Earlier this week, the Hall of Fame Class of 2014 was enshrined in Cooperstown, New York. This year only three eligible players received the necessary 75 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America. This is following a year in which no players where voted in.
A lot has been written and said about the 2014 inductees: Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine. All three were certainly deserving, and made the cut in their first year of eligibility. Glavine and Maddux each won more than 300 games and were dominant for extended periods. Meanwhile, Thomas hit 521 home runs and was a premier slugger for most of his career. Aside from obvious choices like these, however, one has to wonder what a player has to do in this day and age to earn baseball’s greatest honor.
The steroid pariahs
As baseball attempts to move past the steroid era, it is evident that the game as a whole does not want to reward those who chemically enhanced themselves, or are widely suspected of having done so. Several years ago, players like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire became HOF eligible for the first time. Many speculated that their past misdoings would affect their chances, and they were right.
Through 2014, no player connected to steroids of performance enhancing drugs has been voted in. Otherwise, 354 game winner Roger Clemens and the all-time home run leader Bonds would have gotten in on the first try. Instead, the message is being sent that cheaters will not go unpunished. These players, and many more, may have put up eye-popping statistics during their careers, but they did not achieve greatness the right way. Rather, only “clean” players have gotten into the HOF, like Maddux, Glavine and Thomas.
Consistently extraordinary hitting
For a position player to be considered a surefire, first ballot inductee, two statistics come to mind: 500 home runs and 3000 hits. For the most part, players who reach at least one of these milestones will reach Cooperstown sooner rather than later. For example, Derek Jeter has never been considered a power hitter, but he has been a model of consistency, racking up over 3400 hits in his career. Meanwhile, former slugger Jim Thome had 2328 hits in his HOF career, but his 612 lifetime home runs put him in an elite category.
Players can go to the HOF without reaching these milestones, however. There are several players in recent memory who have had or are having Hall-worthy careers without doing so. Carlos Beltran is one hitter who comes to mind. Beltran is a 7-time All-Star, and has 2293 hits along with 370 home runs. He was also a Gold Glove center fielder and a fearsome base-stealer during his prime. Add in his .333 career post season batting average with 16 home runs, and he has been a clutch, consistent and all-around great player throughout his career. Add all those facts together, and he may end up in Cooperstown.
Another Hall-worthy slugger without 500 home runs is Mike Piazza. The former backstop for the Dodgers and the Mets racked up quite an impressive resume over 16 Major League seasons. At first, his 427 home runs and .308 batting average might not seem good enough to warrant a bust in the HOF. However, he did most of his damage as a catcher, a traditionally weak-hitting position. Piazza put up multiple monster seasons, and though he never won a championship, his overall stats are better than those of Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench, who are both in the Hall. In addition to consistency and milestones, being one of the best at your position must also be considered in HOF-worthiness.
Long-lasting dominance on the mound
For many years, 300 wins or a total near that were what normally qualified a pitcher as a Hall of Famer. Today, though, it seems like it is getting more and more difficult for pitchers to win that many. In fact, there are several active or recently retired players today who are probably worthy of consideration but do not come close to that win total.
What now seems far more important than wins is ERA, because it takes into account the overall effectiveness of a pitcher, and does not suffer depending on the run support he received from his team. For this reason, whether a pitcher would get voted in or not should depend on whether he was a truly dominating force, and for how long.
A perfect example of this type of pitcher is Roy “Doc” Halladay. The former ace pitched for both the Blue Jays and Phillies over a 16 year career, and won 203 games. However, for at least a 7-8 year period, he dominated the rest of baseball, winning two Cy Young Awards, and finishing top five in the voting seven times. Halladay may not have had 300 wins, but he had an extended stretch where he was arguably the best overall pitcher in baseball.
Halladay is not the only recent HOF-worthy pitcher without 300 wins. Clayton Kershaw has been the best in the business for about four years. Though it is impossible to know how many games he will win over the rest of his career, he will be Cooperstown-bound if he continues dominating throughout the rest of his prime.
Additionally, Pedro Martinez was superb during the late ’90s and early 2000s. He will be voted in not because of his 219 wins, but because he blew away batters during an era when seemingly almost every great hitter was juicing. Pitchers like these deserve to be recognized because they were feared not just for one or two years, but for entire eras.
Making the cut
Accomplishing any of these things, either as a pitcher or a hitter, is difficult. There are a whole lot of players who have had great careers, but not legendary ones. That is why it’s called the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good. Players need to achieve something truly amazing to be considered for this special honor.
Sometime in the future we will see which of today’s players will actually make the cut. They will be compared favorably to timeless legends of old or will fail to meet the 75 percent voting minimum enough times to eventually fall off the ballot. Until then, however, all we can do is speculate as to what we think constitutes a Hall of Famer.
Joe Setyon, sports editor of The Collegian at Grove City College, contributes to Three for Ten Sports as a baseball writer.