, who also spent four years in Toronto, was the fourth-winningest manager with 2,504 victories and trailed only Connie Mack, John McGraw and La Russa.
On the tour, Cox raised his eyebrows when Erik Strohl, vice president of exhibitions and collections for the Hall of Fame, mentioned that players in the game's infancy didn't wear gloves for 40 years.
When Maddux gazed at a black-and-white photo of Babe Ruth driving a convertible in the 1920s, he wondered aloud about the man sitting in the passenger seat as he snapped a photo with his cell phone (it was Ruth's agent, Christy Walsh).
Maddux smirked when Strohl said the 1859 baseball rule book mandated a 50-cent fine for swearing and ejection for a second violation.
"There's so much about the history of baseball," Maddux said. "To come here and learn some things about the game — it's fascinating. It's a history lesson every time you walk through here."
This year's class includes three inductees who helped transform the Braves into a powerhouse during their long run of success, and they'll likely be joined by another next year. That scenario wasn't lost on Cox when he spotted a photo of former Braves right-hander John Smoltz, who's eligible in 2015 for induction.
"Oh, my gosh! Got a picture of Smoltzie," Cox said, smiling. "He's going to have to sweat it out for another year."
Strohl also brought out the glove Rube Waddell wore when he beat Cy Young in a 20-inning duel on the Fourth of July in 1905.
Waddell pitched 19 straight scoreless innings after allowing two runs in the first inning and got the winning hit off Young, who did not walk a batter.
"That's a tough loss," Maddux said.
In the library, Strohl showed Cox and Maddux a copy of the scorecard New York Giants broadcaster Russ Hodges filled out when he announced Bobby Thomson's winning home run to beat the Dodgers in a 1951 playoff game with rookie Willie Mays in the on-deck circle.
"Willie was hitting seventh," Cox said. "That's amazing."
Maddux then asked if he could personally pull the file of his brother, Mike, who pitched for nine teams in a 15-year career in the major leagues. He then laughed at a newspaper clipping that read — "Mets get Maddux (Mike)" — as he snapped another photo.
Both men were accompanied by their wives, who said the whole experience had been sort of surreal.
"A lot of his teammates calling him meant a lot to him," Kathy Maddux said. "People from your past congratulating you is pretty awesome. For him and Tommy and Bobby to be going in together is amazing."