Four Go Into Hall Of Fame – And That's Probably Not Enough

For the second year in a row, the Baseball Writers Association of America has managed to keep its head above water.

The BBWAA and the Hall of Fame revealed today that four players will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this July as part of the museum’s annual ceremony: Randy Johnson (receiving votes on 97.3% of all ballots), Pedro Martinez (91.1%), John Smoltz (82.9%) and Craig Biggio (82.7%). That’s the largest incoming class in almost 60 years … and it probably still isn’t big enough.

Mike Piazza, for instance, remains on the outside looking in – 69.9% of the vote, up seven percentage points from last year. Given the standard rate of inflation on these things, he’s looking at induction either next year or the year after. Though some sportswriters continue to bang the PED drum on him, the only substances he’s admitted to using were greenies (which the morality squad are fine with) and Andro, an over-the-counter supplement that was legal not just for his use but for yours or mine until the FDA banned it in 2004, and was not prohibited by Major League Baseball at the time he used it. Jeff Bagwell is tarnished by similar – even more spurious – claims, and sits at 55.7%, up barely more than a percentage point from last year’s 54.3%. Hopefully next year will be more kind to him.

Tim Raines jumped from 46.1% last year to 55.0% this year, which would be heartening if he had another seven years to get to 75% – but he only has two, thanks to the Hall’s unilateral revision to how long candidates stay on the ballot. Edgar Martinez, Lee Smith, and Alan Trammell are all looking like Veterans Committee guys. Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling are lurking about the bottom half of the ballot, and should have their time to shine eventually – once only one first ballot guy is hitting the ballot per year, instead of two or three.

Speaking of which: John Smoltz, first ballot Hall of Famer? Biggio had to wait three years, and this guy sails in easily on his first ballot? It’s not unexpected – voters love Smoltz, because he was good to reporters, he checks off a lot of nice narrative boxes (gritty, came back from injury, part of one of the best rotations in history), and was successful as both a starter and a closer, which is like being two great players to some voters instead of being a great player who had to move into a less important role due to injury. He also has a Cy Young Award, sure, but his numbers are fairly unimpressive from a traditionalist standpoint. I am somewhat surprised I didn’t see someone try to add together his Pitcher Wins and Saves, call it the ‘Smoltz Index,’ and sneak it into a column like an actual metric people should respect.

Hall of Fame inductees The inductees: Craig Biggio in 2007, Pedro Martinez in 2008, Randy Johnson in 2003 and John Smoltz in 2008. Photograph: AP

It’s not even a bad thing for Smoltz to get in now. It was going to happen eventually – Smoltz does deserve induction, if not more than Mussina or Schilling do – and his election this year frees up a space for lots of voters on next year’s ballot. But next winter when guys are leaving Ken Griffey Jr off their ballots because they think he needs to wait a year, remember how Smoltz sailed through the process easily with a career line less impressive than Kevin Brown’s.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the ballot, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens gain two percentage points apiece, now at 36.8% and 37.5% respectively. They’ll be headed to the Veterans Committee as well, and unlike Raines, Smith, Martinez and Trammell they’ll likely be denied entrance through that gate as well. The Hall hasn’t explicitly banned them – in fact, it’s happy to talk about them throughout the museum, recognizing their achievements where appropriate – but it’s clear the powers that be at the Hall prefer neither man ever gain entry.

Who knows? Perhaps the Hall and the VC will do Bonds and Clemens like they did Ron Santo – deny, deny, and deny some more, and then when they’re finally dead and can no longer enjoy enshrinement, induct them the first chance they get. At least unlike Santo, Bonds and Clemens probably won’t give the Hall the satisfaction of begging to be let in.

Brian Giles – one of the three finalists I had on my unofficial ballot that ran in this space on Monday – sadly received zero votes. He deserved better. Nomar Garciaparra got 30 (thanks, Boston media), and Gary Sheffield received 64; both will stick around for another year, something which isn’t really that objectionable. Garciaparra’s votes were likely respect votes – he’ll be off the ballot soon enough. Sheffield should be around long enough to at least gain momentum for the Veterans Committee, though who knows how that will go.

But enough negativity; this is a good day for the BBWAA, the Hall, and for baseball, even with its flaws. Four well-deserving players will be headed to Cooperstown this summer for enshrinement, and their exit from the ballot (along with next year’s planned increase from 10 possible names to 12) will help ease the logjam. A job well done all around.

So take a couple days off from outrage, enjoy the end of Hall of Fame voting season, and remember Pedro, the Big Unit, Biggio and JSmoltz fondly. Keep your eyes to the future, however, and remain vigilant: 2016 is David Eckstein’s first year on the ballot.

  
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