2007: RON FRANCIS, AL MACINNIS, MARK MESSIER, SCOTT STEVENS
A case could be made for the year Wayne Gretzky went in alone, but no other class comes close to the one inducted on Monday. It has two of the NHL's top four scorers (Messier is second, with 1,887 points, Francis is fourth, at 1,798) and three of the top five in games played (Messier is second, Francis is third, and Scott Stevens, the leader among defensemen, is fifth). MacInnis (above) is third among defensemen in points (1,274) and goals (340). The intangibles are there too: Messier was a peerless captain, Stevens was the game's most ferocious checker, and MacInnis had its most powerful slap shot.
1999: GEORGE BRETT, NOLAN RYAN, ROBIN YOUNT
Only once since the first Hall class of 1936 have three first-ballot players been elected in the same year: 1999. At the time Brett (below) and Yount (above) ranked 13th and 15th, respectively, in hits; Ryan ranked first in strikeouts. Never before or since has such star power reached the ballot at the same time, excepting, of course, the inaugural group of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner. The class of '72 most closely rivals 1999's. Yogi Berra, Sandy Koufax and Early Wynn got in, though Berra and Wynn were not first ballots. The class also included Negro leaguer Josh Gibson, arguably the greatest catcher ever.
November 19, 2007
1979: DICK BUTKUS, YALE LARY, RON MIX, JOHNNY UNITAS
Strictly on quality, I have to choose '79, which had my No. 1 alltime quarterback, Unitas (above), and linebacker, Butkus, as well as one of the fastest, most technically perfect tackles who ever lived, Mix. The class of '71, with Jim Brown and Vince Lombardi, is right up there, and 1991 was special for me because it was my first year as a selector, and I got a chance to speak up for my favorite lineman, John Hannah. A year later the Hall inducted its most radical class: free spirits Al Davis, John Riggins and John Mackey. When I came out of the press conference, a disgusted old fan said to me, "Who are you electing next year, Sacco and Vanzetti?"
1993: JULIUS ERVING, DAN ISSEL, ANN MEYERS, CALVIN MURPHY AND BILL WALTON
If you've got a coaching jones, basketball's best Hall year was 1969, when Red Auerbach, Hank Iba and Adolph Rupp were inducted, not to mention sneaker god Chuck Taylor. But I'm going with '93 as my best alltime, with the induction of four male legends along with one of the greatest women's players of all time, Meyers (below). A consolation prize goes to the class of '87, with Rick Barry, Walt Frazier, Pete Maravich and Bobby Wanzer, a demon combo guard from the '50s.