Tim Marchman
Friday June 12th, 2009

Lately I've been reading Pedro Martinez is working out in the Dominican Republic. The great right-hander, last seen grinding through desultory innings in New York, is said to be throwing 94 miles per hour. The Chicago Cubs may be interested; the Tampa Bay Rays may be interested. I hope it's all wrong, and that I never see him pitch again.

This has nothing to do with any fear that Pedro might embarrass himself. He can't. When he was young he was better at baseball than anyone I've ever seen, great in the way Lionel Messi and Lyoto Machida are great now, a way baseball doesn't usually allow. If he'd like to pitch I'll just enjoy it and try to be at the park.

My interest is in the Hall of Fame election of 2014. If you don't count the classes of the 1930s -- and you shouldn't, as the voters had so many players to choose from Cy Young didn't make it on his first ballot and Eddie Collins didn't make it on his first three -- the 2014 class might be the greatest in history.

For a moment, let's not think about the 2013 vote, which will involve Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa and an unprecedented amount of balderdash from prevaricating moralists. Instead, think of the wonderful year after, which circumstance has made even more wonderful than it might have been.

Greg Maddux, arguably the best pitcher ever, will be on the ballot for the first time. So will Frank Thomas, who had enough for two Hall of Fame careers. (This is actually true -- as a hitter, at least, he was every bit as good as Albert Pujols has been through age 29, and the rest of his career is basically the same as Frank Chance's.) So, one supposes after the fiasco that was his exit from the Atlanta Braves organization, will Tom Glavine, a 300-game winner. And Jeff Kent, who hit more home runs than any second baseman ever. And Mike Mussina, who looks a lot better next to Don Drysdale and Juan Marichal than you might think.

The 2014 ballot probably shouldn't be this good. Given that they'd both like to play, you'd hope there would be roster spots somewhere for Thomas and Glavine; they may be done, but they deserve the chance to prove it. Since it is this good, though, one can hope for it to be as good as it can possibly be, which would involve Pedro announcing his retirement this summer and giving a speech in Cooperstown in five years. Think of a stage on which Glavine was the third-best pitcher, a ballot on which Mussina was the fourth-best. It could happen.

Even if Pedro does make a great return -- hopefully one that involves no losses, so as not to spoil his career 214-99 record, the prettiest line in baseball -- the 2014 class will still be the best in more than 60 years. It isn't, mostly, close. There have been some ridiculous years, like the one that saw both Yogi Berra and Sandy Koufax elected, or the class that included Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson. But to come up with real competition you have to go back to 1947.

That year the voters elected four men to the Hall of Fame: Mickey Cochrane, Frankie Frisch, Lefty Grove and Carl Hubbell. Cochrane, at the time, was the best catcher ever to play; Grove, some would say, is to this day the best pitcher. Hubbell retired as likely one of the best half-dozen or so pitchers ever; Frisch as one of the four best second basemen. As great as Maddux, Thomas, Glavine, Mussina and Kent were, they don't quite rate against this lot, especially as the latter two aren't likely to be elected on their first try.

Were Pedro to join them, though, you'd have a case for the class of '14 over the class of '47 as the greatest since the inaugural class of '36. Not an inarguable case, and one that would involve a certain amount of assumption about the increasing level of competition over time and penalties to the players of the past for something -- namely, segregation -- that wasn't their fault. It would be a case, though, nonetheless, and one that would be especially welcome coming on the year of bilge that 2013 is sure to be, with its endless recriminations and rehearsals of arguments that will be, by then, well more than a decade old.

Will Pedro join them? Almost certainly not; the very thing that made him so great is what will surely drive him until someone is forced to have the same frank chat the Braves apparently had with Glavine. And that won't come at least until he's had one more run in which he has proved that there's nothing left. There will be no need to be sad at the sight of it, and a 217-104 record will be very nearly as pleasing to the eye as the one he has now. But here's hoping the man finds the prospect of bumping his old teammate Glavine down to the status of relative afterthought on induction day even more enticing than that of getting paid a few million to take one more shot at making hitters look like useless fools.

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