Three For the Hall, First Ballot

The Hall of Fame voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America would be interesting no matter what. But now there's a) that little matter of the shrinkage to the 10-year voting eligibility, and b) the presence of at least three no-questions-asked Hall of Famers among those eligible for the first time.

Let's begin a Hall of Fame Class of 2015-to-be examination with a look at the new ballot arrivals. Specifically, with the three whom the writers should have no legitimate business holding off beyond the first ballot. (No arguments on behalf of the ludicrous no-first-ballot "principle" allowed without a note from the doctor. Preferably a practicing psychiatrist.)

The Should-Be Shoo-Ins

Randy Johnson

The Big Unit's been a first ballot Hall of Famer in waiting since the day he retired. Period dot period. And never mind how horrific his fastball was, his slider was almost guaranteed death. If Randy Johnson doesn't make it on the first ballot, it isn't enough that the new rules require the BBWAA voters to disclose their ballots, there should be a formal investigation.

It only begins with Johnson finishing as the leading left-handed strikeout pitcher in major league history. With five Cy Young Awards (including four straight, the only man other than Greg Maddux to accomplish that), finishing fifth in all-time wins by a left-hander (behind Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton, Eddie Plank, and Tom Glavine), finishing ninth on the all-time wins above replacement (WAR) list among pitchers (among post-World War II pitchers, he's behind only Roger Clemens, Tom Seaver, and Maddux), and finishing number one in strikeouts-per-nine, career, all time. (10.6.)

What they won't forget: His dazzling 2001 World Series co-performance with Curt Schilling (who should also be a Hall of Famer), and the fact that he's the oldest man in baseball ever to pitch a perfect game. (He was 40.) And those are just the highlights among highlights. Since his retirement, the Big Unit has fashioned a second career as a talented photographer, capturing anything from African animal life and Americana to auto racing and concert performances by the like of U2, ZZ Top, Soundgarden, and Kiss.

But I'll bet a lot of people still crack up perversely over the pitch that turned a bird flying across the pitching lane into a cloud of feathers.

Pedro Martinez

Go ahead, say it. Measuring him strictly by his career wins, Martinez is going to raise doubts among a few. But if you measure him by everything else that measures a great pitcher, this guy deserves to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He might be the single greatest peak value pitcher since Sandy Koufax that the game has seen this side of Randy Johnson, whose peak value — believe it or not — is just short of his career value even with those Cy Young Awards.

Martinez has three Cy Youngs of his own in tow. He also has five ERA titles pitching in an era full of inflated batting statistics, and those five ERA titles average out to a 2.04. In the same seasons, his fielding independent pitching average was 2.08 — and all five of those led the league, too. He retired with a 1.05 walks and hits per inning pitched rate, and batters hit .214 against him lifetime.

He wasn't quite as good overall in postseason pitching, but when he finally did get to a World Series, in 2004, he pitched seven innings of shutout ball against the Cardinals to win Game 3. Martinez also telegraphed Madison Bumgarner when he threw six innings of hitless relief to clinch a 1999 American League division series.

Like Johnson, Martinez didn't shy away from the intimidator role, for better or worse. But he did it only when he absolutely had to do it. He wasn't afraid to pitch inside and if that earned him a headhunting reputation it was a reputation more exaggerated than anything. (You may remember he once lost a perfect game at the last minute when he hit Reggie Sanders with a pitch, prompting Sanders to charge the mound and make a fool of himself when it was pointed out to him that not even Pedro Martinez is going to wreck his own perfect game by trying to drill you.)

If you're going to call Pedro Martinez a headhunter you have precious little evidence to back it up: his lifetime average of hit batsmen per 162 games is 11, and he isn't even in the top 20 lifetime in that department. In case you were wondering, the Big Unit is tied for number five with Eddie Plunk — er, Plank. Two slop-tossing knuckleballers — Tim Wakefield and Charlie Hough — are in the top 10. But it's Martinez whom everyone calls the deadly headhunter willing to weigh you after decapitation?

Martinez may not be a unanimous pick, but if Martinez isn't a first-ballot Hall of Famer that should be part of the investigation, too.

