Voting for the 2015 MLB Hall of Fame class has ended, and soon we will know who will be inducted into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. Over the next few weeks you’ll hear pundits and “experts” alike throwing their two cents in on the argument of why players were elected and who should have been elected this year. In the spirit of this joyous time of year, this “expert” is going to throw his ballot onto the pile. I’ll even abide by the silly rules set forth by the BBWAA and cap my fantasy inductees at ten. Even though more than ten players on this year’s ballot “should” get in to the Hall, here I’ll list who I think is the ten most deserving and give a brief explanation as to why I believe they should be enshrined in Cooperstown.
First, the list (In alphabetical order):
Barry Bonds OF Roger Clemens SP
Randy Johnson SP Edgar Martinez 3B/DH
Pedro Martinez SP Mike Mussina SP
Mike Piazza C Tim Raines OF
Lee Smith RP Larry Walker OF
Say all that you will about PED’s and “ethics” and “morals”. Done? OK, good. Now, I’ll say this. The Hall of Fame is not filled with pillars of society and isn’t the morality police. The fact of the matter is that there are bigots, racists, womanizers, and (oh yes) even cheaters with plaques already adorning the walls of Cooperstown. OK, so we got that out of the way? Cool.
Barry Bonds was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates sixth overall in 1985 and made his debut for the team the following year. Bonds spent the first 6 years of his career with the team before signing a then-record free agent deal with the San Francisco Giants, the team his father and godfather previously played for, in 1993. Over the course of his storied career, Bonds hit .298 with an MLB record 762 home runs. Bonds also has 1,996 career RBI’s and 514 stolen bases, making him (obviously) the only player in MLB history with 700+ home runs and 500+ stolen bases for his career.
Before he retired, Bonds won a record 7 MVP awards, including 4 in a row from 2001-2004, won 8 Gold Gloves, and was a 14-time All Star selection. Bonds’ career OPS+ of 182 is third highest in baseball history, behind only Babe Ruth (206) and Ted Williams (190), and Bonds has the second highest WAR in baseball history, trailing only Ruth for that record. He also has the sixth highest career OBP and holds the major league record for walks in a career. Bonds, also holds the distinction, of being one of a select few to be intentionally walked with the bases loaded. To put it blatantly, not allowing Barry Bonds into the Hall of Fame based on some sort of false morality code that the BBWAA electors seem to selectively put in place whenever they see fit is wrong and stupid. The man’s achievements on the field warrant his induction, period.
Keeping with the theme of players who should have already been elected to the Hall were it not for off-the-field issues, we move on to the Rocket. Roget Clemens was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 1983 and made his debut with the team in 1984. Clemens anchored the Red Sox staff for the next 12 years before he signed a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays after the 1996 season. Clemens spent the next two seasons north of the border before he was traded to the New York Yankees for David Wells, and two other players. Clemens pitched in the Bronx until 2003, announcing that he would retire following that season. Instead, he chose to come out of retirement and pitch for his hometown Houston Astros from 2004-2006 (claiming that he would retire at the end of each season).
Finally, Rocket came out of retirement for the final time in May of 2007 in a now-famous scene where he appeared in the press box during the seventh-inning stretch of a game versus the Seattle Mariners and announced his return. After all of this fun, Clemens retired for good following the 2007 season. After a 24 year career, the Rocket piled up 354 wins, 4,672 strikeouts (good for third all-time) and a career 3.12 ERA. Clemens also holds the MLB record for most Cy Young awards in a career with seven, including 2 unanimous selections in 1986 (when he also won the AL MVP award) and 1998. Rocket also has the third highest career WAR for pitchers, trailing only Walter Johnson and Cy Young. He also is an 11 time all-star, won the pitching triple crown twice (1997, 1998), and led his league in ERA 7 times.
Clemens also holds a number of notable distinctions. He was the starting pitcher in game 6 of the 1986 World Series for the Boston Red Sox (Yep, that game), and the decision to remove him from the game before the “Buckner” remains a point of contention to this day. Then Red Sox manager John McNamara sent rookie Mike Greenwell to pinch hit for Clemens in the 8th inning and brought in his closer, Calvin Schiraldi, to pitch the bottom half. This decision was met with surprise from Schiraldi, and Clemens alike. McNamara claims that Clemens begged out of the game, and there are various stories of Clemens having an open blister on his finger, but Clemens disputes this and says he said no such thing and that the blister wasn’t anything he couldn’t have pitched through. Whatever the circumstance, Schiraldi imploded and gave up the game tying run in the bottom half of the 8th before the infamous play that has been ingrained in Red Sox and Mets fans brains that led to the a game 7 in which the Mets finished off the Red Sox to win the World Series.
Another notable moment for Clemens came in the 2000 World Series, as a member of the Yankees, against The Mets. Earlier in the 2000 season, during an interleague game, Clemens hit Mets’ catcher Mike Piazza in the head with a fastball giving Piazza a concussion. During game 2 Piazza had his bat shattered on a ground ball, Clemens picked up the sharp edge of the bat that was headed towards him and fired the shard towards the first-base dugout, nearly hitting Piazza in the process. Clemens claimed following the game that he charged the piece of the bat, believing it to be the ball, and threw the piece towards the dugout out of sheer nervous energy. Whether you choose to believe that, or not, is your own prerogative Regardless, Clemens (like Bonds) should have been a no-doubt first ballot hall of famer, and his failure to be elected to Cooperstown is another blemish on the BBWAA that needs to be rectified this year.
