Since its creation and inauguration of Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, and Honus Wagner, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame has seen 323 legends of all roles join the elite group in Cooperstown, New York. On Dec. 9, 2018, the Veterans Committee inducted Lee Smith and Harold Baines, and, on the Jan. 22, 2019, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) elected Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, and Mike Mussina to be inaugurated on Jul. 21, 2019. While each of the above names is deserving of high praise, this record-breaking season of Hall of Fame balloting and selection was extremely controversial.
The Baseball Writers Association of America is comprised of 440 voters. To gain elite entrance to the Cooperstown club, one must obtain 330 votes, 75 percent of the total. Prior to the 2019 balloting season, Ken Griffey Jr. held the highest vote count in MLB history at 99.3 percent (437 votes). This year, on his first ballot, legendary Yankee closer Mariano Rivera was unanimously selected to join the elite group of baseball stars.
Mariano Rivera became a baseball legend long before receiving these honors and even before retiring from his 19-season career in 2013. The 13-time All-Star and career saves leader (652) was one of the most dominant forces for any position during his insane tenure with the New York Yankees and has undeniably cemented his name as one, if not the, greatest single inning relief pitcher in MLB history. His career 1.00 WHIP and 2.21 ERA are the lowest of any MLB pitcher since 1920 with at least 1000 innings pitched, and he has the most 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, and 50 save seasons in history.
Beyond his regular season dominance, Rivera was an absolute late-inning torture artist in several Yankee postseason runs. Through his 19-seasons, Rivera notched 42 postseason saves (MLB record), obtained enough rings to cover his pitching hand, and earned both ALCS and World Series MVP honors (2003 and 1999, respectively). He has the lowest career postseason ERA at 0.70 (minimum 30 innings) and appeared on the mound in more playoff games than anyone ever at 96.
Whether or not he should be the only player to unanimously gain Cooperstown honors, Rivera has been a no-doubt Hall of Famer for years. Fans may believe that the 100 percent approval implies he’s the greatest player of all time and disagree with the results, but that doesn’t need to be the conclusion. It’s hard to speak for 440 top tier sportswriters, but the career and postseason status that Mariano Rivera holds is unparalleled for a reason.
Long-time Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay gathered 85.4 percent of the vote and made his way intothe Hall of Fame crew during his first year on the ballot. With 205 wins and a career ERA of 3.38, Roy Halladay was one of the consistently dominant duelers in the MLB during the first 2000s decade. Through his 16 MLB seasons, Halladay led the league in wins and earned Cy Young Honors in 2003 (Blue Jays) and 2010 (Phillies).
On Nov. 7, 2017, Roy Halladay tragically passed away in a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico in Flo.. At just 40 years of age, the recently retired father-of-two was found a quarter mile offshore after crashing while solo-piloting near his home. After his selection to the Hall of Fame, Brandy Halladay, his widowed wife, announced that Roy’s Cooperstown plaque will not feature a cap of any specific team. It is unfortunate to know this legend will not be able to experience his inauguration, however, the baseball community has regarded Roy Halladay as a potential first ballot initiate for years.
After 18 seasons and seven All-Star games, Seattle Mariner designated hitter and third baseman Edgar Martinez retired in 2004. This week, on his 10th and final BBWAA ballot, Martinez earned 85.4 percent of the writers’ votes and will join the Cooperstown club this summer. His accolades include a career average of .316, 300 homers, five silver slugger awards, and two AL batting titles. Edgar Martinez was a strong hitter all across the board and his name ranks high amongst stat leaders from his time in baseball. Interestingly, Mariano Rivera once proclaimed that Martinez was the guy he never wanted to go up against in a tough situation. Edgar Martinez went 11/19 against Rivera in his career.
Oriole and Yankee right-handed pitching god Mike Mussina garnered 76.7 percent of the ballot this year to gain entrance to the Hall of Fame. While his 18-season career was filled with impressive statistics, Mussina was not the top-tier superstar, which led to him barely getting the votes this year on his sixth ballot. Mussina was always a strong talent and ranked highly in pitching statistics, but it was his sustained excellence and position among the elite that has earned him these honors. Mussina ranks 20th on the all-time strikeouts list, finished a season in the top five Cy Young voting six times, and won 20 games his final season after winning 18 games three times and 19 twice.
The Veterans Committees are a group of baseball legends, from executives and managers to players and sportswriters, who vote on potential new Hall of Famers that are not eligible to be inducted by the BBWAA due to either receiving less than 5 percent of the vote or being on the ballot for 10 years (used to be 15). Since 2016, the VC has been composed of four separate 16-member committees who focus and vote on baseball excellence in different time periods. This year, the Today’s Game Committee, who selects honorable players from 1988-the present, voted to elect Lee Smith and Harold Baines into the MLB Hall of Fame.
Right-handed relief pitcher and closer Lee Smith was unanimously selected by the Today’s Game Committee to enter Cooperstown 21 years after his retirement from the MLB. The seven-time All-Star, 18-season, eight-team dominant pitcher failed to meet the 75 percent voting requirement for 15 BBWAA ballots, however, the VC deemed his career HOF worthy during his first eligible year. Smith, who played his longest stint with the Chicago Cubs (8 seasons), led the league in saves four times, finished with a career ERA of 3.03, and held the MLB saves record from 1993 to 2006 at 478.
Despite only ever receiving 6.1 percent of the BBWAA votes, designated hitter Harold Baines made his way into the Hall of Fame through the VC. In his fifth year on the BBWAA ballot (2011), Baines received 4.8 percent of the vote and became eligible for selected from the Today’s Game Committee. The 22-season and six-time All-Star is still one of the legendary DHs in baseball history after playing the most games and once having the most home runs and hits at the position (until passed by Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz, respectively), but his election came with a lot of questioning of whether or not he is of HOF caliber.
Curt Shillings came fifth in the voting this year at 60.6 percent for his seventh ballot. It will be interesting to see if the three-time World Series champion pitcher who ranks 15th on the all-time strikeouts list can earn a spot in Cooperstown for these last few years. Larry Walker also made significant strides this year, coming eighth in the voting with 54.6 percent. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens both missed the 75 percent mark again this season due to controversial history with PEDs. This year of balloting was controversial and exciting in many ways, with legends and Hall of Fame hinge players earning the honors. It will be thrilling to watch which other players can unanimously gain entrance to Cooperstown now that Mariano Rivera has shattered the ceiling.
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