A new group of ballplayers were enshrined into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. An impressive collection of athletes that played the game “the right way” and were rewarded for it.
For the second year in a row, Cooperstown welcomes six new members into their fraternity - Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Mike Mussina and Edgar Martinez were elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America, while Lee Smith and Harold Baines were selected by the Today’s Game special committee.
The 2018 class featured position players Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Alan Trammell, along with pitchers Trevor Hoffman and Jack Morris. That’s 12 inductees in the past two years, yet the two most accomplished players of this generation - Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens - continue to be shunned by voters because of their ties to steroid use. Bonds’ relationship with the media inevitably hasn’t helped his cause. Whereas in Clemens’ case, perhaps the voters just “misremembered” to include him on their ballots (see 2008 Congressional Hearing regarding the Mitchell Report).
No matter how you shake it, things are a little controversial in Cooperstown these days. Let’s take a look at how and why this year’s class was selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and who was elected for their legend status, longevity or popularity.
Mariano Rivera - “Mo” was elected to the hall of fame in his first year of eligibility and was the first player to ever be elected unanimously by the Baseball Writers Association of America. The 19-year veteran served as the Yankees’ closer for 17 years. He was a 13-time All-Star, five-time World Series Champion and five-time American League Rolaids Relief Man Award winner. RIvera also finished in the top three in the AL Cy Young award four different times and has the most recorded saves (652) in the history of Major League Baseball.
Rivera’s playoff numbers are even more astounding - an 8-1 record, 0.70 ERA and 42 saves in 96 career playoff appearances. The one blemish on Rivera’s playoff resume was a doozy, however; his blown save in game seven of the 2001 World Series cost the Yankees a shot at a four-peat and the Hollywood ending most baseball fans desired after that year’s 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Verdict - Not sure if I'm in board with the whole "first unanimous hall of famer" thing, but Rivera has an impeccable reputation, that Yankee Dynasty was epic and it will be pretty cool when his longtime teammate and friend Derek Jeter becomes the second unanimous induction on July 26, 2020. Rivera is hands down the greatest closer in baseball history and that cutter was one of the most lethal pitches the game has ever seen. Legend.
Roy Halladay - The late Roy “Doc” Halladay played 16 seasons in the big leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, compiling a record of 203-105 with a 3.38 ERA and 2,117 strikeouts. Halladay was an eight-time All-Star, twice led the majors in wins (2003 and 2010) and is one of six pitchers in MLB history to win the Cy Young Award in both the American and National League.
In 2010 with the Philadelphia Phillies “Doc” became the fifth major leaguer to throw two no-hitters in the same calendar year and the first to accomplish the feat since Nolan Ryan in 1973. The first “no-no” on May 29, 2010 against the "Florida" Marlins was actually a perfect game, the 20th in MLB history. The second no-hitter came on October 6, 2010 against the Cincinnati Reds, Halladay’s first career postseason appearance. It remains one of two no-hitters in MLB playoff history, along with Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.
Halladay’s life came to a tragic end shortly after he retired from baseball. On November 17, 2017, Halladay was killed when his ICON A5 amphibious plane crashed into the Gulf of Mexico.
Verdict - The Blue Jays organization honored their longtime ace by posthumously retiring his number 32 in March of 2018. Now Roy Halladay will be immortalized forever in the halls of Cooperstown, and deservedly so. Legend/Popularity.
Mike Mussina - The former Baltimore Oriole and New York Yankees’ hall of fame resume is built on consistency. Throughout his 18 year career “Moose” used his pinpoint fastball and knuckle-curveball to keep hitters off balance. Mussina recorded 270 wins and 2,813 strikeouts in his illustrious career, and was painfully close to becoming a member of the iconic 300 wins and 3,000 strikeout club.
Mussina was a five-time All-Star, seven-time Gold Glove award winner and led the AL in wins in 1995. “Moose” finished his career with a .638 winning percentage and a 3.68 ERA. Not bad for a guy who graduated from Stanford with a degree in economics. Mussina was selected to Cooperstown in his sixth year of eligibility.
Verdict - His consistent performance led to a top-five finish in the Cy Young Award six different times and he won a minimum of 11 games for 17 consecutive seasons (a major league record). Longevity.
Edgar Martinez - The Dorado, Puerto Rico native played 18 seasons of Major League Baseball, all with the Seattle Mariners. He is one of the most unlikely candidates to ever be selected to Cooperstown. He was not highly regarded as a prospect, and although he made his major league debut in 1987, Martinez did not become an everyday player until 1990.
