Monday, January 5, 2015

Pitchers to Dominate Hall Induction

Pitchers to Dominate Hall Induction
Sanford D. Horn
January 5, 2015

Having just turned the calendar from 2014 to 2015 and the thermostat up a couple degrees while donning another collegiate sweatshirt all eyes naturally turn toward – yup, that’s right – baseball! While pitchers and catchers don’t report for duty for about six weeks, there is some important baseball business needing immediate attention – the upcoming vote on who will earn entry into the Hall of Fame.

“Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” ( This is the standard by which the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) is to do their jobs.

The crux is character and integrity – neither of which was exhibited by Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, or Sammy Sosa, each accused of using steroids during their playing careers. These players’ bad behavior should not be rewarded. They only way they should be allowed into Cooperstown is with a paid ticket for admission. For as many years as these miscreants have been on the ballot, I remain steadfastly opposed to their entry, and will continue to be so in the future until their eligibility is exhausted and beyond.

Were I entrusted with casting some of the precious votes to determine the Class of 2015 into the Baseball Hall of Fame, seven retired players would appear on my ballot – four holdovers from last year and three appearing in their first year of eligibility.

Craig Biggio spent the entirety of his 20 years in the majors with the Houston Astros. The seven time all-star also earned four Gold Gloves and five Silver Sluggers, and reached the magic number of hits, surpassing 3,000 with his 3,060. Biggio managed to appear in many offensive leadership categories while playing for a typically sluggish Astros team. The former second baseman, who I incorrectly predicted would be a first ballot entrant in 2013, and missed election by a  mere two votes in 2014, still deserves a plaque in Cooperstown.

Checking in with 270 career wins is two-time ballot occupant Mike Mussina, who spent 10 years with the Baltimore Orioles and eight with the New York Yankees. A big fan of “Moose,” an economics graduate from Stanford University as an Oriole, it hurt my eyes to see him donning the pinstripes. Mussina was selected to five All Star teams and won seven Gold Gloves. While he was overshadowed by Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux in 2014, Mussina garnered more victories than Hall of Famers Carl Hubbell, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal – with whom Mussina was compared, and Whitey Ford. Mussina ended his career at age 39, the oldest to record his lone 20-win season, going 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA.

Because Mike Piazza played nearly eight of his 16-year career with the New York Mets, naturally he is a favorite. However, the 12-time all-star cracked 427 home runs, batted .308 and earned 10 Silver Slugger awards all while catching 1629 games – top flight numbers regardless of what team he played for. Piazza, the 1993 Rookie of the Year, spent the first six-plus years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, a year each with the San Diego Padres and Oakland A’s as well as five minutes with the then Florida Marlins. Piazza’s place in Cooperstown is all but bronzed – is what I erroneously predicted the last two years, but I still believe he will be enshrined.

Curt Schilling, bloody sock and all, is on my ballot. The six-time all-star pitched 20 seasons in the big leagues – three with the Orioles, one with the Astros, eight-plus with the Philadelphia Phillies, three-plus with the Arizona Diamondbacks, then calling it a career with the Boston Red Sox. Schilling tossed 83 complete games, appeared in three World Series, and had three 20-plus win seasons within a four year span at ages 36, 38, and 39. Schilling should have his ticket stamped this summer – was my mistaken prediction the last two years, and perhaps he may be overlooked again on this year’s pitching rich ballot, but Schilling still belongs among those who will enter the Hall before him.

It would be nice to see Schilling enter the Hall with former teammate Randy Johnson, a bona fide first ballot entrant. They led the 2001 Diamondbacks to a World Series championship against the emotional favorite New York Yankees mere months following the terrorist attacks of September 11. (This lifelong Mets fan rooted hard for the D-backs.) Johnson’s career spanned 1988-2009, when he retired at age 46, having pitched for the Montreal Expos, Seattle Mariners, Astros, Diamondbacks, Yankees, and San Francisco Giants. Having amassed 303 victories and a winning percentage of .646, Johnson may be the last to reach that win total milestone for a long time to come as the five-man rotation may set the new standard at 250. Johnson was the dominant hurler from 1993-2002 winning five Cy Young awards with a record of 175-58 and a 2.73 ERA culminating in winning the pitching Triple Crown with 24 wins, 334 strikeouts, and a 2.32 ERA. Johnson’s career strikeout mark of 4,875 leaves him second all-time behind only Nolan Ryan, while also averaging 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. The “Big Unit” not only tossed a no-hitter in 1990, but hurled a perfect game in 2004, at age 40, the oldest player to do so.

If Johnson’s first ballot election to the Hall is a no-brainer, so too should Pedro Martinez’s. While I put him on my ballot for rookie year enshrinement, additional research was the clincher. Martinez’s career with the Dodgers, Expos, Red Sox, Mets, and Phillies spanned 18 years from 1992-2009. While Martinez won 84 fewer games than Johnson, Martinez won 219, his per season record was actually better than Johnson’s – 17-8 versus 17-9. Martinez won the Cy Young award three times as well as the 1999 American League pitching Triple Crown with 23 wins, 313 strikeouts, and a 2.07 ERA. His winning percentage of .687 ranks sixth all time while averaging 10.04 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Martinez fanned 3154 batters, for 13th all time, and was a part of the 2004 Red Sox World Series championship.

Last, but not least on my ballot would be John Smoltz, who spent 20 of his 21 years with the Atlanta Braves before splitting time with the Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals his last season, pitching from 1988-2009. Smoltz, on the ballot for the first time, is the only pitcher with 200+ wins and 150+ saves, garnering 213 and 154 respectively, while winning a Cy Young award in 1996 and his 3,084 strikeouts places him 16th all time. Between 2002-04, Smoltz not only earned 40+ saves each year, he set the National League saves mark with 55 in 2002.

While it is important to not sully the Baseball Hall of Fame with the likes of Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Palmeiro, and Sosa, the focus should be on the greats who will be enshrined this July and how they will continue to be the true ambassadors to the community as so many before them have been.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN. He has been a Patron-level member of the Baseball Hall of Fame since 2007.

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