Quartet for the Ages: Wrapping Up the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame Class

Image of the Baseball Hall of Fame

The doors have opened.

Yesterday afternoon, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the first quartet to be voted in by the writers since 1955. I’ve written a lot about what I thought would happen (and would like to think that I called this one), and I now have thoughts on what actually happened, and what it means for the future going forward.

1. Four players! For a while, it seemed as though it could be as many as five, but Mike Piazza’s support trailed off at the very end – stupid PED suspicions/history/whatever reason you can come up with. Regardless, this is a strong class of players, one that rivals last year’s grouping of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas. Even more so, to have so many first ballot Hall of Famers in recent years (six in two) shows that the greats of the 1990’s have come of age. They’ll most likely be joined by another next year in Junior Griffey, with more following after that. It’s a good time to be a baseball fan.

2. Randy Johnson goes in with the eighth highest voting percentage ever at 97.3%. Fifteen voters didn’t vote for him, and I’ve only accounted for one who seemed to have a pretty good reason not to vote for the Big Unit. It’s been written multiple times that Johnson has a case for the greatest left-handed pitcher ever, so I won’t echo that conversation here. Instead, I’ll drop this video one last time and call it a day:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=orI26C05udY#t=8

3. Here’s another nugget of truth from current major leaguer and Twitter iconoclast Brandon McCarthy:

I suppose some people feel strongly about Pedro Martinez. Rightfully so. At his peak, the man was a modern-day Sandy Koufax. Think about this: his career average ERA of 2.93 was a run and a half lower than the league average during his years pitched. And that was during the high offense of the Steroid Era. Seriously, if you didn’t vote for Pedro – get out.

4. John Smoltz surprised some people as a first ballot Hall of Famer. In fact, it surprised most everybody except for the writers who voted for him, I’m guessing. He didn’t exactly coast in, attracting only 82.9% of the vote, but that’s still more than most anybody who ever makes the ballot. My guess? He owned the role of dominant starter and dominant closer, something that few pitchers have ever done. Those who faced the Braves dynasty in its prime did always claim that Smoltz was the most intimidating pitcher, with a mid-90’s fastball and devastating split-fingered fastball to go with it. The man clearly was a Hall of Famer, and it’s nice now that the Big Three of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz are all Hall of Famers. Perhaps that legend is why it was so easy for Smoltz (and Glavine, if we’re being honest) to skip in. Either way, what’s done is done, and Smoltz is a deserving Hall of Famer – and this frees up another vote for somebody next year.

5. At last! Biggio!

Image of Craig BiggioTo make up the difference from last year, Biggio needed 2 more votes. He gained about 44. I’d say that’s mission accomplished. Should he have been in sooner though? (Yes) I mean, not everyone can be a first ballot hall of famer, but the question remains of whether the two extra years changed anything about his career to the voters. (Nope) Is he more deserving now than he was three years ago? (No) What changed? (Nothing) Therein lies one of the great mysteries (head smacking difficulties) in tracking the Hall of Fame vote from year to year – minds and opinions change drastically. None of this really speaks to how a player ultimately feels – I’m sure Bert Blyleven and Jim Rice, who waited 14 and 15 years respectively for their call, aren’t really complaining, and I’m sure Biggio has nothing but good things to say on this most auspicious occasion. What should be noted – rather than the (ludicrous) process that is Hall of Fame voting – is that Biggio is a Hall of Famer, and nothing can deny or change that now.

6. And now the near misses…

  • Mike Piazza missed by 28 votes, and stands to inherit the Craig Biggio role of ‘this guy is going in eventually, so I might as well change my vote to be on the right side of history’. It’s kind of a joke that the greatest hitting catcher of all time has been forced to wait this long for his turn at history, but at the same time, the process is far from foolproof. After all, Joe DiMaggio (he of the Simon and Garfunkel song) waited three years to get elected. Piazza will likely go in next year.
  • Last year, only two players gained votes (Biggio and Piazza). This year, eleven players gained votes, as more writers used all ten of their votes. The downside is, thanks to the top heavy nature of this ballot, not everyone gained a whole lot of votes, as writers were forced to spread their support thin. In addition, fewer writers voted this year, a trend that might continue next year without big names. Because of this, Jeff Bagwell technically lost four votes but gained 1.4% in voting. Support seems to have flat-lined for one of the best first basemen to play the game, though with fewer big names coming in the years to follow, there’s time for Bagwell to make up ground.
  • Tim Raines is the only other player to break 50% on this ballot, and he needed it badly to have any shot at getting elected in the next two years. The former Expo gained almost 40 votes between ballots, but still would need over 100 to get elected by his 10th ballot. It’s a murky future, dependent upon if enough writers can turn their heads to his Montreal days and remember that Raines was just as good a hitter as Tony Gwynn.

