The Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) will soon announce the results of their members’ vote on who will be welcomed into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this July. For a player to be inducted, he must earn 75 percent of the vote. Last year, Houston Astros legend Craig Biggio fell two votes shy of joining Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas in the induction ceremony in Cooperstown.
BBWAA members can vote for up to 10 players. It used to be that players could remain on the ballot for up to 15 years as long as they garnered at least 5 percent of the vote. However, last summer, the Hall of Fame announced that the eligibility period has been reduced to 10 years. The old rule was grandfathered for Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, and Don Mattingly, who have already been on the ballot for more than 10 years. Mattingly is in his final year of eligibility.
I am not a member of the BBWAA. But I won’t let that stop me from compiling my own list. Before proceeding, I should mention that neither Barry Bonds nor Roger Clemens are on it. This does not mean I wouldn’t include them for the Class of 2016 or in a subsequent year. However, I decided to give my votes for Bonds and Clemens to two of their contemporaries. Without further adieu, here are my ten picks for Cooperstown’s Class of 2015.
1. Randy Johnson
If ever there was a Hall of Fame slam dunk this surely is it. Truth be told, the six-ten southpaw probably could slam dunk. Randy Johnson has a chance to exceed the 98.8 percent of the vote that Tom Seaver received from the BBWAA in his first year of eligibility back in 1992. The only question here is whether Johnson’s plaque will have a Seattle Mariners or an Arizona Diamondbacks cap carved into it. Johnson is arguably not only the greatest left-handed pitcher ever to step on a mound, he might be the best pitcher ever to step on a mound period. Randy Johnson is every bit as good as Walter Johnson and might even be better.
It sure didn’t look that way when he was a struggling young pitcher with the Montreal Expos. Johnson fought mightily with his control. In 1989, Johnson was 0-4 with a 6.67 ERA with 26 walks (along with 26 strikeouts) in 29 2/3 innings pitched when he and fellow pitchers Gene Harris and Brian Holman were traded to Seattle for Mark Langston. In Seattle, Johnson would harness that control and become the Big Unit. Johnson would earn 10 All-Star appearances, five Cy Young Awards (including four consecutive NL Cy Youngs between 1999 and 2002) and finished runner up in Cy Young balloting thrice. Let’s not forget the World Series ring with the D’Backs in 2001 in which he shared MVP honors with Curt Schilling (who may very well have his day in Cooperstown soon). Johnson led the league in strikeouts nine times and on six occasions struck out 300 or more batters in a season. He would finish his career with a staggering 4,875 strikeouts, second only to Nolan Ryan. He also threw a no-hitter and a perfect game 14 years apart.
If those credentials aren’t enough, Johnson also won 303 career games. He is very likely the last pitcher who will ever attain that mark.
2. Pedro Martinez
If Randy Johnson intimidated batters with his height, Pedro Martinez surely did not standing at least a foot smaller. When Pedro Martinez made his big league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1992, he was thought of as onetime 20-game winner Ramon Martinez’s skinny little brother. When the Dodgers dealt the younger Martinez to Montreal prior to the 1994 season, Expos fans were furious because they had to give up All-Star second baseman Delino DeShields.
But Martinez would soon make Expos fans forget DeShields and become the greatest pitcher in franchise history. He was exciting to watch. I remember when Martinez threw nine perfect innings against the San Diego Padres only to lose it in the 10th on a leadoff triple by Bip Roberts. Well, unlike Harvey Haddix, there would be no hard luck for Pedro.
