By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Pitching team mates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and slugger Frank Thomas were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in results announced on Wednesday by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
The three were chosen in their first year of eligibility after waiting the required five years after their retirement and were the first trio so honored in 15 years.
Right-hander Maddux, who won four consecutive Cy Young awards from 1992 and compiled a career mark of 355-227, was the leading vote-getter, elected by a landslide with 97.2 percent of the 571 ballots cast.
"Tremendous honor," Maddux, who came up with the Chicago Cubs and had a fastball that broke back over the inside corner to freeze left-handed hitters, told MLB TV. "What an incredible honor and to be able to share it with my team mate Glav, congrats to him. It's pretty special."
Left-hander Glavine, who won 305 games and was a 20-game winner five times, was named on 91.9 percent of the ballots.
He and Maddux were team mates on the Atlanta Braves from 1993-2002.
"You can't help but pick something up and learn from Greg by being around him," Glavine said.
"Greg really got me to start paying attention to what the hitters are telling you. How they take a pitch, how they foul a pitch off. You can learn a lot from that.
"It's a great thing to be around great players that drive you, that push you, that make you better."
Thomas, who spent most of his career with the Chicago White Sox, became the first inductee to have played most of his games as a designated hitter after blasting 521 home runs with a career batting average over .300.
The imposing, 6-foot-5 slugger, nicknamed "The Big Hurt", was named on 83.7 percent of the ballots cast.
"I am so excited that I'm in the Hall of Fame," said Thomas in a statement through the White Sox.
"This is something that I will have to sit back in the next three or four days and figure it out because you can only dream so big, as this is as big as it gets for me."
It marked the first time three players were voted into the same Cooperstown class since George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount in 1999.
Just missing the 75 percent (429) of votes cast required for election was Craig Biggio, who despite collecting more than 3,000 hits in his 20 seasons with the Houston Astros, fell two votes shy of election with 74.8 percent.
Heavy hitting former catcher Mike Piazza, who holds the Major League record for most career home runs by a player at that position, received 62.2 percent of the vote.
The results were in stark contrast to last year, when no players received the required votes for induction as formidable first-timers Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were snubbed.
Major League Baseball home run king Bonds, a seven-time Most Valuable Player, and seven-time Cy Young winner Clemens were once again shunned over suspicions they had used performance enhancing drugs.
The duo actually lost some ground with Clemens named on 35.4 percent of ballots, and Bonds on 34.7 percent.
Falling off the ballot were pitcher Jack Morris, who received 61.5 percent in his 15th and final year on the ballot, and Rafael Palmeiro, whose Hall of Fame credentials were disregarded by most voters because of a failed doping test.
Palmeiro hit 569 home runs and had 1,835 runs batted in over a 20-year career but received 4.4 percent in the voting, falling under the five percent needed to remain on the ballot.
Inductees Maddux, Glavine and Thomas will be joined in the July 26 induction ceremony in quaint Cooperstown in upstate New York by former managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre.
Cox, La Russa and Torre rank third, fourth and fifth in major league managerial victories, each winning more than 2,000 games, and were previously voted in by a special committee.
(Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by Gene Cherry)