Gang of four earn election to Baseball Hall of Fame

By Dan Holmes ♦ January 6, 2015

Craig Biggio, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and John Smoltz have been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and will join baseball’s legends when they are inducted in July in Cooperstown.

Johnson, Martinez, and Smoltz, three of the best pitchers of the last 25 years, were all elected in their first year of eligibility. Biggio, a hardnosed fan favorite who played his entire career in Houston, was elected on his third try.

Mike Piazza just missed earning election in his third time on the ballot. He will return next year as one of the prohibitive favorites along with Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Curt Schilling, three of the other top vote-getters who missed election this year.

Randy Johnson led all vote-getters while receiving one of the highest totals in history. The tall moundsman was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history and ranks among the top two or three left-handers to ever throw a baseball. He started his career in Montreal in 1988 when he was looked upon as a talented freak who stood 6’10 but could hardly throw a pitch near the plate. He harnessed his pitching ability after a beneficial meeting with Nolan Ryan when he was with the Seattle Mariners. In 1992 he won his first strikeout title, the first of nine he would capture with his patented three-quarter sidearm fastball that frequently topped 100 miles per hour. He won his first Cy Young Award in 1995 and added four straight with the Arizona Diamondbacks from 1999 to 2002. In his final season with the Diamondbacks, Johnson struck out 290 batters at the age of 40. He finished his career with 4,875 K’s, the second highest total in history, trailing only Ryan. Johnson threw his last major league pitch at the age of 45 in 2009 when he also won his 300th game. As if that weren’t enough, “The Big Unit” threw two no-hitters, the first for the Mariners in 1990 and the second 14 years later for Arizona, and that one was the 17th perfect game in baseball history. He was named the MVP of the 2001 World Series when he started and won two games and entered Game Seven in relief and earned the win in that contest too.

Debuting two years after Johnson, Pedro Martinez was his physical opposite — small in stature and right-handed. But the fire that burned in his belly matched the competitive spirit of Johnson’s. Pedro was only 20 years old when he debuted for Tommy Lasorda and the Dodgers in 1990, but Lasorda never saw Martinez as more than a relief pitcher. Traded to Montreal after the ’93 season, he blossomed when he was inserted into the starting rotation by Felipe Alou. By the mid-1990s he was one of the best pitchers in baseball, and in 1997 he became the first Montreal hurler to win the Cy Young Award. That season he became the first righty to have an ERA under 2.00 and strike out 300 batters since Walter Johnson in 1912. But strapped for money, the Expos traded Martinez to the Red Sox just days after he was named Cy Young winner. It was in Boston where Pedro became a superstar and attained legendary status. In 1998 he pitched the Sox to the postseason and finished second in Cy Young voting. The following year he won the Cy Young and led the Red Sox to the playoffs again as he topped 300 strikeouts and won the pitching triple crown. In the LDS against the Indians, Martinez entered Game Five in the 4th inning in relief with the game tied 8-8. He tossed six innings of no-hit ball as Boston won the game to advance. In 2000, Martinez was practically unhittable as he enjoyed one of the greatest seasons ever posted by a pitcher. That year he posted a 1.74 ERA and fired four shutouts on his way to 18 wins and his third Cy Young Award. That season Pedro threw quality starts in each of his first 13 starts and in 27 of his 29 starts for the year. He struck out at least 10 batters in 15 of his 29 starts, including 17 against Tampa Bay in May and 15 against the Orioles in his next start. He allowed four hits or less in 12 of his starts and surrendered just 128 hits all seasons in 217 innings. He racked up 284 strikeouts while walking only 32 batters. Martinez posted the league’s lowest ERA five times and paced the league in K’s three times. In 2004 he won Game Three of the World Series as the Red Sox won their first title in 86 years. After seven years with the Red Sox, Martinez finished his career with four seasons with the New York Mets and a final year with the Phillies. He became the first Latin pitcher to reach 3,000 strikeouts and was also only the fourth pitcher to have 3,000 K’s with less than 1,000 walks. He finished with a record of 219-100 and a glittering ERA of 2.93 in 18 seasons.

When John Smoltz was acquired by the Atlanta Braves in a trade deadline deal during the 1987 season he was relatively unknown, except to the scouting departments of most major league clubs who knew he had a great arm. General manager Bobby Cox snatched him up in that trade and within three years Cox was managing Smoltz at the big league level. A tall right-hander with a sharp fastball, Smoltz pitched 20 years for the Braves, all of them under the eye of Cox. In the 1991 World Series he already had one victory when he was tapped to start Game Seven where he pitched seven strong shutout innings in a game the Braves eventually lost in 10 frames. It was the first of 14 postseason appearances for Smoltz, 13 of them with the Braves. Smoltz teamed with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine to form one of the greatest starting rotations in baseball history for a decade from 1993 to 2002. The three won five Cy Young awards between them in their years together and all three are now in the Hall of Fame. Smoltz won his lone Cy Young honor in 1996 when he won 24 games and led the NL in strikeouts with a career-high 276, one of five times he topped the 200 mark. After an arm injury in the middle of his career, Smoltz was asked to be a closer which he did for four seasons for the Braves. He was one of baseball’s greatest closers during that stretch, saving 144 games in a three-year span and finishing third in Cy Young voting in 2002 when he saved 55. At the age of 38 in 2005 he was switched back to the rotation and didn’t miss a beat. In his second year back as a starter he led the National League in wins in 2006 with 16. He was a marvel in the postseason, making 27 starts and posting a 15-4 record with a 2.67 ERA in 209 innings with 199 strikeouts. He was a perfect 7-0 in the Divisional Series and posted a 2.47 ERA in eight World Series starts. In 1995 he won the World Series title, the only time the Braves have won a title in Atlanta. Smoltz won 213 games and saved 154, the only pitcher to top 200 wins and 150 saves in baseball history. Like Johnson and Martinez, he also achieved 3,000 strikeouts, finishing his 21-year career with 3,084 K’s.

Though he played his entire career out of the limelight in Houston, Craig Biggio was a consummate professional who did whatever his team needed him to do to win baseball games. He eventually helped lead the Astros to the postseason six times: three times in the 1990s and three more in the early 2000s. He started his career as an undersized catcher but after four years he was moved to second base where he spent more than 11 years. He won four Gold Gloves and four Silver Sluggers as a second baseman to go along with the one Silver Slugger he earned as a catcher. Biggio probably had his best season in 1998 when he batted a career-best .325 with 210 hits, 123 runs, 51 doubles, 20 homers, and 50 stolen bases. He was later switched to the outfield for two seasons before he was back at second, which is where he was playing in 2005 when set a career-high with 26 homers at the age of 29, helping the Astros to their first World Series appearance. Overall though, the postseason was a disappointment for Biggio as his Astros went 15-25 in postseason games during his career and were eliminated four times in the first round, three times by Smoltz’s Braves. In his final season in 2007, Biggio went over the 3,000-hit mark, finishing with 3,060 in more than 2,800 games. He is Houston’s all-time franchise leader in runs, hits, doubles, and stolen bases.

Other first time names on the ballot included Gary Sheffield, Nomar Garciparra, and Carlos Delgado, all of whom earned enough support to return to the 2016 ballot.

Former Yankee Don Mattingly, currently manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was on his 15th and final time on the ballot.

The induction ceremony in Cooperstown takes place on the final Saturday in Cooperstown, New York.


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