Martinez would win the NL Cy Young in 1997, going 17-8 with a 1.90 ERA and striking out 305 batters in only 241 1/3 innings. The Expos would trade Martinez to the Boston Red Sox the following season where he would win back to back AL Cy Youngs in 1999 and 2000. In so doing, Martinez arguably became the best pitcher in that franchise’s history as well. At the very least, he keeps good company with both Roger Clemens and Cy Young. Incidentally, Martinez would finish runner up in Cy Young balloting on two other occasions. Aside from winning three Cy Youngs, he was an 8-time All-Star, including 1999 at Fenway Park when he struck out five of the six batters he faced. Martinez also led the league in ERA five times, thrice led the league in strikeouts, and twice struck out 300 or more batters in a season. Martinez would strike out 3,154 batters while only walking 760. Only two other pitchers have struck out more than 3,000 batters while walking fewer than 1,000: Ferguson Jenkins and Curt Schilling. Speaking of Schilling, back in 2004 he and Martinez were instrumental in helping the Red Sox win their first World Series title in 86 years. Aside from Juan Marichal, Martinez is the greatest pitcher to ever come out of the Dominican Republic.
In a period when hitting was king, Martinez made these kings look foolish, as in Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS against the Cleveland Indians when he came out of the bullpen and pitched six innings of no-hit ball despite a bad back. In 2000, when the average AL ERA was 4.91, Martinez posted an ERA of 1.74 — the highest ERA differential in MLB history. That year I went to Fenway Park on a soggy, Sunday afternoon to see a doubleheader against the Indians. It would be rained out. However, after the games were called, those of us who stuck around were allowed to watch Pedro warm up with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. All of us were shouting at Pedro and yet it was as if we weren’t even there. That is how focused he was on the task at hand. Pedro Martinez is the greatest pitcher I’ve ever seen pitch in person. As with Randy Johnson, he will be easily inducted in his first year on the ballot.
3. Curt Schilling
Given his links to both Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, it would be nice to see Curt Schilling inducted alongside them. Unlike Johnson and Martinez, this is Schilling’s third year on the Hall of Fame ballot. In 2014, his vote total actually dropped from 38.8 percent to 29.2 percent. However, a month later Schilling was diagnosed with cancer, which has since gone into remission. Schilling would reveal that it was oral cancer, a result of chewing smokeless tobacco for three decades.
Although Schilling’s prognosis is good, I would hate to see Schilling find himself in Buck O’Neill’s shoes or in Ron Santo’s shoes and be inducted into Cooperstown posthumously. It is an honor he should experience while he is still here. He’s earned it.
Originally a second round draft pick by the Red Sox in 1986, Schilling was traded along with Brady Anderson to the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 1988 season for pitcher Mike Boddicker. Schilling spent three undistinguished seasons in Baltimore and then was sent to the Houston Astros along with Steve Finley and Pete Harnisch in exchange for Glenn Davis where he had yet another mediocre season. That year Houston native Roger Clemens would take Schilling aside and tell him he was wasting his talent. Schilling rededicated his efforts, which would pay dividends in 1992 when he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Jason Grimsley, winning 14 games and posting a 2.35 ERA. In 1993, the Phillies unexpectedly won the NL pennant. Schilling contributed 16 wins and tossed a complete game shutout against the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 5 of the World Series. Unfortunately, Schilling’s efforts were overshadowed by Joe Carter’s walk-off home run off Mitch Williams in Game 6.
After being plagued with injuries for several seasons, Schilling would become one of MLB’s elite pitchers in 1997 when he won 17 games, struck out a career high 319 batters, and earned the first of his six All-Star Team selections. Schilling would strike out 300 or more batters twice more. He led the NL in complete games four times, won 20 or more games in a season thrice, and would earn three World Series rings — one with the D’Backs in 2001 and two with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007. In 19 career post-season appearances, Schilling went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 133 1/3 innings pitched. Did I mention the bloody sock? It’s in Cooperstown. Why not the man who wore it?
4. Craig Biggio
As noted, Biggio missed being inducted into Cooperstown by two votes last year. Hopefully, in his third year on the ballot, he will get those two votes and then some. Biggio spent his entire 20-year big league career with the Houston Astros where he began as a catcher and then became a second baseman. Biggio is the only player in MLB history to make an All-Star team at both positions. In all, Biggio would be named to seven NL All-Star Teams, win four Gold Gloves for his play at second base, thrice led the NL in doubles and twice in runs scored. Biggio also led the NL in stolen bases in the strike-shortened season of 1994, would steal a career-high 50 bases in 1998, and finished his career with a respectable 414 stolen bases. No wonder the Astros moved him from behind the plate.