7. Speaking of flat-lining candidates, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens technically gained votes – four each – which leaves them stuck in the mid-30% range. Their election looks less likely year by year, and they’ll probably be left to the Veteran’s Committee to sort out in seven years.

8. Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire defied my odds, not falling off the ballot this year. Neither did Larry Walker or Don Mattingly – though after fifteen years on the docket, Mattingly is finished as a viable candidate. This says…I dunno. Neither Sosa nor McGwire are getting in, and poor Larry Walker is just not finding a drumbeat of support, having played at the peak of his career in Montreal and in hitter-haven Coors Field.

9. One holdover was voted in and one fell off, and yet we’ll have an identical 17 holdovers next year, as Gary Sheffield and Nomar Garciaparra somehow scraped together enough support to linger. Both are interesting candidates who warrant further discussion, so I’m glad that they were able to stick around. Sheffield was a devastating hitter…and a terrible fielder, and his PED allegations have negatively impacted what was a fantastic career. Meanwhile, Nomar at his peak was possibly the greatest hitting shortstop of the post-WWII era. Unfortunately, his peak was about as short as they come. He strikes me as the kind of guy who’ll eventually get in somehow…but not for many a year. Meanwhile, one of the more interesting candidates (to me), Carlos Delgado, came and went with only 3.8% of the vote, in spite of having a similar case to Fred McGriff, who remains on the ballot. Yet another candidate likely heading for Veteran’s Committee purgatory.

10. The quirks:

  • Troy Percival got four votes, which says…something.
  • What two guys voted for Aaron Boone’s 2003 home run? And were they from New York? Was one Hal McCoy? (Actually, that might explain a lot: check out this story and you’ll see why Boone is one of my favorite people of all time.)
  • Tom Gordon garnering support makes some sense to me – he was a poor man’s version of John Smoltz. Two votes seems right.
  • Darin Erstad getting one vote doesn’t make much sense to me. Then again, it’s the Hall of Fame. Sometimes, sense flies right out the window.
  • Then again, punters are people too.

11. The finale – what to expect Next Year:

  • Ken Griffey Jr. is the most notable candidate in terms of WAR, statistics, etc. He’s one of the consensus players whom writers and fans alike believe to have played clean during the Steroids Era. (Why? Who knows, but Derek Jeter and Chipper Jones are also in this conversation) He’ll be elected with something around Johnson’s percentage – there’s no reason not to vote for Junior.
  • Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner make appearances, two of the three best closers to pitch during the late 90’s/first decade of the 2000’s. Hoffman, for a time, held the record for most saves, and somehow only hit 8 batters during his career (8!). Wagner was a flame-throwing strikeout machine. I can see Hoffman’s 600 saves getting him enough votes to stick around, though I see Wagner more likely to flame out with little support – which is a shame, as he deserves a fair shake of his case as more relievers come into play who aren’t named Mariano Rivera.
  • The biggest position players to join the ballot are Jason Kendall and Jim Edmonds, both of whom are likely to, shall we see, go gently into that good night.
  • If I had to guess, I’d say that Griffey and Piazza get in next year, Raines makes a jump to the low to mid 60% range, and Bagwell starts to make gains. Curt Schilling finally makes it over 50%, and Alan Trammell and Mark McGwire let their sad terms on the ballot expire with relatively little fanfare.

This brings to a conclusion the Addison Recorder’s coverage of the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot. It been fun, and we’re left with a fantastic Hall of Fame class for this year. For the time being, I’m closing my laptop as far as baseball coverage is concerned, and will be returning in March with a season preview for the 2015 season. (With +25% more Clayton Kershaw love!) Until then, I offer a hearty congratulations to Messrs. Biggio, Johnson, Martinez, and Smoltz. You’re in rarefied company, gents. Take a bow.

Travis J. Cook

Travis J. Cook

Travis J. Cook is the Editor-in-Chief and one of the original founders of the Addison Recorder. He writes about baseball, movies, and music, among other topics. He resides in a hole in the ground near Wrigley Field.

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