Although he might not be the tallest player to ever play in the MLB (that distinction belongs to Jon Rauch), Randy Johnson can definitely lay claim as one of the most feared of the baseball-flinging sky scrapers. Johnson was drafted in the second round by the Montreal Expos in 1985 and made his MLB debut with the team in 1988. The gangly lefty didn’t take long to make an impression, going 3-0 in 4 starts at the end of the ’88 season with a 2.42 ERA and a 8.7 K/9 rate. His 1989 season didn’t get off on the same foot, as he struggled mightily with his command, going 0-4 with a 6.67 ERA and as many walks as had strikeouts. Johnson was subsequently traded to the Seattle Mariners in May of that season (with Brian Holman, and Gene Harris) for Mark Langston and a PTBNL. Johnson made his first All-Star game the following season (a season which started a string of 3 straight in which he led the AL in walks) going 14-11 with a 3.65 ERA and pitched a no-hitter versus the Detroit Tigers.
Johnson always had electric stuff, but that combined with his wildness (and his fiery attitude on the mound) led him to be one of the most feared pitchers early on in his career, and not for a good reason, (Johnson led the AL in HBPs in both 1992 and 1993). Late in the 1992 season, Johnson had a meeting with another notable flame-thrower that would change his career for the better. Nolan Ryan noticed a slight flaw in his delivery and offered his advice on how to change it to improve his control. The results spoke for themselves, for in a September game pitching opposite Ryan, Johnson struck out 18 batters in 8 innings. 1993 began a string of absolute dominance in which he didn’t have an ERA+ lower than 135 for the next 11 seasons. In that span, Johnson won 5 Cy Youngs, and made 8 All-Star teams. He won 187 of his 303 career wins in that span, including a career-high 24 in 2002, had a 2.82 ERA, had a 161 ERA+, and led his league in K/9 every season except for 1998 (when he finished second). He did all of this despite missing almost half of the 1996 season with a back injury. Johnson’s Mariner-moment came in the 1995 postseason against the Yankees in the ALDS, where he made a dramatic relief appearance on just one day’s rest and held the Yankees to 1 run over 3 innings and striking out 6. Johnson kept the M’s in the game long enough for Edgar Martinez to hit his dramatic series-winning double down the left field line, scoring Ken Griffey Jr., and vaulting the Mariners to the ALCS.
After falling out of contention early in the 1998 season, the Mariners traded Johnson to the Houston Astros, where someone must have said something wrong to him. Over the final 2 months of the season, he was flat out stupid. In 11 starts, Johnson won 10 games, had a 1.28 ERA and struck out 116 in just 84.1 innings. He was so dominant that he finished 7th in the NL Cy Young voting, despite only playing in the league for 2 months. Following the ’98 season, Johnson signed a 4 year contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and went on to lead the team (along with co-World Series MVP Curt Schilling and Luis Gonzalez) to a world championship in 2001. Johnson made his mark in that World Series by pitching in relief in game 7, despite throwing 7 innings the day before, picking up the win after Luis Gonzalez’s blooper off of Mariano Rivera won the Diamondbacks their first World Series in just their 4th year of existence. Perhaps, one of Johnson’s most famous achievements occurred during spring training of that season.
During a game versus the San Francisco Giants, Johnson became (maybe) the first MLB pitcher to hit a bird with a pitch. Johnson struck a dove with a fastball, killing the bird in impressive fashion. In 2004, Johnson became the oldest pitcher in MLB history to throw a perfect game at the age of 40, doing so against the Atlanta Braves. The perfecto also made Johnson just the 5th pitcher in MLB history to throw a no-hitter in both the AL and the NL. Johnson was traded to the New York Yankees after the 2004 season for a package that included SP Javier Vazquez. Johnson pitched two, relatively inconsistent, seasons in the Bronx before he requested to be traded following the 2006 season after the death of his brother. Yankees GM Brian Cashman sympathetically granted Johnson his request and traded the lefty back to the Diamondbacks for four players so that he could be closer to his family who lived in Phoenix. Johnson surpassed Roger Clemens for the number 2 spot on the all-time strikeout list in a Diamondback uniform in 2008.
Following that season, Johnson signed a 1 year deal with the San Francisco Giants and became the 24th pitcher to surpass 300 career wins later that season with a win against the Washington Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos, the same franchise who drafted him). Johnson retired following the season with 303 career wins, 4875 strikeouts, and a 3.29 ERA. His 5 career Cy Young awards is the second most all-time, behind only Roger Clemens, and his career ERA+ of 135 ranks him 21st all time for pitchers with a minimum of 1000 innings pitched. Additionally, Johnson’s career k/9 ratio of 10.6098 is the highest in MLB history for any pitcher with at least 1,000 innings pitched. This is Johnson’s first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, and he definitely possesses the numbers to be a first-ballot inductee.
