On Tuesday afternoon, the voting results for the Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced. This has the potential to be the largest induction class since the inaugural 1936 group.
Voting for the Hall has never been short of controversy. After all, in that first election 79 years ago, Cy Young only received 49 percent of the vote. The man who set an untouchable record of 511 wins and is the namesake of the annual trophy given to the best pitchers in baseball had to wait until 1937 to be enshrined into Cooperstown.
While I do not have an official vote for the Hall (only members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America are given that privilege), here are the players I would vote for this year if I did.
Randy Johnson: The Big Unit leads the list no-doubt locks this year. Johnson is the greatest left-handed pitcher of his time and is in the discussion for greatest southpaw ever. With 303 career wins, 4,875 career strikeouts, eight seasons with an ERA under three and five Cy Youngs, he likely has already booked flight and hotel accommodations for Hall of Fame weekend. The numbers and awards don’t tell the full story of Johnson’s career, however. He was one of the most intimidating presences in baseball history, with his 6-foot-10 frame and 100 mile-per-hour fastball putting fear into the hearts of opposing batters. Not only did he throw the high heat, he could place it in the exact location it was intended for, which was a lethal combination. He threw a perfect game in 2004, but his finest moment arguably came in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, a game best remembered for Arizona outfielder Luis Gonzalez’s walk-off single. Johnson, who had thrown 104 pitches in his Game 6 win the night before, was called upon for a relief appearance in the eighth when Curt Schilling gave up a homer to Yankees second baseman Alfonso Soriano and a single to David Justice. The Big Unit was able to keep the deficit at one as he retired all four batters he faced. The rest is history, as the D-Backs were able to score two runs off the greatest closer in baseball history to become champions. Johnson got the win and was honored for his efforts with the World Series co-MVP Award he shared with Schilling. In the “Steroid Era,” he was an organic powerhouse, and that’s why he has nothing to worry about tomorrow.
Pedro Martinez: Like Johnson, Martinez was an intimidating power pitcher. Unlike Johnson, Martinez’s power and intimidation came in a 5-foot-11, 170-pound package. Pedro used an overpowering four-seam fastball, filthy cutter, unhinging circle changeup and nasty curveball to stymie hitters. At his best, he was virtually unhittable, and the numbers are staggering. Martinez is second all-time in adjusted ERA, sixth all-time in winning percentage, fifth all-time in WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) and third all-time in strikeout/walk ratio. In his unbelievable 1999 season, he recorded 13 strikeouts per nine innings. Pedro was never afraid of the big moments, and that paid off when the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series. The electricity at Fenway during his starts was like nothing else; every time he took the hill, it felt like a rock concert in Boston. The Hall of Fame will be more than happy to welcome the Dominican fireballer onto its sacred ground.
John Smoltz: The third of three sure things on this ballot, Smoltz will be one of the most unique pitchers to go into the Hall due to his outstanding career as both a starter and closer. With 213 career wins and 154 career saves, he earned his place in Cooperstown. He led the NL in wins twice, innings pitched twice, strikeouts twice and saves once. He finished in the top five of Cy Young voting three times, winning the award in 1996. On a Braves staff with a fiery Greg Maddux and laid-back Tom Glavine, Smoltz was a happy medium, competitive yet composed. He had a fierce desire to win, but he kept his emotions in check and had great control for the majority of his career. Smoltz’s best game may be the most notable one he lost, Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. In an epic pitcher’s duel against Minnesota’s Jack Morris in the Metrodome, Smoltz, making his second postseason start, went toe-to-toe with the grizzled veteran, matching zeroes for seven and a third innings. Morris pitched an extra-innings complete game as the Twins won on a walk-off single in the bottom of the tenth. The young righty may have lost the battle, but he showed he was for real, and the shutdown ability he showed in those seven innings and change set the stage for a remarkable career. Whether he was a starter or closer, Smoltz was one of the best to ever do it.
Craig Biggio: 3,000 hits should gain you first-ballot entry into the Hall of Fame, and the fact that Biggio missed the 75 percent requirement last year by two votes was a crying shame. Not only could he get you a hit anytime you needed one, he also hit 291 homers (not an easy task at 185 pounds), stole 414 bases and played all 162 games in three seasons. He wasn’t afraid of a little pain, either; he was hit by a pitch 285 times, including an astonishing 34 times in 1997. In the field, he could play any position; he played some catcher, some outfield and some second base. The man was dependable and a leader, all substance without much style or flair. He may not get as many votes as the three pitchers atop this list, but he will get 75 percent this year, and he’s got my unofficial vote.
Mike Piazza: Another player who was unfairly omitted from last year’s induction class was Piazza, one of the best catchers to ever play the game. No catcher hit more home runs or had a better slugging percentage, and he was a 10-time Silver Slugger Award winner in the National League. His outstanding hitting and acting on the side made him a fan favorite in New York, as he was voted to 12 All-Star Games. No moment endeared the pizza guy more to baseball fans than his go-ahead home run in the first game in New York since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It’s a homer that will go down in baseball lore, as one swing of the bat helped fans take their minds off the horror of the events, at least for a little while. Piazza deserves his spot in the Hall, where he will be immortalized as the best hitting catcher of all time.
Tim Raines: The seven-time All-Star affectionately known as “Rock” was an exceptional ballplayer for the Montreal Expos in the 1980s. He led the league in steals four times, runs and plate appearances twice, batting average and on-base percentage once. He ended his career with 808 steals, good for fifth all-time. While many argue that the stolen bases are not enough to get him induction, they only help his case. You can’t steal that many bases without consistently getting on base first, and Raines did just that. With a .294 career batting average and .385 career on-base percentage, he’s one of the most valuable players of the ’80s as well as the most valuable Expo of all time. He’s been far short of the 75 percent threshold, but he’s certainly in on my ballot.
Curt Schilling: The postseason made Curt Schilling a Hall of Famer. The 216 wins, 3,116 strikeouts and workhorse 3,261 innings pitched should be enough, but it’s the playoff performance that puts Schilling’s case over the top. 19 starts, an 11-2 record, a 2.23 ERA, 120 strikeouts, a sock covered in blood, an NLCS MVP, a World Series co-MVP and three rings, one that broke an 86-year curse, all combine to make him an arguable top-five postseason pitcher of all time. The others, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson and Mariano Rivera, are all in the Hall of Fame or, in Rivera’s case, will be in on the first ballot. Dozens of incredible performances in the games that matter most should be enough to vault “Schill” into baseball’s most exclusive group.
Jeff Bagwell: Bagwell has been left out of the Hall for four years now for nothing else except for suspicions of performance-enhancing drug use. It’s easy to associate playing in the “Steroid Era” with steroid use, but I think Bagwell is clean. He never failed a drug test, never popped up on the Mitchell report or was associated with BALCO, and was never a negative guy with the media, so I really don’t put any stock in the accusations against him or why they are keeping him from 75 percent of the vote. Bagwell’s career was sensational. He played all 162 games four times, hit 449 career home runs and drove in 1,529 runs. He was a slugger who made good contact, as evidenced by his .297 batting average. He won an MVP, Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove along with being named to the All-Star team four times. He was a class act who played the game the right way, and he deserves more than this by the baseball writers.
There you have it; eight deserving players made my unofficial ballot to join this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame class. Will they all get in? Probably not, but they have all earned it through stats, leadership and how they played the game.
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment or keep the conversation going on Twitter @chuckiemaggio