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Mariano Rivera first-ever unanimous Hall of Fame selection

January 23, 2019
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Another year, another big class voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Cooperstown’s Class of 2019 features four inductees voted in by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) – including the first-ever unanimous Hall of Famer.

Longtime Yankees closer Mariano Rivera became the first player to be named on every single ballot, breaking the percentage record of 99.3 set three years ago by Ken Griffey Jr. Rivera is joined by the late Roy Halladay – also in his first year on the ballot – as well as career Seattle Mariner Edgar Martinez in his last year of eligibility and longtime starting pitcher Mike Mussina.

It’s no surprise that Rivera makes the Hall in his first year of eligibility. He’s the all-time leader in saves with 652; only Trevor Hoffman (who’s already in the Hall) is within 50 of him. Over the course of 19 years, 1,115 games (fourth all-time) and nearly 1,300 innings, Rivera’s rate stats were staggering – a 2.21 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, an 8.2 K/9. He was an All-Star a dozen times, finished in the top-five in Cy Young voting five times and garnered down-ballot MVP votes nine different seasons. All that plus one of the most astonishing postseason careers in history – in 141 innings over 96 games, Rivera had eight wins, 42 saves, a WHIP of 0.759 and a staggering 0.70 ERA. Even those who argue against the worthiness of closers could not deny his greatness.

Oh yeah – and “Enter Sandman.”

We all expected a fairly easy path to induction for Rivera, but the consensus was that there would be at least one naysayer out there – a small-Hall guy with closer antipathy – who would leave him off the ballot. And yet here we are – our first 100 percenter, named on all 435 ballots cast. And really, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better choice.

Next on the list is Roy Halladay, who makes it in his first year of eligibility with 85.4 percent of the vote – 363 votes out of 425. In happier circumstances, Halladay was likely destined to become one of Cooperstown’s borderline cases; he had a great career, just one that was too short to compile the sorts of round numbers that excite voters. But with the tragedy of his too-soon passing, his candidacy was fast-tracked.

Halladay’s career spanned 16 years, but it took five of those for him to truly establish himself. His numbers – 203 wins, 2,117 strikeouts, a 3.38 ERA and a 1.178 WHIP – are good, but they aren’t spectacular. However, there was a stretch – say 2002-2011 – where he was one of the best pitchers on the planet. He won 20 games three times in that span. He led the league in innings pitched four times and in complete games a staggering seven. He won two Cy Young Awards – one in each league – and was named an All-Star eight times. He pitched a perfect game and the second-ever postseason no-hitter. With the changing conception of what makes starting pitching greatness, his spot is earned.

In a fun quirk of voting, Edgar Martinez scored an identical vote total to Halladay, making the Hall with 85.4 percent of the vote. But that was all that was identical in terms of their candidacies – this year marked Martinez’s tenth and final time on the ballot. It was now or never for Edgar, and while his steady rise seemed to indicate eventual induction, one couldn’t be sure that he’d overcome the various biases against him.

In terms of offensive production, it’s certainly tough to argue against him. While his late start (he didn’t play his first full season in the majors until age 27) precluded some of the bigger counting milestones in his 2,055 games, he “only” had 2,247 hits and “only” 309 homers. As far as runs, he drove in 1,261 and scored 1,219. He walked 1,283 times – 81 times more often than he struck out. He slashed .312/.418/.515 for his career and he’s a key figure in the greatest moment in Seattle’s postseason history. He managed over 68.4 WAR despite the nigh-draconian defensive penalty for designated hitters; close to three-quarters of Martinez’s plate appearances came as a DH, which is the only reason this induction didn’t happen years ago.

And our fourth inductee is Mike Mussina, who somehow managed to be both staggeringly good and staggeringly underrated for a long time. Thanks in part to era-adjusted numbers that make his traditional stats look even better, Mussina’s support has steadily grown. It was touch-and-go if he was going to get over the hump, but he made it with 76.7 percent of the vote.

Despite spending his entire career in the loaded AL East during the offensive explosion of the late-90s and early-00s, Mussina put up a hell of a line; while his 3.68 ERA wasn’t superficially impressive, in terms of the era, it was outstanding. He won 270 games and struck out more than 2,800 while putting up a sub-1.20 WHIP. His 83 WAR put him above all but one pitcher outside the Hall. He never won a Cy Young (though he did finish in the top-six eight times), but he did take home seven Gold Gloves. He was durable and reliable and had the bad fortune to pitch at the same time as Pedro and Randy Johnson and a couple of others. He was even better than you remember.

These four will be joined by committee inductees Lee Smith and Harold Baines at the ceremony in Cooperstown on July 21.

This class of marks the second year in a row – and the third in five – that the writers elected four players. The BBWAA has voted in 20 guys in the last six years – five more than the next-highest six-year stretch in the Hall’s history.

And there are still plenty of great players waiting.

The near-misses are led by a trio of polarizing figures: Curt Schilling (60.9 percent), Roger Clemens (59.5) and Barry Bonds (59.1). By the numbers, all three are obvious candidates; however, outside forces have led to their support leveling off. Clemens and Bonds – by some measures the best pitcher and player of all time, respectively – remain haunted by their PED pasts. Schilling, on the other hand, is being kept out due to the off-putting nature of some of his public interactions. All three have three years left on the ballot; a lot of attitudes will have to change in a short time for them to make the leap.

Perhaps the most interesting story among the rest is Larry Walker. The is was Walker’s penultimate time on the ballot, but he’s made significant gains in the last couple of years. He was at 21.9 percent and dead in the water just two years ago, but he leapt to 34.1 percent last year and all the way to 54.6 this year. It’s a big jump to 75, but Walker’s career – while short – has him inside the top-10 all-time in right field.

Only two other first-years earned enough support to stay on the ballot. Todd Helton pulled 16.5 percent, while Andy Pettite landed at 9.9. Meanwhile, Fred McGriff drops off the ballot after pulling 39.8 percent in his tenth year. Holdovers like Omar Vizquel (42.8), Jeff Kent (18.1) and Billy Wagner (16.7) didn’t move much, while the unheralded Scott Rolen gained some support (17.2) and Andruw Jones (7.5) didn’t. PED casualties Manny Ramirez (22.8), Gary Sheffield (13.6) and Sammy Sosa (8.5) round it out.

The 2020 ballot might bring this run of big classes to an end. The only surefire first-ballot guy Derek Jeter. After that, the best newcomers are the sneaky-impressive Bobby Abreu and probably-nots Jason Giambi and Cliff Lee. This might play in Walker’s favor, leaving him with room to (possibly) make the big jump in his last year. Some of the PED crew could benefit as well.

Regardless, it’s a hell of a class. Sure, it’s big, but it’s also deserving.

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