By Ross Newhan
The election of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio to the Hall of Fame represents a quality result for baseball, Cooperstown and the BBWAA electorate.
Putting aside the steroid issue and inevitable quibbles over this candidate and that candidate, there is this: Two years after the BBWAA failed to elect anyone, the Hall doors seem to have become more easily breached.
Seven deserving players have been elected since the voting whitewash--Biggio was the only one not in his first year on the ballot--and the election of four marks the largest class in 60 years (the three pitchers in the same year--Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz--being a first). Next December's ballot will include only one sure-fire first timer, Ken Griffey Jr., which should bode well for Mike Piazza and, possibly, one or two others who failed to garner the necessary 75% in this years election.
My take aways:
--Piazza, baseball's all-time home run leader among catchers while also weighted some by steroid suspicions, needed to be named on 28 more of the 549 total ballots but climbed from 62.2% to 69.9% and should make it next time, his fourth year of eligibility.
--Jeff Bagwell, who finished behind Piazza at 55.7%, should also continue to climb, although a 20% jump is probably unlikely. Why there has been such a voting disparity between Bagwell and Biggio, his Killer B teammate in Houston, is difficult to decipher. Biggio had his 3,000 plus hits while playing catcher, center field and second base, but Bagwell's assorted power numbers at first base are some of the best all-time while achieved in the shadow of the steroid era--an unfortunate handicap.
--Tim Raines and Curt Schilling made the biggest jumps behind Piazza and Bagwell: Raines, with a ground-swell of metric support, gained nine points to 55% but has only two more years on the ballot. Schilling gained 10 points to 39.2%, and with Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz, along with fellow pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, having now been cleared from his path in the last two years, could continue to gain rapidly. He has seven years left.
--Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the Steroid Era poster boys, made incremental progress, but the safest speculation would be that their HOF futures will fall to a veterans committee--and maybe that's the way it should be, taking their candidacy out of the split hands of the BBWAA to a committee of players, owners and media members who by then will have had more time to weigh the era, the history and their accomplishments.
--While Johnson, arguably the best left handed pitcher ever, gained 97.3% of the vote, the eighth highest plurality ever, it is hard to understand how 9% of the electorate failed to vote for Martinez (91.1), who pitched a large portion of his honored career amid the claustrophobic dimensions of Fenway Park in a DH league during the PED era. Safe to say that the steroid candidates, along with a large cast of quality first year candidates on the last two ballots, have forced a higher degree of strategizing by voters, and some undoubetedly withheld votes for Martinez and others they viewed as certain to be elected in order to support other candidates of their choice.
--The cramped ballot and the 10 vote max has unquestionably impacted many candidates. Two among the many: Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent far back at 24.6 and 14.0 respectively. Mussina won 270 games with the Orioles and Yankees during some of the best years of the AL East and the height of the Steroid Era while Kent's stats rank at the top or near the top of virtually every second base category. Then again, you have to also look look deep to find Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, Fred McGriff, Larry Walker and Gary Sheffield.
--Don Mattingly received 50 votes (9.1%) in his last year of eligibility and will be turned over to the Expansion Era committee in two years. Of course, the Dodger manager has plenty else on his mind what with being always under the microscope at the helm of his high priced, high expectation team that now has a new front office handling the microscope.
My ballot (as posted previously): Bagwell, Biggio, Johnson, Kent, Martinez, Mussina, Piazza, Raines, Schilling, Smoltz.