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The Susquehanna River runs through the village of Cooperstown, N.Y., and if this is the heart of baseball, surely an artery will be flowing this weekend into Georgia.

This 1.6 square-mile town is expecting a crowd exceeding 60,000 Sunday, watching the largest living class since 1971 be inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame.

These six men may all have diverse backgrounds, growing up from New England to Las Vegas to Tampa, but they share one trait.

They all have ties to Georgia.

Five played for the Atlanta Braves. Two went onto manage the Braves. And one grew up in Columbus, Ga., and attended college at Auburn.

"This will be one of the coolest days ever,'' says former Braves pitcher John Smoltz, who has never attended an induction ceremony, or has even watched a speech on TV, but is headed to Cooperstown this weekend on assignment for MLB-TV.

"I don't know if there's ever been a bigger day in the history of the Atlanta Braves."

Former Braves Cy Young winners Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, along with manager Bobby Cox, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Joe Torre, a two-time All-Star as the Braves' catcher, and Braves manager for three years, will be going into the Hall with four World Series rings.

Tony La Russa, who spent one year with the Braves as a player, and later replaced Torre as the manager in St. Louis, will be going into the Hall of Fame with his three World Series rings.

And Frank Thomas, who grew up dreaming he'd one day play for his hometown Braves, but instead wreaked havoc in the American League with 521 home runs, will be the only Georgia native inducted Sunday.

Really, with Braves' Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Phil Niekro scheduled to also attend the induction ceremony, all that will be missing is the late Ray Charles singing, Georgia on my Mind.

"This is going to be absolutely remarkable, with an inordinate number of people coming from the Southeast,'' says Braves president John Schuerholz, who should be inducted himself into the Hall of Fame in three years, alongside Braves third baseman Chipper Jones. "This will be a tremendous day. Everyone wants to pay their respect and show their appreciation.''

GALLERY: GREG MADDUX

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Los Angeles Dodgers CEO Stan Kasten, president of the club during the Braves' dynasty while Schuerholz was GM, calls this year's induction one of the greatest highlights of his professional career. Kasten is the one who sent Cox to manage the Braves in June 1990, while also holding his GM duties. He's the one who hired Schuerholz away from the Kansas City Royals to be his GM, after being turned down two days earlier. And he's the one who helped the Braves go from a decaying franchise into one of the game's jewels.

This weekend, the Braves can bask in all of their glory, representing an era of baseball that may not be duplicated in our lifetime.

"I take a lot of pride in that because a lot of people don't remember what it was like before,'' Kasten told USA TODAY Sports. "Times were tough. But when (former Braves owner) Ted Turner gave me the authority to turn the dial all of the way to the right, we did it.

"Now, Atlanta is the gold standard of organizations.''

The Braves soared from last place to first place in 1991, and didn't stop winning, capturing 14 consecutive division titles, five pennants and one World Series championship.

"What the Braves did,'' says La Russa, now a vice president with the Arizona Diamondbacks, "will never happen again. That string of excellence was so ridiculous, I don't think it's appreciated enough.''

Schuerholz, who with Cox formed the greatest general manager/manager tandem of this generation, told USA TODAY Sports: "Some say not only will it never be done in baseball, but any sport. It was truly remarkable.

"And Bobby was the linchpin to all of that.''

Sure, it gnaws at the Braves that they didn't win more World Series titles. The Braves still believe they were the better team in 1991, and call themselves the outdoor champions of baseball, but were unable to win a game against the Twins at the Metrodome. And please, don't remind them of Lonnie Smith's baserunning blunder in the eighth inning of Game 7, ultimately losing in 10 innings, 1-0.

"I thought about that game every single day,'' Kasten said, "until we won it all in 1995. Thank God we did win it, or it would still haunt me today.''

They still are numb by the events of 1996, convinced they had baseball's best team. They trounced Torre's Yankees in the first two games in New York by a combined 16-1, returned home, and Kasten says he was convinced they had taken their last road trip of the season.

The Braves never won another game, blowing a 6-0 lead in Game 4.

"It was the worst storm, we were just dominating,'' Smoltz says, "and then the sea sickness came. And then feeling of nausea. We went from such an unbelievable, incredible high to one of the worst lows.''

The Braves have yet to win another World Series game, returning in 1999 only to get swept by the powerful Yankees.

"If we had won in '96, which we should have, we would have turned into the Yankees,'' Smoltz says. "You don't change your team after winning back-to-back World Series championships.''

Yet, even with the lone ring, they take great pride that they were there every year. The Twins have never returned to the World Series. The Toronto Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series in 1992-1993, but haven't been back to the playoffs since. The Marlins won two World Series, but have had only four other winning seasons in franchise history.

"I would argue that it's tougher to win 14 straight division titles than it is win two World Series in a given time,'' Glavine says. "During that course of time, the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series and then they were gone. The Marlins have won a couple World Series and look at everything that's happened in between.

"I think from a players' standpoint, given a choice would you rather win a couple World Series and endure all those other bad years or would you rather have one World Series and 14 division titles? I think a lot of guys would say give me the 14 division titles and give me a chance to have a World Series every year. I think that gets lost in the shuffle.

"Do we feel like there's some disappointment we didn't win more? Sure.

"But I'm very confident in saying 14 division titles is something that won't ever get done again.''

Please, just don't mention that they won only one World Series.

"That burns in our gut,'' Smoltz says. "Just by the numbers alone, we should have won more than one. People talk about '96, but to me, '93 was the most disappointing. I thought that was our best team. We should have not lost to the Phillies (in the NLCS).

"But what people don't understand, if you look at the years after '96, our team changed dramatically.'

Yet, with Cox at the helm, Schuerholz in the front office, and Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz on the mound, they didn't know how to stop winning. It all started to change when Glavine departed after the 2002 season. Maddux left after 2003. The 14-year streak ended in 2006. And Cox retired after the 2010 season, earning one last playoff berth.

"Bobby did things no other manager had the guts to do,'' Smoltz says. "He understood players. He understood what made them tick, and trusted them, and what their pride was. We didn't have parachutes in spring training or any of those gimmicks. He just wanted you to respect the game.

"There were plenty of opportunities for me to leave, but I didn't think of going anywhere else because of that man. He was the sole reason I wanted to stay in Atlanta.''

Cox, who originally was fired by the Braves in 1981 and replaced three weeks later by Torre, only to return as the GM after leading the Toronto Blue Jays to the 1985 playoffs, epitomizes the grace of this Braves' Hall of Fame class.

He refused to trade Glavine, even after losing 17 games his rookie year, and watched him win 305 games. He traded for Smoltz in 1987 from the Detroit Tigers. He was a huge selling point for Schuerholz coming to Atlanta. And he was instrumental in the recruitment of Maddux, who left the Cubs and $8 million on the table with the Yankees, to sign a 5-year, $28 million free-agent contract with the Braves.

GALLERY: TOM GLAVINE

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"He was,'' Glavine said, "the single greatest influence in my baseball career.''

Says Cox: "I wanted them to walk like champions. But on the other hand, I wanted them to remember how they got there.''

Together, they accomplished an unprecedented era of greatness.

And this weekend, with all six Hall of Famers having ties to the Braves, you better believe that Georgia will be on their mind.

"I would argue it's tougher to win 14 straight division titles than it is win two World Series in a given time."‚Äč

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