Here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know about newly elected Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson. The tall left-hander had a losing record against three teams in his distinguished career.
The Yankees (6-8) were one. The Mets (6-7) were another.
The … um … Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
The Big Unit, one of the 10 best pitchers ever, winner of five Cy Young Awards, the all-time leader in strikeouts per nine innings (10.6) … that guy went 3-5 with a 5.43 ERA in 11 starts against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from 1998-2006. The Rays averaged 97 losses during that time span, which happened also to be a time when I covered the team for the Tampa Tribune.
OK, here’s why I bring up the fact that Johnson – as deserving a first-ballot Hall of Famer as you’ll find – was generally pretty bad against the Rays, especially after going 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA in three starts against Tampa Bay’s inaugural team in ‘98. I bring it up to illustrate the point that baseball statistics are only useful and revelatory in the proper context.
Also, to remind you that all baseball players are fallible.
Very good baseball players make us forgive their failures. Great players make us forgive and forget their failures. Hall of Famers make us remember and celebrate their triumphs.
Does it matter, really, that one of the greatest pitchers ever struggled mightily against one of the worst teams of the 1990s and 2000s? Not today.
Today, we remember the glare, the intimidation, the menacing mound presence, the mullet. Today, we remember why he was called the Big Unit.
Today, Randy Johnson is an elected Hall of Famer, along with contemporaries Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio.
Today, we remember and celebrate their triumphs, ever mindful that none of them were even close to perfect, yet knowing that, for a time, they were the best of the best at what they did.
This was my seventh year participating as a voter in baseball’s Hall of Fame balloting. I earned that privilege as a member of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America from 1999-2009, and I currently hold honorary member status.
I take the privilege seriously. Every year I evaluate the new candidates and re-evaluate the holdover candidates, even the players I voted for previously. There are no automatic selections on my ballot, ever.
That said, once I have decided that I consider a player a Hall of Famer, I vote for him. It never has made sense to me to leave a deserving player off my ballot because he hasn’t waited “long enough.”
No Barry Bonds. No Roger Clemens. No Mark McGwire. No Sammy Sosa. As players, they excelled. They put up the numbers and won the awards. They fall short for me because of the character/integrity/sportsmanship clause in the voting rules.
My thoughts on voting (or not voting) for candidates suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs (PED) are documented here: This Game’s Fun, OK? Baseball’s Hall of Fame Conundrum.
My ballot from last year can be found here: My 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot.
Further thoughts about the clause that stipulates voters must take into account sportsmanship, integrity and character during the voting process can be found here: If Only Integrity, Sportsmanship and Character Did Not Count in Hall of Fame Voting.
And here are the players I voted for this year:
Voters are allowed to select a maximum of 10 candidates. As you can see, I voted for nine, including six holdovers from last year’s ballot: Bagwell, Biggio, Edgar, McGriff, Piazza and Smith.
At some point in their careers, the three first-year candidates I selected arguably could be considered the best pitchers in their respective leagues. That statement is not likely to brook much argument when it comes to Pedro and Johnson, but it also applies to Smoltz, who from 1995-1999 was as dominant as any starting pitcher in the game.
A quick word about my borderline players: Mike Mussina, Tim Raines and Alan Trammell. I strongly re-evaluated their candidacies this year, particularly Mussina. I thought this might be the year that I deviated from my philosophy of deciding that if a player is a Hall of Famer, there is no reason for him to wait.
I gave all three a lot of consideration, and concluded once more that while all three were clearly great players, they didn’t quite make the Hall of Fame cut for me. There was no one, glaring reason why not for any of them.
Rather, as I considered their candidacies again – frankly, as I looked hard for reasons to include them – I could not convince myself that they were Hall of Fame caliber. I reserve the right to be wrong in my assessment (I didn’t vote for Barry Larkin or Andre Dawson, after all). I’m sure they’ll all draw the requisite votes to carry them over to next year’s ballot, and I will begin the evaluation process anew.
For now, though, I’m as satisfied as I can be that the nine players I selected deserved my vote. I look forward to next year, when the first-year candidates will include Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman.
I also hope that the voting process can continue to move toward clarity. I hate that the character/integrity/sportsmanship rule means we, as voters, must act as moral arbiters for baseball’s highest honor after an era when the game itself was tainted by steroids.
But that’s part of it, and I consider it an obligation to participate as well as I can, to conduct the research as thoroughly as possible and to present my conclusions with the utmost respect for the players and the game. I’ll continue to do so as long as they’ll have me.
I’ll leave you with a YouTube video of one of the best All-Star Game moments ever: the Big Unit striking out terrified Phillies first baseman John Kruk.