Edgar Martinez was signed as an amateur free agent by the Seattle Mariners in 1982 and made his debut in September of 1987 and spent his entire 18 year career with the team until he retired in 2004. Martinez came up as a third baseman and eventually replaced Jim Presley as the M’s starting third baseman in 1990 and found success in his first full season, hitting .302 with 11 HRs and 49 RBIs in 144 games. Martinez won his first AL batting title in 1992 with a .343 average, with 46 doubles. Martinez was also an all star that season and won a Silver Slugger award. He also finished 12th in MVP voting that season. Right before the 1993 season, however, Martinez suffered a terrible injury playing in an exhibition game in Vancouver, suffering a torn hamstring on an unzipped seam of turf that he never fully recovered from. Martinez only played in 131 games the next two seasons before becoming the Mariners’ full time DH in 1995. The DH enjoyed an incredible bounce-back season, becoming the first (and only) DH to win a batting title with a .356 average with 52 doubles, and a 185 OPS+. Martinez played his second All-Star game that season and won his second Silver Slugger that season and also finished 3rd in MVP voting.
His greatest feat in the 1995 season, however, came in the ALDS when he hit “The Double” off Jack McDowell to plate Ken Griffey Jr. and win the series. In the 5 games of the ALDS, Martinez hit .571 and was on base 18 times. Many feared, before the season, that Seattle would be a team that would be relocated, as attendance and fan excitement was waning in Seattle. Their home, The Kingdome, was an aging relic that was falling apart (as evidenced by the several ceiling tiles that fell onto the seating area 3 hours before the start of a Mariners game in July of 1994). After “The Double”, though, that all went away as the Washington state legislature passed a bill funding the building of a baseball-only stadium (later named Safeco Field) as well as a football-only stadium for the Seahawks, who shared the Kingdome with the Mariners.
Throughout his career Martinez was a fan favorite, who would always sign autographs for fans. He was so beloved that a part of one of the streets by Safeco Field was renamed “Edgar Martinez Drive South”. Although he doesn’t possess the “sexy” Hall of Fame numbers (3,000 hits, 500 HRs, et al), Martinez is widely considered the greatest designated hitter of all time, and his 147 career OPS is tied for 41st best of all time. Among the players he is tied for are current hall of famers Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Mike Schmidt and future shoo-in hall of famer Jim Thome. He also is tied for the 75th highest WAR of all time, despite that stat also taking defensive numbers into account. He’s tied with Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, by the way. His .933 career OPS would rank him 17th out of all members currently in the hall. This is Martinez’s 6th year on the ballot and he only garnered 25.2 % of the vote last year, and while he doesn’t possess the raw numbers one would associate with a hall of fame caliber player, I think the case can be made for Edgar Martinez to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Pedro Martinez was signed as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team his older brother Ramon pitched for, in 1988. Armed with a mid-to-high 90’s fastball and a circle-change that Bugs Bunny would have been proud of, Pedro made his debut with the Dodgers on September 24th, 1992 working 2 scoreless innings of relief. Martinez made his first career start 6 days later, on the 30th, giving up 2 runs in 6 innings, and taking the loss against the Cincinnati Reds. Dodgers’ manager Tommy Lasorda, along with many others throughout Martinez’s early career, thought Martinez to be too small to be able to shoulder the workload of being a starting pitcher and Martinez pitched the 1993 season almost entirely out of the bullpen. Martinez didn’t disappoint, going 10-5 with a 2.61 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 107 innings that season.
Following the 1993 season the Dodgers, who desperately needed a second baseman, traded the young fireballer north of the border to the Montreal Expos for Delino DeShields. With the Expos, Martinez’s career took of almost immediately. In April of 1994, Pedro took a perfect game through 7 and a third innings before a brushback pitch caused Reggie Sanders to charge the mound, beginning a benches-clearing brawl. During his 4 seasons with the Expos, Martinez had a 55-33 record with a 3.06 ERA and 843 strikeouts in 797.1 innings. This includes the 1997 season, his last with the team, in which he went 17-8 with a 1.90 ERA with 305 strikeouts in 241.1 innings, along with a league-high 13 complete games. Martinez won his first Cy Young that season, garnering 25 of the 28 first place votes, and was also 16th in MVP voting for the NL.
Following the 1997 season, with Martinez entering his last year of club-controlled status, the Expos traded Pedro to the Boston Red Sox (in what must be considered one of the most lopsided trades in MLB history) for SP Carl Pavano and a PTBNL. Shortly after acquiring him, the Red Sox signed Pedro to the largest contract ever given to a pitcher, 6 years and $75 million with a $17 million option for a seventh season. It was in Boston where Pedro took his career into another stratosphere. During his seven seasons in Boston, Pedro went 117-37 with a 2.52 ERA with a ridiculous 0.978 WHIP, and a 190 ERA+. During this time, Pedro had two of the greatest seasons ever recorded by a starting pitcher in major league history. In 1999, he went 23-4 with a 2.07 and 313 strikeouts in 213.1 innings, good for a 13.2 K/9 rate which is the second highest of all time. Pedro won a his second Cy Young that season and finished second in the AL MVP voting race, despite receiving more first place votes than the eventual winner, Ivan Rodriguez (8-7) and being completely omitted from 2 sportswriters’ ballots. His 243 ERA+ that season is the 4th highest the live-ball era (1920-present).
