The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame announced its 2015 class Tuesday afternoon, welcoming Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz into its hallowed digs. Each player put together impeccable credentials over long careers, and, as is de rigueur in any analysis of accomplishments from the 1990s and early 2000s – when performance enhancement reached its brazen zenith – they each withstood the challenges and scrutiny inherent to the Steroid Era. These players passed the tests of baseball’s HOF voters; others – Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire – did not, once again.
So it’s appropriate that three of the four elected today were pitchers who did battle with beaked-up power hitters, while the candidacy of Mike Piazza, who finished just shy of the 75-percent voting threshold (of 549 ballots) necessary for induction, may have been undone by steroid rumors. There are major concerns among baseball analysts and writers about how Hall of Fame voting is conducted, including the continuing exile of known and suspected PED users, but that won’t detract from the impressive lifetime stats and signature moments that each of today’s honorees will always be remembered for.
Randy Johnson – 97.3% of the Vote
The Big Unit, was a monstrous presence on the mound who terrified hitters with his 6’10” frame, gnarly mullet, and a bone-chilling glare. He threw heat, mastered a nasty slider, and was a dominant pitcher in baseball’s most prolific offensive era. The big lefthander won five Cy Young Awards and guided the Arizona Diamondbacks to a World Series win in 2001, after which he was named series MVP for picking up three wins in three appearances (two starts) during the seven-game series, and striking out 19 batters in 17 innings while allowing just nine hits and two earned runs (a 1.04 ERA). Johnson won 20 or more games three times, including 24 with Arizona in 2002. He won 303 games, is second in all-time strikeouts with 4,875, and pitched two no-hitters – including a perfect game for the D’Backs in 2004. Johnson’s game had no mercy, so it was only fitting when one of his fastballs killed a dove in an explosion of feathers in 2001.
Pedro Martinez – 91.1% of the Vote
Martinez was small by pitchers’ standards, standing at 5’11”, but he was gritty and fiery and, like Johnson, a dominant pitcher in baseball’s steroid-fueled home run era. From 1999-2003 his highest season ERA was 2.39, and his 1999 season was one for the ages – he won 23 games, posted a 2.07 ERA, and struck out 313 opponents. He followed that up in 2000 by winning 18 games, striking out 284 and allowing a miniscule 1.74 ERA. He eventually helped the Red Sox shake off the Curse of the Bambino in 2004 when they knocked off the rival New York Yankees after being down 0-3 in the ALCS, and then swept the Cardinals in the World Series. But his most memorable career moment may have been a 17-strikeout, one-hit win over the Yankees in that incredible 1999 season.
John Smoltz – 82.9% of the Vote
Over his 21-year career, Smoltz was synonymous with deadly accurate, savvy pitching – and versatility. He would have offered a decent argument for the Hall of Fame based just on his first 11 years in the bigs as a starting pitcher (157 wins from 1988-1999). Then he blew out his elbow, retooled his game, and became a dominant closer, picking up 144 saves between 2002-2004. Then he went back to being an ace starter again (44 more wins from 2005-2007) because – well, because he could. Part of the Braves’s masterful three-headed pitching monster of the 1990s – with fellow HOFers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux – Smoltz won the NL Cy Young in 1996, was an eight-time All-Star, is the only pitcher in history with 200 wins and 150 saves, and joined the elite 3,000 strikeout club when he fanned Felipe Lopez in front of Atlanta fans in 2008 – one of 10 K’s the 41-year-old threw that night.
Craig Biggio – 82.7% of the Vote
Biggio was a versatile, no-frills guy who did all the little things right during a 20-year career spent entirely with the Houston Astros. One of the rare players to transition from catcher to second base, Biggio was an All-Star at both positions, but made his career as a middle infielder. Biggio was a seven-time All-Star and a four-time Gold Glove winner; his 3,060 hits make him No. 21 on the all-time list – he cracked his 3,000th on a five-hit night in 2007. He also reached base 4,505 times, 18th-most all time, and he was, strangely, hit by a pitch 285 times – the second-most ever. Biggio’s peak offensive production came in the late 1990s; in 1998 he hit .325, scored 123 runs and drove in a career-high 88 RBI. Biggio helped lead the Astros to the postseason six times between 1999 and 2005, including a 2005 World Series loss to the Chicago White Sox.