Most impressive of all, Biggio collected 3,060 hits. Of the 28 men who reached the 3,000 hit mark, only four aren’t in the Hall of Fame. Pete Rose isn’t eligible, Derek Jeter will be eligible in 2020, and Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for steroids. Well, Biggio is eligible, he didn’t bet on baseball, and didn’t test positive for steroids. There’s no reason he shouldn’t receive those last two votes.
5. Jeff Bagwell
Although Craig Biggio’s individual achievements are worthy of inclusion in Cooperstown, it is nearly impossible to discuss him without mentioning Jeff Bagwell. Biggio & Bagwell — The Killer B’s. They were the heart and soul of the Houston Astros in the 1990s and early 2000s. A fourth round draft pick of the Red Sox in 1989, Bagwell was shipped by Boston to Houston late in 1990 for middle reliever Larry Andersen as the Red Sox vied for an AL East title. While Andersen would depart for San Diego via free agency in 1991, that year Bagwell would become NL Rookie of the Year and he spent his entire 15-year big league career in Houston. In those 15 years, Bagwell would reach 100 or more RBIs eight times, reach 100 or more walks seven times, and have an OBP of .400 or better seven times. He also hit 30 or more home runs nine times and three times slugged more than 40 home runs in a season. Bagwell won the NL MVP in 1994 and was named to four NL All-Star teams. He finished his career with a lifetime batting average of .297, 449 home runs, and 1529 RBIs, along with a career OBP of .408.
Yet in the four years Bagwell has been on the ballot, he has never received more than 60 percent of the BBWAA vote. Since Bagwell played in the so-called Steroids Era, this has been held against him even though he never appeared in the Mitchell Report much less tested positive for any banned substance. If I were a member of the BBWAA, I would need a lot more than probably and maybe to prevent me from casting a ballot for Bagwell.
6. Lee Smith
In the next few years, we will see two of MLB’s top closers inducted into Cooperstown. Next year, there’s a good chance that Trevor Hoffman and his 601 career saves will be inducted. In 2019, Mariano Rivera’s 652 are sure to follow. Third on the all-time saves list is Lee Smith, who recorded 478 in an 18-year big league career. Smith has been on the ballot for 12 years and has only three more chances to make it. They’re not looking good. In 2012 Smith cracked the 50 percent mark for the first time, only to slip to 47.8 percent in 2013. Last year, his vote total fell 29.9 percent, his worst to date.
Yet Smith was a remarkably durable closer when you consider that most closers have a shelf life of two or three seasons. Smith recorded 234 saves in the 1980s and 244 saves in the 1990s. The black mark against Smith is that he never pitched in the World Series. Well, Ken Griffey, Jr. never played in a World Series. Somehow I don’t think that will impede him from being inducted on the first ballot in 2016. How about Rod Carew, George Sisler, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, George Kell, Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, and Ron Santo?
Although Smith pitched for eight teams in his career, he spent nearly half of it with the Cubs. If World Series appearances were a prerequisite for getting into the Hall of Fame then we would have a Cub-free Cooperstown. That shouldn’t be held against Smith any more than it was against Banks, Jenkins, and Santo.
7. Alan Trammell
As with Lee Smith, the window on Alan Trammell’s Hall of Fame eligibility is rapidly closing. This year marks his 14th on the ballot. After receiving 36.8 percent of the vote in 2012, his total declined to 33.6 percent in 2013 before dropping dramatically to 20.8 percent last year.