Not to be outdone, Pedro’s 2000 season put his 1999 season to shame. Despite “only” winning 18 games that season and “only”striking out 281 batters in 217 innings, Pedro sported a stupid-good 1.74 ERA which was about a third of the AL league-average ERA (park-adjusted) of 4.94 and was more than half of the next-closest finisher in the AL (Roger Clemens, 3.70). Martinez’s 0.737 WHIP was the lowest of all time, besting the mark set in 1880 by Guy Hecker (what a name, right?). Martinez also set modern day records with a .167 batting average against, and holding opposing hitters to a .213 OBP. He, also became the only pitcher in MLB history to have more than double the amount of strikeouts (284) as hits allowed (128) and his 8.88 strikeout to walk ratio broke the AL record he had set the previous season. All in all, Pedro’s 294 ERA+ for the 2000 season is the highest in the live-ball era, and 20 points higher than the next best of that era (Greg Maddux’s 1994, 271). Martinez’s 2000 season, both for it’s numbers and the environment in which it was produced (Steroids, DH, Fenway Park) is widely considered to be the greatest pitching season of all time. Martinez won his third Cy Young that season, yet only finished 5th in the MVP voting that season.
Following the Red Sox World Series win in 2004, Pedro signed a 4 year, $54 million deal with the New York Mets and in his 2005 season he went 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA and an NL leading 0.95 WHIP. Just more of the same for Mr. Martinez. His 2006 season began much the same until a May start versus the Florida Marlins. During the game, he was asked to remove his undershirt and, while making his way back to the clubhouse, he slipped in the corridor and injured his hip. Pedro gutted through much of the season until he was shut down in mid-September. MRI’s taken after the season revealed that he had a torn left calf, as well as a torn rotator cuff in his pitching shoulder. Martinez was never the same following those injuries, losing the zip on his fastball and some of his command. From 2006 until his eventual retirement after the 2009 season with the Philadelphia Phillies, Martinez had a 4.58 and a 1.37 WHIP in 57 starts over that stretch missing the majority of the 2007 season as well as 2 months of 2008. Following the 2008 season in which he had an ERA above 5.00 and gave up more hits than he had strikeouts for just the second time in his career (his much abbreviated 2007 being the only other such occurrence), no MLB team offered the righty a contract.
Pedro joined the Dominican Republic’s team for the World Baseball Classic in an effort to showcase his arm and health to any team that would take notice. However, the Dominican team was eliminated from the tournament very quickly and no team came calling. In July of 2009, however, the Philadelphia Phillies decided to call Martinez and they had him pitch a few games against their Dominican Summer League team. Satisfied with the results, the team offered Martinez a prorated $1 million, 1 year deal. Martinez replaced Jamie Moyer in the team’s rotation during the second week of August and Pedro helped the team reach the World Series that season. Although the Phillies lost to the Yankees in that series, Pedro enjoyed decent success during that half season in the city of brotherly love. Pedro went 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA in 9 regular season starts. Despite “only” possessing 219 career wins, Pedro’s 68.7 career winning percentage ranks him 6th all time, and his stretch of absolute dominance from 1997-2004 cannot be ignored. It’s both his career, as well as his single season achievements that more than make the case for Pedro Martinez to be elected to Cooperstown on his first year of eligibility.
Mike Mussina was drafted 20th overall in the 1990 draft by the Baltimore Orioles out of Stanford University and made his debut with the club midway through the 1991 season, posting a 4-5 record with a 2.87 ERA in 12 starts. Mussina made his first all star team in his first full season in the majors the following year, going 18-5 with a 2.54 ERA and a 1.079 WHIP in 32 starts and finishing 4th in that year’s Cy Young voting, while finishing 21st in the MVP race that year. The following season, Mussina dealt with shoulder soreness for much of the season, and spent about a month on the DL because of it from late July to mid-August. Despite this, Moose made the all-star game (which was played in Baltimore) and won 14 games. Mussina returned to form in the strike-shortened 1994 season, winning 16 games and posting a 3.06 ERA. Mussina made the All Star team that year and, again finished 4th in the Cy Young voting and garnered a 20th place finish in the AL MVP race. His 164 ERA+ that season was the highest of his career. Mussina won 19 games each of the next two seasons and finished 5th in the Cy Young race each of those years. He won his first gold glove after the 1996 season, as well. Mussina won his second consecutive gold glove following the 1997 season, making another All Star team and finishing 6th in the Cy Young award vote. Mussina was outright dominant in the 1997 postseason, going 2-0 with a 1.24 ERA in helping the Orioles reach the ALCS before losing to the Cleveland Indians in 6 games.
Mussina spent time on the DL twice over the 1998 season, including missing time after suffering a fractured nose after being hit in the face by a line drive off the bat of Sandy Alomar Jr. In spite of this, Mussina managed to win 13 games and post the second best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the AL, and won his third consecutive gold glove. Mussina’s 1999 was the closest he came to winning a Cy Young, finishing 18-7 with a 3.50 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP. Mussina, however, finished distant second behind Pedro Martinez. He made his 5th All Star team that season and his fourth consecutive gold glove. Mussina’s 2000 season, his last in Baltimore, Mussina finished 6th in the AL Cy Young race, despite only winning 11 games with a 3.79 ERA in a career-high 237.2 innings. His 2000 was the only season in his career in which he posted a losing record.