What some might not forget, the damn fools — That bench-clearing brawl in the 2003 American League Championship Series in which Martinez shoved a charging Yankee coach Don Zimmer to the ground.

It happened following warnings to both benches after Martinez threw one up and in to Karim Garcia that sailed behind and may have grazed Garcia's back. (Martinez to this day remembers the pitch hitting Garcia's bat.) Either way, Garcia took his base and the warnings went out. Then, Garcia took second on an Alfonso Soriano stroke and plowed Red Sox second baseman Todd Walker.

Subsequently, Roger Clemens threw one up over Manny Ramirez's head. It may not have been close to Ramirez, but the intent was very evident, and the benches emptied. With both teams milling on the Fenway Park infield, Zimmer was fool enough to spring out of the dugout and go charging toward Martinez.

What you may not remember: Zimmer was waving a fist as he ran toward the pitcher. Martinez shoved Zimmer to the ground, and Fox broadcasters Joe Buck and Tim McCarver lamented, "Terrible." Martinez would say after the game he had no intention of swinging at Zimmer.

To his credit, Zimmer called his own press conference the following day and apologized. He reiterated it in 2009: "I told the whole world I was wrong and that I was embarrassed by what I'd done and I apologized for it. I was definitely wrong and Pedro didn't do nothing. I told the whole world that, even though the Yankees didn't want me to hold a press conference because they were afraid I might say something to stir things up more."

That was a response to Martinez remembering it at the same time:

"This is probably the first time I'm ever going to talk about it publicly. But when Zim came over to me, I thought he was going to just give me advice or something, just ' need to slow down or something,' or try to make it look a little bit different.

"But, at that time, I'm going to be honest right now, my shoulder was barking. I was pitching on three days' rest, I think. It was two men on. I loaded the bases with a hit by pitch that wasn't a hit by pitch ... and Zim charged me, and I think he's going to say something. But his reaction was totally the opposite. He was trying to punch my mouth and told me a couple of bad words about my mom. I just had to react and defend myself."

If you don't have the right (the right, mind you) to knock down a man old enough to be your grandfather, since when does Grandpa have the concurrent right to go running across the field looking to clean the clock of a kid who could chew him up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? God rest his soul in peace, but Don Zimmer wasn't always that lovable.

John Smoltz

The Dennis Eckersley of his generation, not to mention the number three man, behind Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, in maybe the deadliest starting rotation of the 1990s and early 2000s.

But Smoltz was actually a slightly better starting pitcher than Eckersley had been in addition to being a shutdown closer for a few seasons. He was also deadly in the postseason, overall: in division series play, his lifetime ERA is 2.59; in League Championship Series play, it's 2.83; in the World Series, it's 2.47. He also has a 15-4 won-lost record, a .789 winning percentage, and a 2.67 ERA overall in postseason play.

Smoltz is also only the second man (Dennis the Menace is the first) to hang up a 20-win season and a 50+ saves season in baseball history. He went to eight all-star games, has a Cy Young Award and a Rolaids Relief Man of the Year award, and is the only pitcher in major league history to win 250 and save 150. He's the Braves' all-time strikeout leader and the sixteenth to reach 3,000 lifetime strikeouts. And if you like silly records, be advised that Smoltz is the only pitcher in baseball history with more than one ... postseason stolen base.

It'd be a huge laugh that the likable Smoltz's Hall of Fame plaque includes that. But that aside, this guy is a first-ballot Hall of Famer any way you slice him. (If he isn't, that, too, should be part of the investigation.) Come to think of it, you might expect a few laughs from Smoltz during his induction speech as opposed to a few at his expense during a couple of 2014 induction speeches.

"The next seven years (after joining the Braves) were spent winning division titles, watching the kids grow up, and watching John Smoltz's hairline recede." — Greg Maddux

"Greg, as a teammate and as a friend, you made me better through our conversations. You made me better by watching you pitch, and you made me wealthier with all the money we took from Smoltzie on the golf course." — Tom Glavine

Leave a Comment

Featured Site