The votes for the Hall of Fame Class of 2015 are in. As always, the ballot results offer considerable fodder for hair-tearing and lamentation (on the Internet and elsewhere) – but first, let’s celebrate the good news.
For the first time since 1955, the BBWAA elected four players to the Hall: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio, all of them exceptional candidates, all of them fully deserving of enshrinement at Cooperstown.
Randy Johnson, the greatest left-handed pitcher of his generation – and, some have argued, the greatest lefty of all time – was a no-brainer. The Big Unit was named on 97.3 percent of this year’s ballots, which is the eighth-highest percentage in Hall of Fame voting history. (Tom Seaver, who was named on 98.8 percent of the ballots in 1992, still holds the highest mark in Hall of Fame voting percentage.) Really, the only decent argument for not voting for Johnson would have been if you wanted to throw one of your ten votes to another deserving candidate who wasn’t as assured of induction; anyone who doesn’t think a five-time Cy Young winner with 4,875 career strikeouts and nine strikeout titles on his resume (including four consecutive ones from 1992-95 and five out of six seasons at the height of the Steroid Era) doesn’t deserve to go in on the first ballot is probably high off the fumes from their own bedpan. Added bonus: Johnson will, most likely, become the first player in the Hall to sport a serious mullet on his plaque.
Pedro Martinez, who was named on 91.1 percent of the ballots, is an equally deserving first-ballot inductee. While Martinez wasn’t as great for as long as Johnson was, his peak – 1997-2003, when he went 118-36 with a 2.20 ERA and 1,761 strikeouts in 1,408 innings winning three Cy Youngs in an era dominated by offense (PED-assisted or otherwise) – was truly on the level of Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson. The fact that Martinez is going in on the first ballot with “only” 219 career wins means that the voters are largely over the “300 Ws or bust” prejudice of yore; now, all that remains to do proper justice to his legacy is to include his famous Jheri curl on his Hall plaque.
I have to admit I was surprised to see John Smoltz make it in on the first ballot, especially since the main argument for his induction – he was the first pitcher to rack up 200 wins and 100 saves – rings slightly hollow in an age where both of those statistical categories have been devalued, and because Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina (who were respectively named on only 39.2 and 24.6 percent of the ballots) both rank above him in the “modern metrics” department. But that’s not to denigrate Smoltzie’s incredible 21-year career, which saw him dominate as both a starter and a reliever, and included postseason brilliance to the tune of a 15-4 record with a 2.67 ERA, 199 Ks in 209 innings and a 1.14 WHIP. His candidacy may have gotten a little extra tailwind from last year’s induction of his Atlanta Braves rotation mates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, but he certainly belongs in the Hall.
It took three tries for Craig Biggio to make it in, the longest wait for anyone with 3,000 hits who isn’t named Rafael Palmeiro. The main rap against Biggio was that he was a “compiler,” with additional static coming from self-appointed guardians of the public morality who claim (without any proof) that Biggio used ‘roids at some point in his career. But there’s greatness in consistency as well as dominance, and Biggio was indeed Mr. Consistency in the leadoff spot for the better part of his 20-season career. Plus, the guy knocked more doubles than any right-handed hitter in MLB history (and ranks fifth all-time behind Tris Speaker, Pete Rose, Stan Musial and Ty Cobb), won four Silver Slugger awards at second base, and – once he moved to second after spending most of his first four years behind the plate – brought an impressive combination of power and speed to his position. While Houston Astros fans will surely bemoan the fact that Biggio’s longtime teammate Jeff Bagwell has once again failed to get the 75 percent required for induction (he appeared on only 55.7 percent of this year’s ballots,) they can at least take solace in the fact that Biggio will be the first player to be inducted wearing an Astros cap.
And now, the bad news. While the election of four players loosens up the currently logjam a tad, the BBWAA’s limit of ten players per ballot means that, inevitably, several should-be sure-things (like Bagwell) are still on the outside looking in. Mike Piazza, the greatest offensive catcher in MLB history, once again fell short of induction, being named on only 69.9 percent of the ballots; apparently, too many voters are still too hung up on the reports of Piazza’s rampant back acne (which, from their scientific viewpoint, could only be the result of illegal PED usage) to give him a Hall pass. Still, Piazza got a 7.7 percent bump from last year, which means he may only have one more year to wait – and which means that the absurd whispering campaigns against him and other allegedly “tainted” players like Bagwell may soon be a thing of the past.
Tim Raines, the greatest leadoff man of his era behind Rickey Henderson, got an even bigger voting bump than Piazza – 55.0 percent compared to 46.1 last year – but with only two years of eligibility left, it’s going to take a powerful campaign to get him over the hump. Things look even more dire for the candidacies of Alan Trammell, who received only 25.1 percent in his penultimate year of eligibility, and Lee Smith, who received only 30.2 with two years left to go.
Still, those guys are at least sitting prettier than Don Mattingly, who was named on only 9.1 percent of the ballots in his final year of eligibility, or Carlos Delgado, Troy Percival, Aaron Boone, Tom Gordon, Darin Erstad, Rich Aurilia, Tony Clark, Jermaine Dye, Cliff Floyd, Brian Giles, Eddie Guardado and Jason Schmidt, all of whom received less than 5 percent support, and will be officially removed from future BBWAA consideration.
The BBWAA voting process could definitely use a serious overhaul – too many voters are still proudly ignoring advanced statistics when analyzing a player’s Hall worthiness. And even if the ballot limit is beefed up to 12 players next year, as the organization has proposed, such limitations will ultimately be to the detriment of brilliant players who just happened to have the misfortune to play in an era jammed with greatness.
But the election of Johnson, Martinez, Smoltz and Biggio should nevertheless be wildly celebrated; despite the alleged “black mark” on the era, their careers stand as proof that we were privileged to witness some really amazing baseball in the ’90s and ’00s.