The Yankees signed Mussina to a 6 year $85 million contract following the 2000 season, much to the chagrin of many Orioles fans. Moose picked up right where he left off for the Bronx Bombers, winning 17 games and struck out a career-high 214 in 228.2 innings that season. Mussina was the game 1 and 5 starter for the Yankees in the World Series that season against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but struggled going 0-1 with a 4.03 ERA. Mussina won his 5th career gold glove that offseason. Over the final 5 seasons of his contract, Mussina won 75 games with a 3.95 ERA and a 1.205 WHIP, also winning his 6th gold glove following the 2003 season. Following the 2005 season, in which he went 15-7, Mussina became the first pitcher in American League history to win 10 or more games in 15 consecutive seasons. Mussina, also surpassed the 2,500 strikeout plateau in June of that season. In November of 2006, the Yankees signed Mussina to a 2 year $23 million contract after previously declining a 1 year $17 million option he had at the end of the previous contract he had signed following the 2000 season.
Mussina’s 2007 season was by far his worst of his career, going 11-10 with a 5.15 ERA and a 1.467 WHIP in only 152 innings. He did, however, become just the ninth player (at the time) to win 100 games for two different franchises, while also notching career win number 250 during that 2007 season. The next season, the last of his career, Mussina finished second behind Cliff Lee for Comeback Player of the Year honors, finally winning 20 games in a season, going 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA. At 39, Mussina because the oldest pitcher to post his first career 20 win season in MLB history. Mussina finished 6th in the Cy Young award voting that season and won his 7th career gold glove. Moose called it quits following the 2008 season and was the first pitcher to retire following a 20-win since Sandy Koufax did so in 1966. Mussina’a 270 career wins is tied for 33rd on the all time list and his 82.7 career WAR is the 24th best of any pitcher with at least 1000 innings pitched for a career.
Even though he only won 20 games once and never won a Cy Young, Mussina was a great pitcher over the vast majority of his 18 year career and his 7 gold gloves is tied for the 5th most all time for a pitcher. Mussina earned votes for the Cy Young award 9 times in his career and received votes for MVP three times. This is Mussina’s second year on the ballot and he received 20.3% of the vote last year. Mike Mussina might not have been spectacular nor did he have any gaudy numbers or particular memorable moments, but his numbers are definitely “Hall of Fame” worthy and he deserves to be enshrined in the hallow halls of Cooperstown.
Most hardcore baseball trivia fanatics know that Mike Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft mostly as a favor by Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda to Piazza’s father. Lasorda and Mike’s father, Vince, were childhood friends and Lasorda is the godfather of Mike’s younger brother. Piazza was a power hitting first baseman, who actually received a bit of personal instruction from Hall of Famer Ted Williams when he was a child. Vince would throw hundreds of pitches of batting practice to Mike, when Mike was a child. After being drafted, Lasorda convinced Piazza to switch to a catcher to better his chances of reaching the majors. Piazza even attended a catching training camp in the Dominican Republic. Piazza eventually made his MLB debut on September 1st of the 1992 season and hit his first career home run a week and a half later. Piazza’s first full season in 1993 was a huge success, ending with him hitting .318 with 35 home runs and 112 RBIs in 149 games. Piazza won the Rookie of the Year award, finished 9th in MVP voting, made his first All Star team and won a Silver Slugger that season.
1993 began a string of 9 straight seasons in which the catcher made an all star team, won a Silver Slugger, AND received MVP votes. Piazza finished 2nd in the MVP vote twice (1996 and 1997), third once (2000), and finished in the top ten two other season (6th in 1994, 7th in 1999). Over those 9 seasons, Piazza hit .326 and had an OPS+ of 156. His best season of those 9 (according to OPS+) occurred in 1997. The catcher hit .362 with 40 home runs and 124 RBIs. Piazza even scored 104 runs and had 201 hits. His 1.070 OPS was the highest of his career and one of three seasons in which his OPS was over 1.000. Piazza’s .362 average in 1997 tied Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey for the highest average by a catcher in a season, a record that would stand for until it was eclipsed by Joe Mauer in 2009
Piazza earned a lot of frequent flyer miles in 1998 as he was traded to the Florida Marlins on May 15th and then traded by the Marlins to the Mets 5 days later. In spite of it all, Piazza still managed to hit .328 with 32 home runs and 111 RBIs and helped bring the Mets to within one game of making the playoffs that season. Piazza did help the Mets make the playoffs the following two seasons, and the Mets made it to the World Series in 2000 where they lost to the Yankees in the first postseason “subway series” since 1956. Piazza played well the next two seasons, but missed a significant portion of the 2003 season with a torn right groin.
With the toll of catching wreaking havoc on his knees, the thought of moving Piazza out from behind the plate became real in 2004 as he spent more games playing first (68) than catching (50). It was in 2004 when Piazza passed Carlton Fisk for the most career home runs as a catcher when he hit a solo home run on May 5th. However, Piazza playing first base was, um, adventurous? In those 68 games at first base, Piazza committed 8 errors. Piazza moved back behind the plate for the 2005 season, which turned out to be his last season in a Met uniform, and he hit .251 with 19 home runs and 62 RBIs in 113 games.
Piazza signed a 1 year deal with the San Diego Padres following the 2005 season and somewhat resurrected his career as he hit .283 with 22 home runs and 68 RBIs for the friars in 2006. Following his one season in San Diego, Piazza signed a 1 year deal with the Oakland Athletics and was a part time player for the A’s, only appearing in 83 games for the A’s. Piazza announced his retirement in May of 2008 and is widely considered to be the greatest hitting catcher of all time. He finished his 16 year career with a .308 average, 427 home runs (396 as a catcher) and a career 143 OPS+. Over the course of his career, Piazza made 12 All Star teams, and received MVP votes in 9 seasons. His 10 Silver Sluggers are the most for a catcher and is second most of all time behind only Barry Bonds, who has 12. This is Piazza’s third year on the ballot, and he received 62.2% of the vote on last year’s ballot. There’s little doubt that Piazza belongs in the Hall based on his offensive numbers and records he holds for catchers. Piazza should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer, it’s time to rectify this mistake by the BBWAA.
Tim Raines was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 5th round of the 1977 draft and, after brief appearances in both the 1979 and 1980 seasons, burst onto the scene in his first “full” season playing in 88 games in the strike-shortened 1981 season. In 88 games that year, Raines hit .304 and stole 71 bases. Were it not for the strike and a brief stint on the DL in September, Raines most likely would have become just the 4th player since 1901 to steal 100 bases in a season and he might have challenged Lou Brock’s modern day then-record of 118 (Ricky Henderson broke Brock’s record in 1982 with 130 steals). Raines made the All Star team that season, finished second in the Rookie of the Year vote behind Fernando Valenzuela, and even garnered a 19th place finish in that year’s MVP race. Raines’s 1982 season was a bit of a disappointment as he hit .277 with a .353 on base percentage, however he did steal 78 bases that year and make the All Star team.
Raines admitted himself into a substance-abuse rehabilitation center following the season after admitting that he had spent almost $40,000 on cocaine, using before, after and even during games. Raines would carry the vials in his uniform pants’ back pocket and slide headfirst into bases to prevent breaking them. Many report that he successfully kicked his cocaine addiction, although it would follow him throughout his career and well after it. Raines bounced back in 1983 and set career highs in stolen bases (90), plate appearances (731) and runs scored (133). Raines made the All Star team, yet again, and finished 5th in the MVP vote that year. Raines’s next 4 seasons were the best of his career. From 1984-1987, Raines hit .323 with a .409 OBP. Over that time, he averaged 66 stolen bases, and 109 runs scored per season. Raines made the All Star team each of those 4 seasons and also received MVP votes in all 4 seasons; he finished in the top ten in both 1986 and 1987 and even won a silver slugger in 1986.
He spent the next 3 seasons north of the border, placing 17th in the 1989 MVP race before he was traded to the Chicago White Sox in December of 1990. Raines spent the next 5 seasons of his career on the south side of Chicago hitting .283 with a .375 OBP and averaging 88 runs scored and 29 stolen bases. Raines helped the White Sox reach the ALCS in 1993 and he hit .444 and scored 5 runs in that ALCS loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. Raines was traded in December of 1995 to the New York Yankees and won World Series rings with the team in both 1996 and 1998. Raines, however was plagued by injuries for much of his time in the Bronx and only played in 243 games over those 3 seasons. Despite this, Raines remained productive as he hit .299 with a .395 OBP over his 3 seasons with the Yankees. Injuries, including a hamstring strain that caused him to miss 62 games of the 1997 season, sapped him of much of his speed and he only stole 26 bases in his Yankees career.
Following the 1998 season, Raines signed a 1 year deal with the Oakland A’s but only played in 58 games. In July of that season of that season, Raines went in for a kidney biopsy and was diagnosed with lupus. Raines missed the entire 2000 season after being treated for the disease and signed with the Expos, the team that drafted him, in December of 2000. Injuries, again, cost Raines much of the season, as he missed 97 games after having surgery on his shoulder. While rehabbing with the Expos AAA club Raines played in a game against the Orioles AAA team, the Rochester Red Wings, who had Raines’s son Tim Jr. on the club. That day, the two Raines became the first father-son combo to play in a professional game against one another in MLB history. Raines returned to the Expos in late August of that season, but was allowed to be traded to the Orioles so that he could play a game with his son, who had been promoted to the Orioles only a few days before.
That day, October 4th 2001, the Raines became only the second father-son combo to play a game together in the Majors. Raines Sr. played left and his son Raines Jr. played center in a 5-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox. Raines Sr. signed a 1 year deal that offseason with the Florida Marlins and appeared in 98 games for the club in the 2002 season, mostly as a pinch hitter. Raines retired after the 2002 season with a career .294/.385/.425 slash line and 2,605 hits. His 808 career stolen bases is the fifth most of all time, behind 4 current members of the Hall of Fame (Henderson, Brock, Billy Hamilton, Ty Cobb). Raines was a 7-time All Star, received MVP votes in 7 different seasons, and won the NL batting title in 1986. He is, also, one of only 29 players in MLB history to play in games in 4 different decades (and one of only 18 non-pitchers to accomplish the feat). Upon his retirement, Raines owned the MLB record for highest career stolen base percentage (84.7%) and consecutive successful stolen base attempts (40). He stole 70 bases in each of his first 6 full seasons and is the all time stolen base leader for switch hitters. He is also has the 6th most hits for any switch hitter and, upon his retirement, was just the 7th player who’s career began after 1945 to have 1,500 runs scored and 100 triples in a career.
Raines’s candidacy for the Hall has been much scrutinized over the course of the last few years, and is a point of contention for some voters and fans alike. Raines’s biggest detriment was having his career overlap with the greatest leadoff hitter in MLB history, Ricky Henderson. Apart from Henderson, Raines is at the head of the discussion for “greatest leadoff hitter of all time”. His 69.1 career WAR is 4 wins above the average left fielder currently in the Hall of Fame and is 7th highest of any primary left fielder in MLB history. This is Tim Raines’s 8th year on the Hall of Fame ballot and he has never garnered more than 52.2% of the vote (in 2013). Whether it’s the fact that he played during the “Ricky Henderson Era”, or his off-the-field issues early on in his career, one thing remains clear: Tim Raines deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
Lee Smith was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the second round of the 1975 draft, after he was scouted and recommended to the Cubs by former Negro League player and MLB manager Buck O’Neil. Smith struggled mightily as a starting pitcher in the minors and briefly gave up the game in 1978 after he was moved to the bullpen. After a brief foray into collegiate basketball at Northwestern University, Smith returned to the Cubs for the 1979 season and eventually made his MLB debut for the Cubs in September of 1980. Smith pitched primarily out of the bullpen for the 1981 season and eventually became part of a committee of closers for the club for the 1982 season. Smith even started 5 games that season and actually hit a home run for his first career off of future Hall of Fame member Phil Neikro. Smith pitched well in 1982 and finished the season with 17 saves and a 2.69 ERA, along with 99 strikeouts in 117 innings. Smith credits the return of Ferguson Jenkins to the club for helping him become the dominant reliever he would eventually turn out to be. Already armed with a mid-to-high 90’s fastball, Jenkins taught the young Smith a slider and a forkball and also tutored the reliever on how to properly set up hitters.
Smith’s 1983, his first as the Cubs primary closer, was dominant (even if the Cubs were much less so). Smith finished that season with a 1.65 ERA and led the NL with 29 saves. He made the All Star team that season, finished 9th in the Cy Young vote and was also 18th in the NL MVP race. Smith pitched 4 more seasons with the Cubs following the 1983 season and saved 133 games over that span, making the All Star team once again in 1987 and struck out a career high 112 batters in 1985 in 97.2 innings. In 1987 Smith joined Dan Quisenberry as the only pitchers, to that point, to record 4 consecutive seasons of 30 or more saves. Following the 1987 season, rumors swirled around Chicago that Smith’s weight was effecting his knees, and that he had requested a trade. In December, Smith was traded to the Boston Red Sox.
This set in motion a career path that would see Smith play for 7 different teams in the final 11 seasons of his career. Over that span, Smith pitched for the Red Sox, Cardinals, Yankees, Orioles, Angels, Reds, and Expos. Despite the frequent changes in venue, Smith managed to compile 298 saves and 607 strikeouts in 608 innings, along with a 3.15 ERA and a 1.257 WHIP. Over those 11 seasons, Smith made 5 All Star teams, finished in the top-5 in the Cy Young vote 3 times, and got MVP votes in 2 seasons. Smith retired after 1997 as the MLB’s all time leader in saves2 with 478, a mark that has only been bested by 2 relievers since (Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman). His ERA+ of 132 is 34th all time and is ranked ahead of such Hall of Fame pitchers as Dizzy Dean (131), Sandy Koufax (also 131), Bob Gibson (127), Jim Palmer (125) and Rollie Fingers (120). Currently, there are only 5 relief pitchers in the Hall of Fame, but only Bruce Sutter has less games started in his career (0) than Smith (6).
Lee Smith was one of the scariest relief pitchers in the game for much of the 1980’s and 1990’s and amassed the numbers and accolades to back that up. Smith holds the 17th best K/9 rate of all time, with Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax as the only current members of the Hall of Fame ahead of him on that list. Over the next couple of years, the two closers who passed Smith on the all time saves list will become eligible for induction into Cooperstown and sportswriters everywhere will be writing articles about how the two should be no-doubt first-ballot Hall of Famers based on their impressive saves totals, amongst other things. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that the man they passed in attaining those lofty saves totals should also be enshrined in the Hall with them? This is Smith’s 13th year on the ballot and he has yet to amass more that 50.6% of the vote, doing so in 2012. Lee Smith deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and he is running out of time to make it there.
