Peter Gammons: History awaits the 2015 Hall of Fame class

pedro martinez

By Tuesday afternoon, we will know watching MLB Network that Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson are Hall of Famers, and who else did and did not get the 75 per cent necessary for election, and it will be history. From Tuesday until the celebration in Cooperstown the last week in July, the inductees will bask in the warmth of their inclusion into the rooms of The Babe, Henry Aaron, Sandy Koufax and Ted Williams, before going back to the healthy debates about the process and the candidates for future elections.

For reasons personal or slovenly, some will not vote for Martinez and/or Johnson. But both will make it, easily, as they should. They are two of the 15-to-20 greatest starting pitchers in history. By ERA-plus, Pedro is the best starting pitcher, ever. He is second in winning percentage (to Whitey Ford) since 1900, he won five earned run average titles and three Cy Young Awards and he did it all in the heart of the Steroid Era.

What is interesting is that in this mind’s eye, there are five pitchers on this ballot who clearly deserve to be inducted in Cooperstown—Martinez, Johnson, John Smoltz, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling—and they pitched (as did ’14 inductees Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine) in the heart of that era, a time period in which we do not choose to elect Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and some others because of their suspected PED usage.

Johnson is arguably one of the five greatest lefthanded pitchers in history. 303 wins. First in strikeouts per 9 innings, second in total strikeouts, five Cy Youngs, led leagues in strikeouts nine times. If you had seen him pitch in Palmer, Alaska between his freshman and sophomore years at the University of Southern California, you would appreciate how hard this man worked to achieve greatness.

Bill James, in his Fools Rush In collection, defines big game pitchers—appropriately taking in the meaningful regular season games that allow teams to get to the post-seasons that make for easy “big game” definitions—and determines that while Johnson’s record in playoff games was unimpressive (thank you, Kevin Brown and Charles Nagy) while winning three games in the 2001 World Series, he is one of the three greatest big game pitchers ever, along with Roy Oswalt and Bob Gibson. James wrote that Johnson made 48 starts in big games, in which he was 30-5, 2.44 with 421 strikeouts in 345 innings, and that in the 12 biggest games he started, he won 11 of them.

What is fascinating about James’ study is that he has John Smoltz fifth among big game pitchers. He was 15-4, 2.67 in 41 post-season appearances, 27 starts. He is the only pitcher ever to win 200 games and save 150. He won a Cy Young and Rolaids Award. On an historically great pitching staff, when healthy and starting, he was, actually, The Man. In this mind, he is a no-doubter, but this mind has never understood the concept of “first ballot Hall of Famer,” so that discussion can move on to another place, another time.

What seems incomprehensible is how little support Mussina has received. James ranks Mussina the 11th best big game pitcher in history, 54 starts in five contending years with the Orioles and eight with the Yankees, in which he had a 3.07 earned run average (when the AL East was a major power with hitters’ ballparks) and a 27-13 record.

In Pitchers’ WAR, Mussina ranks 24th all-time; Roger Clemens is third, Greg Maddux eighth, Johnson ninth, Martinez 17th, Mussina 24th, Schilling 26th. He reached the majors in 1992 and retired after the 2008 season, and won 270 games—more than anyone in that time but Maddux, with 280—and when one looks at ERA+, which adjusts for ballparks and league average, he surpasses Warren Spahn and Steve Carlton. For those who diminish the win statistic, in 1997 he made two starts against the Indians in the ALCS, in which his line was 15 4 1 1 4 25 and the Orioles lost both games. In the finale, he pitched a nine inning one hitter, but Nagy shut out Baltimore, Tony Fernandez homered off Armando Benitez in the 12th and Cleveland went on to the World Series.

Mussina belongs in Cooperstown, as does Schilling. His 11-2, 2.23 post-season record is unmatched, and he did it as a fireballer for the ‘93 Phillies and ’01 Diamondbacks, and he did it in 2007 for the Red Sox, winning in all three series en route to the world championship often throwing 85 MPH, testament to his preparation, intelligence and instincts. He was in his league’s top three in complete games nine times, and he is the all-time leader in strikeout/walk ratio; if he and Pedro go in together, that will mean that the 1-2 leaders in that category, who pitched together in 2004, will stand side-by-side. In fact, if I had my way, Schilling would go in with Pedro and Randy and an Oriole farmhand, Mussina.

What these five pitchers share in common was that they all demanded the ball. Terry Francona once said “Schill is the best guy to manage and the worst,” a compliment to how difficult it was to talk him off the mound. Ditto Martinez; ask Grady Little. Ditto Smoltz, who has never allowed anyone else to ever drive his car.

Each of the five pitchers have defining moments in their careers. Johnson’s was an unrelenting march. Martinez overcame Tommy Lasorda’s perception that he was too small, then won post-season games with injuries and an 87 MPH fastball. Mussina once pitched for two months with a cap a full size larger after being hit in the face by a line drive and suffering severe swelling. Smoltz had two arm operations, Schilling as well. Their common definition was obsessive wills for greatness.

Then there are the position players. Jeff Bagwell is one of the four greatest first basemen ever, slugger, premier defender, great baserunner, his career shortened by a genetic arthritic shoulder, yet still great enough to be 21st in OPS, 37th in OPS+, ahead of Frank Thomas.

For those of us who believe in the importance of leadoff hitters, Tim Raines is second only to Rickey Henderson. 430 doubles, .847 stolen base percentage, best ever. In a seven year stretch he led the majors in hits and was third in OBP behind HOFers Henderson and Wade Boggs, and when his career was over he reached base 22 more times than Tony Gwynn.