It’s a shame when you consider that Trammell patrolled shortstop for the Tigers for 20 years, just as Derek Jeter did for the Yankees. No, Trammell isn’t the offensive player that Jeter was, but his .285 lifetime batting average and 2,385 hits aren’t to be dismissed either. No, Trammell didn’t earn five World Series rings like Jeter. But he did earn one and was named the 1984 World Series’ MVP. (Jeter earned his World Series MVP in 2000.) Both men finished runner up in the AL MVP balloting in 1987 and in 2006, respectively. Jeter would earn five Gold Gloves while Trammell won four. Yes, Jeter absolutely deserves to get into the Hall on his first try in 2020, but I think Trammell warrants more than 20 percent of the vote in his penultimate year of eligibility.
Of course, no discussion of Alan Trammell is complete without mentioning Lou Whitaker. Trammell and Whitaker were double-play partners for 19 seasons. Trammell and Whitaker are simply the greatest double play combination in MLB history. Yet Whitaker only garnered 2.9 percent of the vote from the BBWAA in 2001 and immediately fell off the ballot. At least Trammell gets a little respect. Unfortunately, a little respect isn’t enough to get you into the Hall of Fame.
8. Tim Raines
Next to Rickey Henderson’s astounding 1,406 stolen bases, the 808 bases that Tim Raines stole in his career might pale in comparsion. But Raines is fifth on MLB’s all-time stolen bases list. The four men ahead of Raines — Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton, and Ty Cobb — all have plaques in Cooperstown.
During the 1980s, Raines was one of baseball’s greatest offensive threats at the top of the Montreal Expos’ lineup. Raines led the NL in stolen bases four straight years and stole at least 50 bases in eight seasons. He also twice led the NL in runs scored. Raines was named to seven NL All-Star Teams and won the NL batting title in 1986. Later in his career, Raines adapted to being a role player and earned World Series rings with the New York Yankees in 1996 and 1998. In addition to his 808 stolen bases, Raines finished his career with 2,605 hits, a respectable .294 lifetime batting average, and an OBP of .385.
In his seven years on the ballot, Raines has cracked 50 percent of the vote once. If he is not inducted this year, he will only have two more tries left. Unless the BBWAA gives him another look, even Raines won’t be able to outrun time.
9. Jeff Kent
Perhaps next year, I will place Barry Bonds in this spot. Instead, I have selected a man who batted next to him in the San Francisco Giants batting order for six seasons.
Although Jeff Kent is best remembered for his stint in San Francisco, he began his big league career at third base with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992. At the time, Kelly Gruber was ensconced at third base. But on an early Sunday afternoon game in April, I was watching a Jays game in my dorm at Carleton University. When Kent came up to bat, everyone around me asked, “Who the hell is Jeff Kent?” As if he heard our question, Kent then knocked a double off the wall.
Later that season, the Jays would send Kent to the New York Mets in exchange for pitcher David Cone. In so doing, the Jays acquired a key piece of their back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993. Kent was moved to second base. Although a mediocre defender, he continued to hit solidly. The Mets dealt Kent to Cleveland in the middle of the 1996 season, but didn’t quite fit in a lineup that included Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, and Jim Thome.
Prior to the 1997 season, the Indians traded Kent along with infielder Jose Vizcaino and relief pitcher Julian Tavarez to the San Francisco Giants for Matt Williams (now the manager of the Washington Nationals). To call the trade unpopular would be an understatement as demonstrated by these letters to the editor which appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle. One of them read, “I still can’t believe it. The Giants trade a potential Hall of Famer to Cleveland for three nobodies.”
Williams would spend one season in Cleveland and play in his first World Series since ill-fated Earthquake Series of 1989. He spent final five years of his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and won his first World Series ring in 2001. In 2009, the BBWAA gave Williams 1.3 percent of their vote and he quietly fell off the ballot.
Meanwhile, in his six seasons with the Giants, Kent would drive in 100 or more runs every year. Kent, who would settle in at second base, had his finest season in 2000 when he won the NL MVP after hitting a career-high .334 with 33 home runs and 125 RBIs. In his final season in San Francisco in 2002, Kent played in his only World Series as the Giants fell to the Anaheim Angels in seven games.
