Four players will be joining the Baseball Hall of Fame this season. The Baseball Writers Association of America voted in their largest class since 1955, sending Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio into the Hall. Martinez, Johnson and Smoltz are all first-ballot Hall of Famers. Several big names were left off of the induction list, including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and Sammy Sosa.
Martinez and Johnson both ran away with Hall of Fame inductions in their first years on the ballot. The most dominant pitchers of their era, Martinez and Johnson are both reminders that players can take different paths to greatness.
Martinez signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers as an amateur free agent in 1988. He rose through the minor leagues quickly and reached the big leagues by 1992. In 1993, as a 22-year-old, Martinez pitched out of the Dodgers’ bullpen. He posted a 10-5 record and a 2.61 ERA in 107 innings. He struck-out 119 and walked 57.
Despite that promising rookie season, Martinez was traded to the Montreal Expos before the 1993 season in exchange for Delino DeShields. Martinez would move into the starting rotation with Montreal. After three solid seasons with the Expos in 1994, 1995 and 1996, Martinez came into his own in 1997. He won the Cy Young award in the National League after posting a 1.90 ERA and a 305:67 K:BB in 241.1 innings. Martinez led the league in complete games with 13 and had a WHIP under 1.00.
That off-season, Martinez was once again traded, this time to the Boston Red Sox. The small-market Expos received Carl Pavano and a player-to-be-named later (eventually Tony Armas, Jr.) in exchange for Martinez. With the Red Sox, Martinez would become a household name, dominating the AL East at the height of that division’s preeminence and leading the Red Sox to a curse-breaking World Series title in 2004.
With Boston, Martinez pitched seven years. He had 117 wins, a 2.52 ERA, 1,683 strike-outs in 1,383.2 innings and a K:BB of 5.45 during the regular season. In the post-season, Martinez won six games for the Red Sox, including a game in the 1999 ALDS versus Cleveland when Martinez came into the game in relief in the decisive Game Five and pitched six hitless innings. It is arguably the greatest relief appearance by a starter in post-season history (perhaps only passed by Madison Bumgarner’s performance in Game Seven of this year’s World Series).
Martinez would finish his career with stints with the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies. He reached the World Series with Philadelphia in 2009, when the Phillies lost to the New York Yankees. Martinez spent 18 years in the big leagues all told. He went 219-100 with a 2.93 ERA and 3,154 strike-outs. He won three Cy Young awards and made eight trips to the All-Star game.
Johnson, like Martinez, found himself moving around a lot early in his career. The big left-hander was a second-round pick of the Montreal Expos in 1985. Johnson, one of the tallest pitchers to ever play the game (6’10’’), made his major-league debut with Montreal in 1988. One of the hardest throwers in the game, Johnson was plagued by control problems early in his career, but still managed to pitch fairly well despite leading the league in walks in 1990, 1991 and 1992. Johnson was traded from Montreal to the Seattle Mariners at the trade deadline in 1989 in a deal that sent Mark Langston to the Expos.
Johnson would remain with Seattle for nearly a decade. In 1993, he had a breakout season with the Mariners, leading the league with 308 strike-outs. He lowered his walk rate from more than 6 batters per nine innings to 3.5 and his career really took off. Johnson won 19 games that year and finished second in the Cy Young.
In his nearly 10 seasons with the Mariners, Johnson won 130 games and had a 3.42 ERA. He struck-out 2,162 batters and threw a no-hitter for the Mariners in 1990. Johnson was a key member of the Mariners’ first post-season team as a franchise, winning two games for the Mariners in the ALDS in 1995. That was the series that revived Seattle’s interest in baseball and helped lead to the approval of Safeco Park.
In 1998, Johnson was in the final year of his contract. With the Mariners out of contention at the deadline, Seattle traded Johnson to the Houston Astros for three promising prospects: Freddie Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama. Johnson dominated in his half-season stint with Houston, going 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA in 11 starts. He helped Houston reach the post-season that year and pitched well in the NLDS, although he was the losing pitcher in both games he started.