It has been documented that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America looked down on Martinez’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame because he was primarily used as a designated hitter. When Martinez was first eligible for the hall in 2010, he only received 36.2% of the vote (75% or more if necessary for induction). He continued to fall short in his candidacy for nine years, but in his last year of eligibility, the voters gave Martinez the nod. In the process, Martinez became the sixth player to be elected in his final year of eligibility.
In the end, Martinez’s offensive numbers were just too impressive. He was a seven-time All-Star, five-time Silver Slugger, two-time AL batting champion (1992 and 1995) and led the AL in RBI in 2000. Martinez recorded 2,247 hits, 309 home runs and 1,261 RBI in his career, before injuries forced him to retire in 2004. He compiled a .312 batting average and is one of 18 players in MLB history to achieve a .300 batting average, .400 on base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage in 5,000 or more plate appearances.
Verdict - Martinez was part of an instrumental era of Mariners baseball that increased public support for a new stadium in Seattle. His series winning double against the Yankees in the 1995 ALDS is one of the Mariners' most iconic moments. Outside of Griffey Jr. and Ichiro, Martinez is the most beloved player to ever don a Seattle jersey. Legend/Popularity.
Lee Smith - The former relief pitcher played 18 seasons of Major League baseball for eight different teams, spending the majority of his career with the Chicago Cubs.Ironically the best stretch of Smith’s career came between 1991-93, as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago Cubs’ biggest rival. During this time the hard throwing right-hander was selected to three All-Star games and recorded 133 saves.
When it was all said and done, Smith was a seven-time All-Star, four-time saves leader and three-time Rolaids Relief Man Award winner. He finished his career with a 3.03 ERA and 1,251 strikeouts. Smith became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2003 and was featured on the Baseball Writer's Association of America until 2017 (15 years). He received his highest vote total in 2012, appearing of 50.6% of the ballots cast. Smith was elected to the Hall of Fame via the Today’s Game special committee vote, as the panel of 16 put him into Cooperstown with unanimous support.
Verdict - One of the most dominant closers in MLB history, Smith was Major League Baseball's all-time saves leader from 1993 - 2006, compiling 478 saves in more than 1,000 career appearances. Longevity.
Harold Baines - Undoubtedly the Hall of Fame has taken more heat for electing Baines into the Hall of Fame than the other five 2019 members combined. There are several points of argument to examine here. First, Baines was never recognized as a star player (finishing ninth in one MVP voting and tenth in another). Another demerit for Baines is that (like Edgar Martinez) he spent the majority of his career as a designated hitter. But, perhaps the most glaring dispute is that Baines never received more than 6% of the votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Essentially Baines was never even close to making it into Cooperstown before his election by the Today’s Game special committee.
So how did the 22-year veteran punch his ticket into the Hall of Fame? Interestingly enough, it could be a classic case of who you know. Tony La Russa, Baines’ former manager with the Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics, and Jerry Reinsdorf, his White Sox owner, were both on the committee, and it’s been speculated that these two were instrumental in Baines’ enshrinement.
That’s not to say that Baines didn’t have a very respectable career. Much like his fellow 2019 Hall of Fame class member Mike Mussina, Baines epitomized longevity and consistency. Baines played for five different teams in a career that spanned three different decades (1980-2001), recording a .289 batting average, 384 home runs and 1,628 RBI. He retired just shy of the 3,000 hit club - recording 2,866 hits in his career. Baines was a six-time All-Star and was a Silver Slugger in 1989. He was a clutch performer in the postseason, hitting .324 in 31 games. Arguably Baines’ most impressive feat was when he produced a .312 batting average with 25 home runs and 103 RBI at the ripe age of 40.
Verdict - Baines was a very good player for a long time, but he still owes La Russa and Reinsdorf Christmas gifts for life! The encouraging thing about Baines' selection is that it opens the door for guys like Sid Bream, Ken Oberkfell and Pat Sheridan. Okay, maybe not. But, Ruben Sierra? Or Ron Gant's biceps? Perhaps. Popularity (with a mix of Longevity).
What the future holds - It seems that being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame is more of a popularity contest than ever before, with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and the Today’s Game special committee serving as gate-keeper. With that being said, don’t expect Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens or Pete Rose to be enshrined anytime soon.
Somebody like Alex Rodriguez on the other hand, who was suspended by Major League baseball for steroid use (unlike Bonds or Clemens), may actually have an outside chance to be elected when he becomes eligible in 2022. Rodriguez has seemingly refurbished his reputation in the baseball world, because he has owned up to his past mistakes and has been well received as an MLB analyst. The popularity contest isn’t going away anytime soon. Keep that in mind as future classes are enshrined into Cooperstown.