Pitchers dominate baseball’s Hall of Fame Class of 2015
The 6-foot-10 Big Unit became the tallest of 215 players elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame and the 5-foot-11 Martinez the shortest pitcher picked for Cooperstown since Whitey Ford in 1974.
Smoltz, who found unusual success both as a starting pitcher and a reliever, also was voted in Tuesday along with Craig Biggio, the first time since 1955 that writers picked four players in one year.
For many, the election of Johnson and Martinez was the long and short of it.
“You’re talking about freakish talent,’’ Smoltz said. “I’ve never seen, at each person’s height, anybody come close to what they were able to do.’’
Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz were crowned by big margins on their first tries, the first trio of pitchers voted in together by the writers. Biggio made it on his third attempt after falling two votes shy last year.
Steroids-tainted stars Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa again fell far short of half of the votes and appear to have little chance of reaching the necessary 75 percent during their remaining time on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot.
“It’s actually sad, to be honest. It’s sad,’’ said Martinez. “People I admired are not going in with me.’’
The quartet will be inducted in Cooperstown on July 26. The BBWAA had not voted in four players together since selecting Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons and Dazzy Vance 60 years ago.
A five-time Cy Young Award winner with 303 victories and 4,875 strikeouts, Johnson was selected on 534 of 549 ballots by writers’ association members who have been with the organization for 10 consecutive years at any point. The left-hander appeared on 97.3 percent of the ballots, the eighth-highest mark in the history of voting.
Outfielder Dave Winfield (6-foot-6), elected in 2001, had been the tallest Hall of Famer, according to STATS.
“I don’t think people quite understand how difficult it is to be 6-foot-10 and throwing a ball 60 feet, six inches away,’’ said Johnson. “In order to do that, you have to be consistent with your release point and where you’re landing and your arm slot and all that. For someone 6-1, 6-2, there’s less body to keep under control, so it’s a lot easier.’’
A three-time Cy Young winner with flamboyance to go along with his fastball, Martinez appeared on 500 ballots (91.1 percent). He was 219-100, struck out 3,154, led the major leagues in ERA five times and in 2004 helped the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years.
Martinez followed Juan Marichal (1983) as the second Dominican Hall of Famer. Eleven inches shorter than Johnson, Martinez pitched with exceptional intensity.
“My body would change half an hour before the game, and I would just become this serious, focused person because my dad reminded me you’ve got to be serious about your job,’’ Martinez recalled. “I saw everybody as an enemy, and I saw everybody as like in a jungle: You just kill to survive. And that’s the intensity and the focus I had to keep to do it every day on a day-to-day basis. And that’s the kind of chip on the shoulder that people thought I had, even though that was my way to concentrate and do the day-to-day things that I did in baseball.’’
Smoltz was on 455 ballots (82.9 percent). The 1996 NL Cy Young winner was 213-155 with 154 saves, the only pitcher with 200 wins and 150 saves. He went 15-4 in the postseason during a 21-year career that included 3 1/2 seasons in the bullpen when he returned slowly following elbow surgery that sidelined him for the 2000 season.
He combined with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine to form a starting rotation that was the primary factor in Atlanta’s record 14 consecutive playoff appearances. Now Smoltz will join the pair in the hall after their inductions last July.
“The three of us share such a unique bond that I don’t think anyone really feels any different than the other person, although I can tell you that I’m not in their class when it comes to the numbers that they put up,’’ Smoltz said. “But I’m probably not in anyone’s class because of the strangeness of my career and the uniqueness of what I did.’’
Biggio appeared on 454 ballots, 42 more than needed and up from 68.2 percent in his first appearance and 74.8 percent last year. A catcher who shifted to second base and spent three seasons in the outfield, he had 3,060 hits and 668 doubles in 20 big league seasons, all with the Houston Astros.
“I was a nervous dog this morning. I haven’t been this anxious in a long time,’’ Biggio said. “Maybe it does mean a little bit more this year.’’
Mike Piazza fell 28 votes short but increased his percentage to 69.9 from 57.8 in 2013 and 62.2 last year.