Much like a left-handed hitter opting to take the day off on games Randy Johnson was scheduled to start, the decision to induct Johnson into the Baseball Hall of Fame was easy and intelligent.
The most imposing and feared left-handed pitcher of the past 30 years garnered the highest percentage of votes from the eligible Baseball Writers Association of America members. Johnson was on 97.3 percent of the ballots — the highest of the class and eighth-highest percentage ever. Johnson was joined by pair of dominant right-handed pitchers: Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz. Also elected was longtime Astros second baseman Craig Biggio, who just missed induction last season by 0.2 percentage points.
It was the largest class since 1955.
Johnson’s ridiculous numbers over a 22-year career made him a lock for induction. The numbers are mind-boggling. In 618 appearances (603 starts), he posted a career record of 303-166 with an ERA of 3.29 and a career 3.19 FIP. He struck out 4,875 batters and averaged 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings — the highest rate in baseball history. Honors? Well, he won five Cy Young awards — one with the Mariners in 1995 and four straight with the Diamondbacks from 1999 to 2002. He was also named to 10 all-star teams.
Though not official, Johnson likely won’t be wearing a Mariners hat on his Hall of Fame plaque. He will probably go in as a Diamondback, despite playing longer in Seattle, posting a 130-74 record and 3.42 ERA in 10 seasons with the Mariners. However, the four straight NL Cy Young awards and World Series title in 2001 with the Diamondbacks likely cemented the Hall of Fame’s decision to go in as a D’Back.
“That question is out of my control,” Johnson said of the hat on his plaque. “That’s more of a Hall of Fame decision at this point now. We’ll cross that bridge in the next couple of days from what I understand.”
But Johnson’s time in Seattle can’t be overlooked. He knows of its importance to his development.
“My time in Seattle was really my apprenticeship,” he said. “That’s where I learned how to pitch. I got to go out there every fifth day, good, bad or indifferent and learn how to pitch. It wasn’t always easy pitching in the Kingdome, which is a hitter’s ballpark. Seattle was just a wonderful time in my career. I had the opportunity play with Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner and Omar Vizquel and Ken Griffey Jr., and to finally do something as a team in 9,5, that was pretty special.”
Edgar Martinez was remembers Johnson as a talented, towering unfinished product when he first came to Seattle.
“I do remember earlier in his career when he first came to Seattle,” Martinez said in an radio interview on MLB Radio. “His control wasn’t there. His slider especially, he didn’t have that command of that slider. Later he was able to develop a changeup. Once he got command of his slider and he was able to locate his fastball, it was all over after that.”
And Martinez could only laugh at the menacing stare and intimidating attitude that Johnson took to the mound.
“Randy was so intense the day that he pitched,” Martinez said. “He didn’t have communication with hardly anybody. He was so focused. We all knew that we just leave Randy alone today. He was probably the most intense and greatest competitor on the field ever. We’d just leave him alone and let him do his thing.”
Pedro Martinez didn’t have Johnson’s cumulative numbers. But like Johnson in his prime, he was one of the most feared starting pitchers in all of baseball. Martinez posted a 219-100 record in 476 career appearances (409 starts) with a 2.98 ERA in 18 big-league seasons. He won three Cy Young awards (two in the AL and one in the NL) and was named to eight all-star teams.
Smoltz had two acts to his stellar career, spent mostly with the Atlanta Braves. From 1988 to 1999, he was dominant starter on one of the best rotations in all of baseball. During that time he was 157-113 with 356 starts, including 14 shutouts.He sat out the 2000 season because of elbow surgery and returned in 2001. He made just five starts that season and then moved to the bullpen to serve as the Braves’ closer, notching 10 saves that season.From 2002 to 2009, he pitched as a closer, notching 144 saves, including 55 saves in the 2002 season. He is the only pitcher with more than 200 career wins (213) and 150 career saves (157).
Biggio missed out on induction by 0.2 percentage points last season, getting 74.8 percent of the vote last season (75 percent is needed). He spent his entire career with the Astros, converting from catching prospect to all-star second baseman. He played in 2,850 games and posted a .286/.363/.433 slash line, including 3,060 hits. He was a seven-time all-star who won five Silver Sluggers and four Gold Gloves.
As expected, Edgar Martinez did not receive enough votes. The hard-hitting Mariners DH finished with 27 percent of the votes. Martinez had seen his percentage drop in each of the past three seasons: 36.5 percent in 2012, his first year of eligibility; 35.9 percent in 2013; and 25.2 percent last season.
Going up even one percentage point was still important for Martinez since this ballot was so loaded with players. Johnson offered his thoughts on Edgar Martinez.
“Edgar Martinez is, hands down, the best hitter that I’ve ever seen,” Johnson said. “I’m glad I didn’t have to face him too much. Having seen him play from ’89 to all the way when I left, I got to see him a lot against great pitchers. Like I said, hands down, he is the best pure hitter that I got to see on a nightly basis. And I hope that his time comes soon, that he gets a phone all stating that he’s a Hall of Fame player, because he is.”
Johnson isn’t the only one to think that way. On a television interview shortly after the announcement, Pedro Martinez said Edgar Martinez was the toughest hitter he ever faced. A few weeks ago, Mariano Rivera said the same thing about Edgar.
“It gives you a lot of satisfaction to hear those guys making those comments, especially coming from such great players,” Edgar Martinez said. “They all played for many hears and saw a lot of players and faced a lot of players, so that gives me great satisfaction.”
Edgar knows that the perception of the designated hitter being hall of fame worthy is his greatest obstacle.
“There is still a lot of debate around the DH position,” he said. “A lot of the writers that worked in the NL, never saw me play regularly. I’m hoping in a few years to come that sabermetrics can help me out some. It’s going to be a tough climb.”
|Ballots cast: 549||Needed for induction: 412|
*All candidates in italics received less than 5 percent of the vote on ballots cast and will be removed from future BBWAA consideration