Moments ago, the hallowed halls of an old, brick building in a small town known as Cooperstown in upstate New York opened its doors to include four new members into immortality.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame, based on the voting recommendations of the Baseball Writers Association of America, inducted long-time Braves’ third baseman Chipper Jones, the closer with the second most saves in Major League history, Trevor Hoffman, a man who, quite literally, had a cannon attached to his arm and never saw a pitch he didn’t like in Vladimir Guerrero, and former Phillie and member of the 600 homerun club, Jim Thome.
422 ballots were cast by the BBWAA this year, of which these players needed checkmarks on at least 317 of, in order to take their places among the greatest ball players of all time. In his first year on the ballot, Chipper Jones led the way with 412 votes, or 97.2 percent of all ballot voters, the 11th highest percentage of all time. Behind Jone sat former Expo and Angel, among other teams, Vladimir Guerrero, who garnered 392 votes, good for over 91 percent. After Guerrero, it’s Indian and Phillie, Jim Thome, who grabbed 379 votes, one shy of hitting the 90 percent plateau, but plenty enough to get in. Finally, it’s reliever Trevor Hoffman, who got just under 80 percent of voters’ blessing a year after falling five votes short of election.
Jones played his entire 19-year career with the Atlanta Braves, as part of a team that won 14 consecutive National League East division titles, four National League pennants and a World Series in 1995. He finished with a career .303 batting average, and an on-base percentage that was nearly a 100 points higher at .401. Jones was a man of consistency, a model of productivity from both sides of the plate. He hit 468 career homeruns, the most by a switch hitting National Leaguer and 33rd all-time. Jones finished his career with a .303 average from the left side of the plate and a .304 average from the right. Chipper was elected to eight All-Star games, won an MVP Award in 1999 after hitting 45 homeruns, and drove in 100 runs or more eight consecutive seasons from 1996-2003. Jones hung up the cleats after a productive 2012 season, one in which the 40-year-old was selected to his final All Star Game for hitting .287 with a .377 on base percentage. Jones becomes just the 12th third baseman to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
This next one is a little personal for me. Growing up a Phillies fan, it wasn’t feasible to root for the man with an arm that reached the plate from the right field track on a line in the top half of an inning and then turn around a hit a pitch in the dirt for a gapper in the bottom half of the same frame. But that’s where I found myself with Montreal Expo Vladimir Guerrero. It was one of those, “Root for Vlad, hope his team loses every game,” type dilemmas. When Guerrero moved on to the Anaheim Angels, it was finally acceptable to root for my closet favorite player in public. Guerrero played eight seasons with the Montreal Expos, and will likely be the final player ever enshrined in the Hall of Fame to don the Expo logo. Guerrero was elected for four All Star Games as an Expo before getting the nod in four more in Anaheim/Los Angeles/whatever combination of the two cities you want to call the Angels franchise. Throughout his career, Guerrero hit 30 or more homeruns eight times, and finished with 477 in a 16-year career, cracking the top 40 all-time. He took home the 2004 MVP Award after hitting 39 homeruns, driving in 126, and hitting .336. Guerrero finished his career with singular seasons with Texas and Baltimore, earning a final All Star appearance in a resurgent 2010 at 35-years-old. The question becomes, does Vlad go into Cooperstown wearing the blue and white, or the red and white?
The nicest man you’ll ever meet that happened to be able to hit a baseball into orbit joins the fray of the greatest of all time. Jim Thome began his Major League career with the Cleveland Indians as a third baseman in 1991, but it wasn’t until 1995 that he would get consistent playing time with the Tribe. Thome was elected to three consecutive All Star Games from 1997-1999, where he hit 103 homeruns, drove in 295 runs and led the league in walks twice. He spent more than a decade in Cleveland, until his free agent signing with the Phillies prior to the 2003 season. Thome joined the Phillies in 2003, marking a new wave of spending in Philadelphia that would pave the way for the future of the franchise’s success. In his first two seasons with the Phillies, Thome hit 47 and 42 homeruns, and drove in 236 runs. When Ryan Howard emerged as the future first baseman for the club, the Phillies traded Thome to the Chicago White Sox for Aaron Rowand and minor leaguer, and future 20 game winner, Gio Gonzalez. He had three extremely productive seasons with the White Sox before tapering off toward the end of his career. Thome finished his career with a .272 batting average but an above .400 on base percentage, having walked over 1700 times in 22 years, the seventh most of all-time. He finished his career as one of nine players to hit 600 or more homeruns, sitting in eighth with 612. While Thome will likely go into the Hall as a member of the Indians, Philadelphia remembers him fondly for his time spent in the city.
Trevor Hoffman is the only pitcher to be inducted this season. He also got the fewest votes of all inductees. I don’t think he cares about either of those things. Hoffman entered the league in 1993, bouncing around between the Marlins and Padres before finally finding his niche in San Diego. The righty became the Padres permanent closer in 1994, when he notched his first 20 career saves. He would go on to pick up at least 30 saves in 13 of the next 14 seasons, including ten seasons of 40 or more, and a career high 53 in 1998.Hoffman was elected to the All Star Game seven times, six as a Padre, and once as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. He finished with a career ERA of 2.87 and the most saves in the history of the game with 601. That number has since been surpassed by Mariano Rivera. In contrast, he blew just 76 save opportunities in 18 years, an average of just over four per year. Hoffman struckout 1133 in 1089 innings pitched, a career total that lends itself to more than 9Ks/9 innings pitched, more simply, more than one per inning. Hoffman will shortly be joined by Rivera in the Hall, but for now, the man that strode out to Hell’s Bells stands alone as member of the Hall with 600 saves.
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