That off-season, Johnson signed a free agent deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Johnson would spend the next six seasons with the Diamondbacks. During that stretch, he led the NL in ERA three times and won at least 16 games in five seasons. He also led the NL in strike-outs five times and won the Cy Young award four straight years. Only a back injury in 2003 interrupted that run.
Johnson became a post-season legend in 2001 when he won five games for the eventual World Champion Diamondbacks. Johnson was the World Series MVP that year, winning three games and posting a 1.04 ERA in 17.1 innings. Johnson had a 1.1 inning relief appearance in Game Seven of that World Series just a day after winning Game Six. Johnson was the winning pitcher for Arizona in Game Seven when the D-Backs scored twice in the bottom of the ninth to win the Series.
Johnson left Arizona in 2005 for the New York Yankees and spent two tumultuous seasons in pinstripes before returning to Arizona for two seasons. He finished his career with the San Francisco Giants and retired with 303 wins, a 3.29 ERA and 4,875 strike-outs. Johnson currently has the highest K/9 in MLB history for starting pitchers (10.6).
Smoltz joins Martinez and Johnson as another first-ballot Hall of Famer. Like fellow Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, Smoltz had a career split between being a starter and a reliever. Unlike “Eck,” who was much more dominant as a reliever, Smoltz was a standout in both roles.
Drafted in the 22nd round in 1985 by the Detroit Tigers, Smoltz was a highly regarded prospect when he was traded to the Atlanta Braves in a deadline deal that brought the Tigers Doyle Alexander in 1987. Smoltz would spend the next 20 years as a member of the Braves before pitching his final season with the Red Sox and Cardinals.
During his time with Atlanta, Smoltz led the league in wins twice, in saves once and won one Cy Young award. He helped the Braves to the post-season on 13 separate occasions. He won the NLCS MVP in 1992 and helped to bring a World Championship to Atlanta in 1995. Smoltz had a career ERA of 2.67 in the post-season and he won 15 games and saved four.
Smoltz missed all of the 2000 season with injury and it was after that year that he moved to the bullpen after being exclusively a starter up until that point in his career. In 2001, he split his time between the rotation and the bullpen, but in 2002, Smoltz was a closer full-time and he saved a league-high 55 games. He would save 45 in 2003 and 44 in 2004 before returning to the rotation for good.
Smoltz finished his 21-year-career with 213 wins, a 3.33 ERA, 154 saves, 3,084 strike-outs and eight All-Star appearances.
After a three-year wait, Biggio finally heard his name called for the Hall. The career-long Houston Astros star had 3,060 hits and was one of the few star players to log significant time as both a second baseman and a catcher in his career.
Biggio was a first-round pick of the Astros in 1987 out of Seton Hall. He reached the big leagues by 1988 and was a full-time starter by 1989. A catcher at the beginning of his career, Biggio spent three-plus seasons as primarily a catcher before moving to second base in 1992 to save the wear-and-tear on his legs.
Biggio was a versatile player both in the field and at the plate. He stole 414 bases during his career and hit 291 homeruns. Biggio never struck-out 100 times in a season and he retired with only slightly more strike-outs than walks. He was a career .281 hitter with a .363 OBP.
Biggio never won an MVP award, but he made seven All-Star teams. He also won four Gold Gloves at second base. He spent his entire career with Houston and was part of the team’s famed “Killer B’s”. Biggio appeared in six post-seasons with the Astros, reaching the World Series in 2005. He was an iron man who appeared in all 162 games three times in his career.
With the specter of the Steroid Era impacting how voters viewed the current class of Hall of Fame eligible players, several seemingly sure-fire Hall of Famers were left off of the induction list. Piazza finished closest to the necessary 75% with 69.9%. Bonds and Clemens each finished below 40%, although both saw increases in their percentages over last year. Nomar Garciaparra, Mark McGwire, Gary Sheffield, Larry Walker, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa all remain on the ballot, although they are far from being at the 75% necessary to get in. Carlos Delgado was the biggest name not to receive the 5% necessary to remain on the ballot for another year.
Writer’s note: I didn’t have a vote, but if I did, these 10 would have received my votes for the Hall of Fame – Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker.