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Letters of Intent
By Bob Elliott
Way back in 1993 Tommy Lasorda didn’t think a lithe 21-year-old right-hander named could handle the rigors of starting every five days.
And away back in 1989 in a go-for-it moment, ordered by owner Charles Bronfman, Expos management sent Randy Johnson, Brian Holman and Gene Harris (considered the best of the three arms at the time) to the Seattle Mariners for Mark Langston.
One good deal for the Expos: Lasorda was right. It only took 16 years and 406 career starts before Martinez could no longer stand the grind.
And one bad: Langston made 24 starts for the Expos, turned down a blank contract from Montreal and bolted to the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent.
Along with Atlanta Braves right-hander John Smoltz, both Johnson and Martinez were elected to the Hall of Fame in their first time on the ballot on Tuesday. Former Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio, who missed by two votes in 2014, was also elected making it the largest class since 1955 in voting by veteran members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
This July’s induction class will see the most crowded stage (when it comes to players elected by writers) since Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons and Dazzy Vance were inducted. Voting rules were different then as writers had to vote for 10 players.
Now, the maxmium writers can only for is 10 players.
After Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas were inducted last July, this marks the first time since 1954-55 that three or more players were elected in consecutive years. Bill Dickey, Bill Terry and Rabbit Maranville were inducted in 1954. Seven in two years … after two the two previous years (zero in 2013, Barry Larkin in 2012). After 50% of the voters used all 10 spots on the ballots in 2014, a record 51% (280 of 549) used all 10 spots as the back log slowly moves towards upstate New York.
Johnson was the top dog named on 97.3% of the ballots, followed by Martinez at 91.1%, Smoltz 82.9% and Biggio 82.7%.
The rule for tall left-handers is that it takes a while for to figure out mechanics. That was certainly the 6-foot-10 Johnson, who struggled with control at before going 285-147 with a 3.20 ERA from 1990-2008.
“I don’t think people understand how difficult it is to be this tall and throw a ball 60 feet, 6 inches,” Johnson said in a conference call. “You have to be consistent with your release point, where you’re landing and your arm slot. For someone 6-foot-1, 6-foot-2, there’s less body to keep under control.”
Martinez joins Juan Marichal as the second player from the Dominican Republic elected to Cooperstown.
“So many people in the Dominican and so many people all over the world got to know me as a player but not as a person,” Martinez said in an interview with MLB Network. “What I mean to the Dominican — it was a great honor to have the opportunity to go on the first ballot.”
Falling 28 votes shy of the 412 required this year was catcher Mike Piazza, who had 69.9% of the vote. He should make it next January. Former Houston first baseman Jeff Bagwell had 55.7% and former Expo outfielder Tim Raines 55%.
It is a high-water mark for Raines, however the current outfielder instructor in the Blue Jays system, only has two years remaining on the ballot since the Hall’s board shrunk eligibility from 15 years to 10 last July.
Former Jays first baseman Fred McGriff increased his total to 12.9% his sixth year but still less than Year 3 when he had 23.9%. Larry Walker of Maple Ridge, B.C. had a slight bump to 11.8% in Year 5, but no where near his 22.9% in 2012.
Blue Jays slugging great Carlos Delgado received only 21 votes (3.8%) and was dropped from next year’s ballot. Players must receive 5% to remain on the ballot.
Next year Ken Griffey headlines the list of first timers and he’s the lock, so perhaps Piazza, Raines and others will see an increase next year. The others making their debuts are closers Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner. Voters don’t seem to know what to do with relievers.
Cooperstown, which takes pride on inducting only the top 1% of those who played, 215 former major leagues, 28 executives, 35 Negro Leaguers, 22 managers and 10 umpires. The BBWAA has elected 119 candidates.
Hall of Fame thumbnails
Born: Sept. 10, 1963, Walnut Creek, Calif.
B: Right, T: Left
Ht: 6’ 10”, Wt: 225 lb.
Drafted by: Expos, second round, 1985 from USC.
Signed by: Tom Hinkle, former Blue Jays scout, Bob Fontaine, current Blue Jays scout and Cliff Ditto.
Teams: Mariners 10 seasons, Diamondbacks eight, Expos two, Yankees two, Giants one, Astros one.
Awards: 10 all-star games, five Cy Young awards, four other times finished in the top three, 2001 World Series MVP.
Numbers: 618 games, 303-166, .646 win mark, 3.29 ERA, 603 starts, 4,875 walks, 17,067 strikeouts in 4135. 1/3 innings.
World Series wins: 2001 Diamondbacks.
Last game: one inning, one run, blown save as Giants lose 4-3 to Padres.
Votes: 97.3% (1st year).
Born: Oct. 25, 1971, Manoguayabo, Dominican Republic.
B: Right, T: Right.
Ht: 5’ 11” , Wt: 170 lb.
Signed as an undrafted free agent: by the Los Angeles Dodgers, 1988.
Scouted and signed by: Elvio Jimenez, Ralph Avila.
First game: Two innings of scoreless relief in an 8-4 loss to the Reds, Sept. 24, 1992.
Teams: Red Sox seven year, Mets four, Expos four, Dodgers two, Phillies one.
Awards: Eight all-star games, three Cy Young awards, three other years finishing in the top three, two top-five finishes in MVP voting.
Numbers: 476 games, 219-100 (.687 win mark), 409 starts, 2827 1.3 innings, 760 walks, 3,154 strikeouts.
World Series wins: 2004 Red Sox
Last game: Lost Game 6 of 2009 World Series at Yankee Stadium pitching four innings, allowing four runs as Yanks clinched with 7-3 win.
Votes: 91.1% (1st year).
Born: May 15, 1967, Detroit, Mich.
Position: RHP, RP.
B: R, T: R.
Ht: 6’ 3”, Wt: 210 lbs.
Drafted by: Tigers, 22nd round, 1985.
Signed by: Bill Schudlich, Ken Madeja.
First game: Eight innings, one run in 6-1 win over the Mets July 23, 1988.
Teams: Braves 20 years, Red Sox one, Cards one.
Awards: Eight all-star games, one Cy Young award, one other in the top three, Rolaids reliever of the year, one top 10 MVP finish.
Numbers: 723 games, 213-155, .579 win mark, 154 saves, 3.33 ERA, 481 starts, 1,010 walks, 3,084 strikeouts in 3,473 innings.
World Series wins: 1995 Series with the Braves.
Last game: Two scoreless innings of relief for the Cards as the Dodgers swept in the best-of-three NLCS with a 5-1 win.
Votes: 82.9 (1st year).
Born: Dec. 14, 1965, Smithtown, N.Y.
Positions: 2B, C, OF.
B: R, T: R
Ht: 5’ 11”, Wt: 185 lb.
Drafted by: Astros first round (22nd over-all) in 1987.
Signed by: Clary Anderson.
First game: Hitless in debut against Giants’ Mike LaCoss, a 6-0 win.
Teams: Astros 20 seasons.
Awards: Seven all-star games, five silver sluggers, four gold gloves, two finishes in top 10 of MVP voting.
Numbers: 2,850 games, 668 doubles, 55 triples, 291 homers, 1,175 RBIs, 414 steals, .796 OPS.
World Series wins: None.
Last game: Doubled off Buddy Carlyle in four at-bats Sept. 30, 2007, in a 3-0 win over the Braves.
Votes: 82.7% (third year)