Cheers to Cooperstown
By NEIL DWYER
College Contributor Network
The Baseball Writers Association of America has just inducted its biggest class since 1955 into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio will stand with baseball's greatest heroes, living and deceased, this summer.
Craig Biggio fell just two votes shy of that phone call every ballplayer dreams of last January. It was more than likely that he would be easily voted in on his second attempt, but the writers came in droves as Biggio was elected with 82.7% of the vote, 7.7% higher than the 75% required. Biggio's resume is carved, in a sense, from the old school. He was drafted by the Houston Astros in the first round of the 1987 draft; a Long Island Native out of Seton Hall. He spent the next twenty seasons in the Space City, first behind the plate, then at his most notable role at second base, turning 1,153 double plays at his position (19th all-time for those keeping score at home). He played a few seasons in the outfield when second baseman Jeff Kent was in the twilight of his career with Houston. In an era of free agency and a booming baseball economy, Biggio remained with his one-and-only baseball love, in the Texas side of the Gulf, in Houston, finishing with 3,060 career hits.
Little did the struggling Braves know that when they traded ace Doyle Alexander to the Tigers in 1987, the pitching prospect they got in return, Michigan native John Smoltz, would be one of the original spokes of a National League dynasty. Compared to his two 300-win teammates, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, Smoltz was the third-wheel of sorts on the rotation. His stint as closer from 2001-2004 coming off Tommy John surgery certainly was the icing on the Cinnabon; breaking the NL single-season saves record with 55 in 2002. Smoltz still holds that record with Eric Gagne. He finished his career as the only pitcher with 200 wins and 150 saves; a true multi-tasker on and off the field, with his current role behind the mic on MLB Network.
There are times in everyone's life where they get to say, "Eat it!" to the rest of society. Perhaps there was no bigger paradox in baseball than the 1999 All-Star Game. The Napoleon of Santo Domingo, Pedro Martinez took the mound in Fenway Park and struck out Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell. Sosa and McGwire's home-run race the year prior has now been plastered all over as the poster child of the steroid era. Martinez, 5-foot-11 with a 15 mph difference between his fastball and changeup, took one home for all the pitchers in baseball that evening. In a time where the league ERA was over five, Pedro's ERA averaged 2.21 from 1997-2003, winning three Cy Young Awards, leading the league with four shutouts in 2000, and pitching a sub-two ERA twice: 1.90 in 1997, and 1.74 in 2000. He ranks fifth all-time in career win percentage (.687, 219-100 record.)
If there has ever been a Chateau Margaux 1787 on the hill, it can only be Walnut Creek's own Randall David Johnson. On paper, it can be argued that not only did Johnson get better with age, he became elite. His years with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Curt Schilling jump off the paper. The dynamic duo combined for nearly half of Arizona's wins in 2001 and 2002, but it's surprising to learn that once upon a time, Johnson pitched more like Rick Vaughn: an imposing figure, powerful fastball, but little control. He led the American league in walks from 1990-92, and hit batsmen from 1992-93.
When the "Big Unit" met the "Express," Nolan Ryan, early in his career, his style changed. He would land in alignment with the plate by landing on the ball of his foot, not the heel, and off Johnson went. The Big Unit won five Cy Young Awards; once with Seattle in 1995, and then four consecutive with Arizona from 1999-2002. 2015 marks the end of an era with pitching, as Johnson becomes the last 300-game winner to get the call to Cooperstown, with the exception of Roger Clemens.
Neil Dwyer is a senior at the University of Miami who loves the Yankees, Giants, 'Canes and screaming about all three. Follow him on Twitter: @neildwyer1993