Kent then spent two seasons with the Houston Astros and four with the Los Angeles Dodgers before retiring at the end of the 2008 season. He would have an 100 RBI campaign and a NL All-Star appearance for each team. In all, he was selected to five NL All-Star Teams. Kent finished his career with a .290 lifetime batting average, 377 home runs, and 1,518 RBIs along with 560 doubles. Of his 377 homers, 351 were hit as a second baseman — the most in MLB history. Not bad for a guy who was a walk-on player at UC Berkeley and didn’t get drafted until the 20th round of the 1989 draft.
Kent made his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot last year and received only 15.1 percent of the vote. Aside from his mediocre defense, Kent’s productivity came during the so-called Steroids Era. But as with Jeff Bagwell, Kent never tested positive for banned substances nor did his name appear in the Mitchell Report. Unfortunately, Kent was unpopular with his teammates, the media, and sometimes with the fans as when he said that the Dodgers’ legendary broadcaster Vin Scully talked too much. He was in the wrong on that occasion, but as a player he’s a Hall of Famer in my book.
10. Don Mattingly
This final spot could have gone to Roger Clemens, but I have opted to give it to Don Mattingly. Clemens did beat out Mattingly for the 1986 AL MVP, but Mattingly wins this time around. Of course, this is of small consolation as 2015 represents Mattingly’s 15th and final year on the BBWAA ballot.
This year also represents Mattingly’s fifth season as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. But to baseball fans, Mattingly will forever be a New York Yankee. During the 1980s, most people would have viewed Donnie Baseball as a first ballot Hall of Famer. Outside of his Red Sox rival Wade Boggs, there was no purer hitter in the game. In 1984, Mattingly put himself on the map when he beat out Yankees teammate Dave Winfield for what proved to be his only AL batting title with a .343 mark. Mattingly was even better in 1985 when he won the AL MVP by hitting .324 with 35 home runs and 145 RBIs. He also led the league in doubles with 48. Some argue he was even better in 1986 when he collected a career-high 238 hits, which was good enough for a .352 batting average, 31 home runs, and 113 RBIs. He also led the AL in slugging and OPS with marks of .573 and .967, respectively, that season.
Mattingly was named to six consecutive AL All-Star Teams between 1984 and 1989. But then Mattingly’s back began to give him trouble and his offensive output would decline. Between 1990 and 1995, Mattingly would only hit above .300 once. However, Mattingly’s prowess as a first baseman remained intact winning four Gold Gloves in the 1990s on top of the five he earned during the 1980’s. Mattingly is arguably the greatest fielding first baseman in the history of the game.
In Mattingly’s first year on the BBWAA ballot in 2001, he received 28.2 percent of the vote. He would never reach that level of support again. Last year, Mattingly only received 8.2 percent. Yet Mattingly’s career statistics are remarkably similar to those of the late Minnesota Twins legend Kirby Puckett. Mattingly finished his career with a lifetime batting average of .307, hit 222 home runs, and drove in 1,099 runs. Puckett finished his career with a lifetime batting average of .318, hit 207 home runs and drove in 1085 runs. Both men won one AL batting title apiece and were the best defensive players in the AL at their respective positions. It’s true that Mattingly played two seasons longer than Puckett, but Mattingly did not become a regular player until 1984, which was Puckett’s rookie season. Thus the two are quite comparable. So why is it that Puckett got inducted in his first year on the ballot with 82.2 percent of the vote in 2001 while Mattingly only managed 28.2 percent that same year?
Should Mattingly fail to get elected to the Hall of Fame this year, he could get a second look by the Expansion Era Veterans Committee, which convenes every three years to consider the merits of players who were active from 1973 onward. If anything, the Veterans Committee has proven to be a tougher nut to crack than the BBWAA. But if anyone is worthy of a second look it is Don Mattingly.
So there’s my list. Feel free to praise and damn as you see fit.
To fans of Fred McGriff, Larry Walker, and Mike Mussina, fear not. You might find these players on my ten picks for Cooperstown in 2016. But as with those long-suffering Brooklyn Dodgers fans, you’ll have to wait until next year.
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