Despite his relative lack of experience playing organized baseball, Larry Walker was signed as an amateur free agent by the Montreal Expos in 1984. Walker grew up in Canada with the hopes of becoming a star goaltender in hockey, and only played baseball during the summer for fun. However, after being rejected for two different junior hockey teams, Walker began to focus entirely on baseball. Walker was an outstanding athlete and eventually made himself into one of the best prospects in the game after a few seasons of tutelage in the minor leagues. Walker made his MLB debut with the Expos in August of 1989 and drew two walks and recorded a base hit in his first game. Walker struggled a bit in his first full season in the majors in 1990, only hitting .241 with a .326 on base percentage. However, he did hit 19 home runs and steal 21 bases, and he finished 7th in that year’s Rookie of the Year vote. Walker fared a little better in 1991, but broke out of his shell in 1992. That season, he hit .301 with a .353 OBP and had 23 home runs along with 18 stolen bases. Walker made his first All Star team that season and finished 5th in the MVP race. He also won his first gold glove and silver slugger awards. Walker became the first Canadian player to win the Expos Player of the Year honors and quickly grew into a role model for young Canadians. Walker won his second gold glove award the following season in 1993 and was having a superb 1994 season before the players’ strike cut that season short. At the time of the strike, Walker was slashing .322/.394/.587 and was well on his way towards a 20-20 season, with 19 home runs and 15 steals. Walker finished 11th in the MVP voting that season, as well.
After the strike was over, Walker signed a 4 year $22.5 million dollar deal to play for the Colorado Rockies and he flourished his first season in Coors Field, hitting .306 with 36 home runs and 101 RBIs to go along with 19 steals and 96 runs. Walker finished 7th in the MVP vote that season and had clearly evolved into one of the game’s elite players. Walker, however, missed a significant portion of the 1996 season, after fracturing his clavicle in early June of that year. He only played in 83 games that season and hit .278 with 18 home runs and 18 stolen bases. Fully recovered from his injury, Walker had a monster 1997 which culminated in him winning the NL MVP award that year along with his third gold glove and second silver slugger award. That year, Walker slashed .366/.452/.720 and had 49 home runs, 130 RBIs, 143 runs, and 33 steals. His 1.172 OPS that year is the 32nd best of all time. Over his next 6 seasons, he slashed .339/.435/.603 with 149 home runs and 57 stolen bases. Walker made the All Star team in 3 of those seasons and won 4 gold gloves and 1 silver slugger award. He received MVP votes in 4 of those seasons. Walker struggled with injuries throughout much career after his MVP season in 1997, however. He missed portions of the ’98, ’99, and 2000 seasons with injuries to his elbow and ribcage. Walker also missed a significant portion of the 2004 season due to a groin stain, missing a total of 68 games that season. In August of that year, Walker requested a trade to a contending team and was granted his wish.
The Rockies traded the outfielder to the St. Louis Cardinals for three minor leaguers. Walker contributed to the Cardinals’ playoff runs in both the 2004 and 2005 seasons and retired shortly after the Cardinals were eliminated from the 2005 playoffs by the Houston Astros. Walker retired with a career slash line of .313/.400/.565 along with 383 home runs and 230 stolen bases. His .965 career OPS is the 15th best of all time and he has the 12th highest slugging percentage in MLB history. He also has the 8th highest “Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average” (a defensive metric which quantifies a total number of runs above or below average a player was worth to his team) since 1954. All in all, Walker was a 5 time All Star, a 7 time Gold Glove award winner, a 3 time Silver Slugger award winner and a 3 time NL batting champion. This is Walker’s 5th year on the ballot and he has not received more than 22.9% of the vote (doing so in 2012).
Walker has been much scrutinized over that half decade over the seemingly overinflated numbers he accumulated while playing for the Rockies. This criticism isn’t without merit, however. Over the course of his career with the Rockies, Walker’s OPS at home (1.179) was exponentially higher than his OPS on the road (.899). However the fact remains that there still needs to be an elite skill level necessary to accumulate such numbers, even if they might be overinflated relative to the rest of the league. His career WAR of 72.6 is the 10th highest in MLB history amongst right fielders, and he is only one of 3 players in the top 15 in that category to not be in the Hall of Fame (Dwight Evans, and the ineligible Shoeless Joe Jackson being the other two). Despite the naysayers though, Larry Walker should be in the Hall of Fame.
Maybe Next Year:
John Smoltz: 213-155, 3.33 ERA, 154 Saves. 8 time All Star, 1996 NL Cy Young, 125 ERA+, 69.5 Career WAR
Curt Schilling: 216-146, 3.46 ERA. 6 time All Star. 2001 co-World Series MVP, 127 ERA+, 79.9 Career WAR
Jeff Bagwell: .297/.408/.540, 449 HRs, 2,314 Hits, 1,529 RBIs, 202 Sbs. 4 time All Star, 1991 NL ROY, 1994 NL MVP 79.6 Career WAR, 149 OPS+
Craig Biggio: .281/.363/.433, 3,060 Hits, 1,844 Runs. 7 time All Star, 4 Gold Gloves, 5 Silver Sluggers. 65.1 Career WAR, 112 OPS+.Next post: Reds Turn Turn Turn to Byrd in Left Field
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