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Closers Not Respected In Hall Of Fame Voting

January 19, 2017
Three MLB players with great careers have received the necessary 75 percent of votes to be elected into the Hall of Fame. 

Outfielder Tim Raines, who played the first 12 years of his illustrious career with the Montreal Expos, was elected in his 10th and last try. Slugging Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell, who has had to wait through five prior votes, broke through despite the notion, by some, that he had benefited from the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Bagwell's numbers -- 488 doubles, 449 home runs, a .297 lifetime batting average and a .408 OBP -- were indisputably Hall-worthy.

Then there's Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, who played for seven different teams during his distinguished career, jumping into the Hall in this his first year of eligibility. Rodriguez is undeniably one of the best defensive catchers in the history of the game, recording 572 doubles as well as 311 home runs and a .296 career average. Every time Rodriguez played, the team's chances of winning were enhanced. It was that combination of talent and a flair for the game that must have caused voters to look the other way on the whispers of him being a cheater.

One thing is for sure, this is the first time voters were forgiving of some players thought to be among the game's most illustrious cheaters. Both outfielder Barry Bonds and right-hander Roger Clemens, arguably the best hitter and pitcher during the past 40 years, had respectable vote totals of more than 50 percent, which bodes well for eventually making it to Cooperstown, N.Y.

Perhaps it was the voters feeling that if the Hall could welcome in former MLB commissioner Bud Selig, a man who seemed to turn a blind eye to the use of performance-enhancers, then they could begin to forgive Bonds and Clemens.

Beyond those two surprisingly high vote totals, two players, first-time-eligible outfielder/designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero and all-time National League saves leader Trevor Hoffman, were near misses. Guerrero received 72 percent of the votes, and Hoffman received 74 percent. It would seem these two are surefire candidates for 2018.

Two other players, the Mariners' long-time third baseman/designated hitter Edgar Martinez and former O's/Yankees right-hander Mike Mussina, both totaled more than 50 percent. Other big names will have their work cut out for them: right-hander Curt Schilling (45 percent), outfielder Manny Ramirez (24 percent), outfielder Larry Walker (22 percent), first baseman Fred McGriff (22 percent) and second baseman Jeff Kent (17 percent). 

One other deserving pitcher, long-time reliever Lee Smith, mustered 34 percent in his 10th and last try to get in by way of the writers' vote. It would now take an eventual act of the Veterans Committee for Smith to make it to Cooperstown.

In fact, what has become increasingly clear is how little respect closers receive from the voters. The one-inning save has probably only come into vogue during the past 25-30 years. However, the Hall of Fame has only five relief pitchers among its members: Hoyt Wilhelm (228 saves), Rollie Fingers (341), Dennis Eckersley (390), Bruce Sutter (300) and Rich "Goose" Gossage (310). Only two of them, Sutter and Eckersley, would classify as one-inning closers.

Yet, Smith had 478 career saves. And Hoffman ended his career as baseball's all-time saves leader with 601. That's 51 more than long-time Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who will be eligible in three years. 

And what's with former Houston Astros closer Billy Wagner, who netted 10 percent of votes in his first time? Wagner had 422 saves, including 37 saves during his one season in Atlanta in 2010, the final of his career. He got those saves as a byproduct of a 1.43 ERA, a 0.87 WHIP and 104 strikeouts in 69.1 innings pitched. Career wise, Wagner's 0.998 WHIP was just a whisker below Rivera's 1.00. One other note, Wagner was left-handed, which didn't seem to help out right-handed hitters, who batted just .186 against him. Left-handed-hitters did better than righties, hitting .189. Wagner is someone who has a long climb, but he should eventually get there. He sure deserves his place in Cooperstown.

I mean, for God's sake, the National League Reliever of the Year award is named after Hoffman, and he isn't deemed as automatic as we know Rivera will be.

The life and times of closers are rarely long enough to merit a place in Cooperstown. But relative to their pay grade and importance to their managers night in and night out, it seems the Hall of Fame voters are out of touch, to say the least.