The votes are in, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY has elected 3 new members, to be enshrined on July 27. They join managers Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and Tony La Russa, who were previously selected for induction by the Expansion Era Committee.
I fully agree with the selection of these 3 legends to the hall, as each was among the best, both on and off the field, that baseball had to offer during their time in the game.
By the way, here’s how the process works. Everyone who has been a member of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America for 10 years gets a ballot, and can vote for as many as 10 players, or as few as 0. Any player who receives 75% or more of the vote is inducted into the Hall. Players must be retired for 5 years before they are eligible, and after each year on the ballot must get at least 5% of the vote to remain eligible for the next year. After 15 years, the name is taken off the ballot, although there are other ways for them to get in, such as the Veteran’s Committee.
Maddux is perhaps the best control pitcher in the history of the game. He could paint the corners with authority, and while his strikeout numbers were never eye-popping, since he wasn’t necessarily a power pitcher, he did what a pitcher is supposed to do: he got hitters out. And in doing so, he won games. The Mad Dog won at least 15 games in 17 consecutive seasons from 1988 to 2004. He is the only man in the history of the game to win 4 consecutive Cy Young Awards, from 1992-1995, culminating with a World Series title in 1995 as part of the era’s best pitching staff with Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Over the course of his career, he led the league in wins 3 times, in ERA 4 times, in starts 7 times, in complete games 3 times, in innings pitched 5 times, and in WHIP 4 times. Speaking to his control, he allowed the least walks (per 9 innings) an astounding 9 times. He also won 18 gold glove awards (that’s not a misprint), and was an 8-time all-star. For his career, he won a total of 355 games. With all of these accolades, it should come as no surprise that Maddux was voted in on the first ballot with 97.2 percent of the vote, close to the record for the highest percentage. Maddux played 23 years, from 1986-2008, for the Cubs, Braves, Dodgers, and Padres, although he is most remembered for the 11 seasons he spent in a Braves uniform.
Glavine was just as good as Maddux. During their 10 seasons together with the Braves, he wasn’t overall overshadowed by Maddux, even as good as Maddux was. The two were similar, yet different. While Maddux used control to pitch to contact outs, Glavine used it for a blend of contact outs and strikeouts. Glavine has one of the best changeups in the history of the game, and it seemed that the changeup was even better in big games. That culminated with a 1-hit shutout of one of the best offenses in history, the 1995 Cleveland Indians, in Game 6 of the World Series. While that 1995 title was Glavine’s only championship, he was a part of 5 National League championship teams. While Glavine’s numbers don’t quite match Maddux’s, he had 14 consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins, including 5 seasons with 20+wins. In many the years Maddux didn’t lead the league in games started, Glavine did, doing so in 6 seasons. While Glavine didn’t lead the league in statistical categories that often, remember he did play in an era in which he shared the National League with Maddux, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz, among others (although some of those didn’t spend their entire careers in the NL). He won Cy Young Awards in 1991 and 1998, and was a 10-time all-star. For what it’s worth, he was also one of the league’s best hitting pitchers, winning 4 Silver Slugger Awards. He becomes a first-ballot Hall of Famer with 91.9 percent of the vote after winning 305 games in his career, ranking him 4th all-time among left-handed pitchers. He played for 22 seasons, from 1987-2008, for the Braves and Mets, with 17 of those years in Atlanta.
Thomas becomes the first inductee to have played a majority of his games at DH (Paul Molitor played the most games at DH, but it was only 44% of his games). He had one of the game’s best combinations of strength, power, and hitting for average during his era. The Big Hurt, as he is known, hit 521 homers and yet walked more than he struck out, making him a power hitter with a high on-base percentage, leading the league in walks on 4 occasions. In fact, his career OBP is .419, and he led the league in OBP 4 times, and 1 of those years also led the league in slugging. In one of the ultimate respect stats (if you will), he led the league in intentional walks twice. For his career, he hit .301, and had 1,704 RBI in addition to those aforementioned homers. Thomas was a 5-time all-star, and won the AL MVP in 1993 and 1994. He also won 4 Silver Slugger awards. And yet, he did all of this without the help of performance enhancing drugs, in an era when it seems most players who had muscles like his and produced numbers like his are now linked to PED use. Thomas, like the other 2 inductees, is elected on the first ballot, with 83.7 percent of the vote. He played 19 years, from 1990-2008, for the White Sox, Athletics, and Blue Jays, but spent 16 years as the White Sox slugger.
Craig Biggio was the headliner of the group of those who fell short. After 591 writers submitted their ballots, Biggio was just 2 votes short of enshrinement. Generally, when someone is that close, they get in the next year, but next year’s ballot includes first-timers John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Gary Sheffield, keeping the field crowded. I personally think 3 of those 4 are, in fact, worthy Hall of Famers, making it tough for the guys who didn’t get in this year. Biggio is certainly worthy, having been one of the games best hitters over a 20 year career, while playing very well defensively at catcher, 2nd base, and outfield, a widely varying group of positions.
Mike Piazza (62.2%), Jack Morris (61.5%), Curt Schilling (29.2%), and Jeff Kent (15.2%) are all also players who I believe to be worthy of enshrinement that have fallen short this year. Piazza is one of the 2 or 3 best hitting catchers in the history of the game, hitting 427 homers with a .308 average, and making 12 all-star appearances. Morris was in his final year on the ballot, meaning his Hall fate now falls to the Veteran’s Committee in the years to come. While some say his stats aren’t good enough to be in the Hall, he was one of the most dominant pitchers of the 1980s and early 1990s, and won 4 World Series titles, including pitching 10 scoreless innings in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Schilling was also an excellent postseason performer, winning 3 rings and 4 pennants, and famously pitching the so-called “Bloody Sock Game” in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. Kent was one of the league’s best RBI men of his time, hitting in 1,518 runs in his career, doing so while playing 2nd base, a position not traditionally known for producing sluggers.
Another big story in this balloting was that players linked to the use of performance enhancing drugs all lost ground in the balloting, and remain a long way away from the 75% threshold. Roger Clemens won 7 Cy Young Awards and 354 wins, but only had 35.4% of the vote, and Barry Bonds, according to the record books, is the all-time record holder in homers (762*), as well as walks and intentional walks, and won 7 MVP awards, but only had 34.7% of the vote. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa helped the game recover from aftermath of the 1994 strike with their home run chase in 1998, and had 583 and 609 homers, but only got 11.0% and 9.2% of the vote, respectively. Perhaps the biggest shock out of the PED users is Rafael Palmeiro, who failed to remain on the ballot for next year by getting only 4.4% of the vote, despite 569 homers and 1,835 RBIs.
This election is the first since 1999 in which 3 players were selected for induction. With the addition of Cox, Torre, and La Russa, there will be 6 living inductees on Hall of Fame Weekend for the first time since 1971. This is much different from last year, when there were no living inductees after no one was selected on the writers ballot, and the Pre-Integration Era Committee’s inductees had all long since died. That shutout was the result of a protest by some writers against players from the so-called PED era, as it was the first year on the ballot for players such as Bonds and Clemens, among others.
The induction will be special for many cities and fan bases, as at least one inductee has ties to the Athletics, Blue Jays, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Mets, Padres, White Sox, and Yankees. However, this will be a very special induction for the entire Atlanta area, and Braves fans everywhere, as Maddux, Glavine, and Cox are most associated with the Braves, and Torre managed the Braves in the early 1980s. In addition, La Russa appeared in 9 games for the Braves as a 2nd baseman in 1971 (and ironically wore #6), and Thomas is originally from Columbus, Georgia, about an hour and a half southwest of Atlanta.