Mike Piazza is the greatest offensive catcher in history, and belongs in.

So does Craig Biggio, and likely will after missing by two votes.

Which then brings the ballot to the tenth position. This is not the time or place to debate a 12 name ballot, or a 20 name ballot. Is Gary Sheffield a Hall of Famer? A great discussion, leaning positive. I again underestimated Edgar Martinez, and the Edgar-David Ortiz discussion deserves a think tank. Carlos Delgado? Better than you think. Larry Walker? That column on the curse of Coor’s Field is forthcoming.

I had originally intended to once again vote for Alan Trammell, who belongs. This is Tram’s last shot, and he isn’t going to make it, and under the current voting rules we have to face certain realities, there are sacrifices we all have to make. Tom Verducci convinced me of the Fred McGriff argument, thus I voted for him and left Trammell off, which was painful.

Someday Alan Trammell will be in the Hall of Fame, but leaving it to a committee can be cruel and unusual proceedings. But that is to be determined, and on Tuesday at 2 p.m., we will know what is 2015 history, from Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson on. And while there will be hours and days of debate and criticism, it is all good. No one debates the other sports’ HOF elections, but when it comes to baseball, we care, because it matters.

Comments

  1. I understand your reluctance to vote for PED guys, but I would vote in Bonds and Clemens. That aside, nice to see you acknowledge Schilling and Raines. It is a travesty that Schilling cannot get votes. He is well ahead of Mussina and slightly ahead of Smoltz for me. I’m surprised by your inclusion of Fred McGriff. Walker, Trammel and Edgar all rate higher. What I want from a HoFer is greatness and consideration as one of the best or excellence in a particular tool. I like how you point out Raines as one of the great lead off hitters. I want a high peak. Walker had incredible seasons on les Expos and in Coors and a cannon arm in right. Edgar is perhaps the greatest DH and dangerous slugger. Trammel a great SS with both the glove and bat at a time when SSs weren’t sluggers. Fred McGriff? Very good for a long time, but not great at the plate, subpar in the field, not a great runner. Walker had it all and yes was assisted by Coors, but even at Olympic stadium he was a doubles machine and slugger and ran and fielded. Fred McGriff to me is another very good consistently, but not great.

    • I agree about Bonds and Clemens. The eye test tells you these guys were in the HOF even before their bodies seemed to explode. The other part of the whole thing with PEDs that bothers me is that Piazza was the subject of rumors at times; Bagwell wasn’t immune either. Heck, I’d be willing to bet there’s already someone in the HOF that dabbled in it.

      I wonder sometimes if Schilling’s persona and outspokenness in the media doesn’t hurt him. Not a good reason, but what you often get with media members that can be petty.

      I also agree about Trammell. He was more than an adequate hitter, and an incredible fielder. Unfortunately, I think the voters get caught up too much in offensive numbers and great fielders with solid offensive production get overlooked. There are exceptions of course – Ozzie Smith, for one – but Trammell’s numbers are certainly comparable to Barry Larkin, who’s already in the Hall.

    • Munsonmanor says:

      Look at how many known and believed to have been using steroid players that was playing during McGriff’s career. His stats would look pretty good if he was playing on a level playing field. His stats are comparable to Eddie Murray, but he wasn’t able to get to 500 home runs or 3,000 hits. Also agree with Peter about the first ballot Hall of Famer debate too. Some sportswriters need to have their vote revoked!

  2. Kilgore Rickberger Trout says:

    Schilling in a blowhard and film-flam man. The money he stole from the taxpayers is unconscionable! Scam artist. Should be in a Federal Prison. I’ve loved the Sox since ’75 but would rather hang out with Bucky Dent than The Big Schill.

    • Schilling is not the first, nor the last, person to have a business deal go bad because they were in over their heads and didn’t know what they were doing. The Hall of Fame is full of racists, drunks, and borderline criminals. It’s about what the man did on the field – not off – that matters, in my opinion. 216 wins and an 11-2 record in post-season play stands up pretty good methinks.

    • Bob Thacher says:

      Don’t forget what a role he played in breaking the curse. I don’t care what he does in the outside world.

  3. so Peter, that means if you were putting a team together, you’d rather have McGriff over Trammell? Noooooo I also don’t hear people talk enough about Trammell being robbed of the 87 MVP on a 1st place team (28 HR, 105 RBI) to a below average-fielding leftfielder (Bell 47, 134) on a 2nd place team. Defense for key positions just isn’t looked at enough.

  4. The key word is “suspected” and, until the player is found guilty of using PEDs in a Court of Law, he deserves consideration. Too many voters are going on their “assumption” and that make an ASS of U and ME.

  5. I respect PG but can’t say I buy everything in this article at this time. I think The Unit, Pedro, Smoltz and Biggio are safely going in this year. My personal preference though is it is a crime for people to not vote for Schilling. Even in these comments, people mention their dislike for Curt Schilling who is without a doubt the biggest post season pitcher ever and did it throughout the entire steroid era. He didn’t bet on baseball or take PED’s but because of personal agendas, he will probably miss the cut. Thus I gotta believe that his personal politics are hurting him with a media that tends to be a lot more liberal than conservative. You think he is assh*ole….I say so what, maybe he is. I would want him holding that ball for me in Game 7–PERIOD.

  6. ’60 Yankees won 3 welcome blowouts but lost 4 squeakers; lost World Series.Not how many runs scored but how many games won.Same w electoral college.