The plethora of big names appearing on the ballot for the MLB Hall of Fame won’t be disappearing anytime soon.
Wednesday saw three played elected to Cooperstown by the Baseball Writers Association of America for the first time since 1999. All three were big, big names. There was also almost a fourth, with Craig Biggio falling two votes short. Had he been elected, it would’ve been the first time since 1955 four players were elected by the BBWAA.
Considering how Goose Gossage got 71.2% in 2007 before his election in 2008, and Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven got 73.7% and 74.2%, respectively, in 2010 before their elections in 2011, Biggio should have no trouble picking up those two votes. In the likelihood Biggio is elected, he very well could be joined by a few other names. It is currently unknown how many will reach the magic threshold of 75% of the vote, but an impressive list of first-timers worthy of note who are making their way on the ballot in 2015.
Randy Johnson: In 2014, it was Greg Maddux. In 2015, it’s going to be Randy Johnson. Just like with Maddux, it’ll be a travesty to whomever leaves Johnson off their ballot. Most certainly he’s going to get the highest voting percentage of anybody next year. The only thing one should wonder is if he’ll eclipse Maddux’s 97.2%.
The Big Unit’s 4,875 career strikeouts are second to Nolan Ryan (5,714) for most in history. He is one of only a handful of pitchers to have won a Cy Young in both leagues and became the second pitcher after Maddux to win four Cy Young Awards in a row. He’ll likely also be the first player to wear an Arizona Diamondbacks hat on his plaque, with an outside chance he goes in wearing a Seattle Mariners hat.
Pedro Martinez: Pedro didn’t quite win four straight Cy Young awards, but he came very close. Like Johnson, he also won a Cy Young in both leagues.
In 1997, he won one with the Montreal Expos. Martinez then spent the next 7 seasons in a Boston Red Sox uniform. Martinez finished runner-up to Roger Clemens in the 1998 AL Cy Young voting before having two historic seasons in 1999 and 2000, when also placed 2nd and 5th in AL MVP voting respectively. Martinez won an astonishing five MLB ERA titles, not just in his league, but in all of baseball. Pedro had a 154 career ERA+, second only to Mariano Rivera (205 ERA+) for the highest ever, and Pedro has the best of any starter in history. He racked up 3,154 strikeouts, and one of 16 members of the 3,000 strikeout club. 11 of them have been enshrined. Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling are eligible but have not yet been enshrined.
Johnson, Martinez and this next man make up the other three names on that list. Whether someone loves wins and losses or hates them, Martinez was 219-100 in his career. Pitchers who retire with a record of 100 over .500 usually get the good news.
John Smoltz: It really is hard to believe the Atlanta Braves won just one World Series during the years of Maddux, Tom Glavine and Smoltz, but sometimes things just turn out that way.
Smoltz’s 15 postseason wins are second only to Andy Pettitte (19) for most career postseason wins. Smoltz is currently the only pitcher with 200 wins and 150 saves. Despite Maddux winning 3 of his 4 consecutive Cy Young Awards in a Braves uniform in the 1990s and Glavine winning in 1991 and 1998, Smoltz earned one himself in 1996.
He was durable; a workhorse who carved up batters for a good two decades. Like Johnson and Martinez, he’s earned his plaque. It’s not going to be easy in 2015 if the Rule of 10 isn’t expanded, but it’s hard not to imagine Smoltz joining Maddux, Glavine and skipper Bobby Cox in Cooperstown.
Gary Sheffield: There may not be a more controversial or interesting first-timer in 2015 than Sheffield. One has to wonder how many votes he’ll get. Sheffield did hit 509 home runs. He finished 3rd in NL MVP voting twice in 1992 and 2003, and was runner-up to Vladimir Guerrero for the AL MVP in 2004. Still, he was named in the Mitchell Report.
Sheffield was never a superstar like Barry Bonds Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens or Rafael Palmeiro. Palmeiro is now off the ballot after garnering 4.4% of the vote this year. If the likes of Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, McGwire and Palmeiro had a hard time getting support, I don’t think it looks good for Sheffield. Perhaps the really interesting scenario would be if there was never any PED evidence linked to Sheffield, like in Frank Thomas’ case. In that case, he may have had a few years to wait before getting in. Then again, Fred McGriff got just 11.7% of the vote in 2014 despite hitting 493 career home runs. As for what percentage Sheffield will get, I think he’ll barely crack the above 5%. It would certainly be unexpected to me if he cracked any higher than 10%.
Carlos Delgado: It is unlikely Carlos Delgado is ever going to be voted into the Hall of Fame, but he does have a little bit of a case and does deserve some votes. He was one of the premier home run hitters in his day, hitting 30 of them 11 times, 10 of them in a row. He had three 40 home run seasons and was runner-up to Alex Rodriguez in the AL MVP voting in 2003. He hit 473 home runs, 27 shy of 500. If he had 500 home runs and scooped up that MVP trophy in 2003, Delgado may have joined Alomar as the only other player wearing a Blue Jays hat on his Hall of Fame plaque, but he appears short. He certainly does not deserve the one-and-done treatment. The good news, though, is Delgado’s name is nowhere to be found in the Mitchell Report.
Nomar Garciaparra: Many players have started off their career with potential for Cooperstown, only for something else to happen. In Nomar’s case, he won the American League Rookie of the Year in 1997 and finished runner-up to Juan Gonzalez in AL MVP voting in 1998. Martinez wasn’t the only Red Sox to have a pair of outstanding campaigns in 1999 and 2000. In those years, Garciaparra batted .357 and .372, respectively. He has a career OPS+ of 124 and it looked like at one point the Hall was going to have its doors wide open for Nomar. The only problem is that he played in just 1,434 games in his career. From 2004-2009, he only played in 100 games twice and it doesn’t help when he missed most of 2001 after winning back-to-back batting titles, either. He had a better career than most of the first-timers eligible, but the lack of games played may keep him out of Cooperstown.
Troy Percival: He probably won’t crack the necessary 5% to stay on the ballot, but he’s definitely a notable first timer. The four-time All Star saved 358 games in his career. Perhaps none of those saves was bigger, however, than game 7 of the 2002 World Series, when the Anaheim Angels defeated the San Francisco Giants 4-1. It was Percival’s 3rd save of the Series, and though Troy Glaus took home MVP honors, Percival did belong in the discussion for such an award.
The question won’t be if Johnson gets elected in 2015, but if he’ll have a higher or lower percentage than Maddux. Certainly Smoltz and Martinez did enough to appear on 75% of the ballot in their first year of eligibility and while I can’t say it’s a definite, I’d have a very hard time believing Biggio won’t pick up two more votes for election next year.
2015 is also Alan Trammell’s final year on the ballot. Based on the percentage he has gotten in recent memory, he’ll have to rely on a special committee to correct this BBWAA mistake, barring a miracle in his final year on the ballot.
It’ll also be interesting to see how much closer, if any, Mike Piazza gets to being voted in. Seeing as how he got 62.2% in only his second year on the ballot with the Rule of 10, Piazza is hardly in an undesirable position and most likely is going to get that 75% sometime in the next 15 years. If the Rule of 10 is expanded, however, or if there is no limit, then this whole thing could be wide open. Regardless if there’s ballot reform or not, 2015 is certain to bring excitement and anticipation the way 2014 did.