Hall focus next year turns to Griffey, Hoffman and Wagner
NEW YORK (AP) Next January the Hall of Fame focus will turn to Ken Griffey Jr., Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner after an unprecedented dominance by starting pitchers over a two-year span.
When Griffey left the Seattle Mariners in 2010, there was no farewell tour. The 40-year-old outfielder pretty much drove off into the night: Griffey got in his car, headed out of Seattle in the middle of a series against Minnesota and telephoned the Mariners with his retirement decision while en route to his home in Orlando, Florida.
He started to get a feeling for ceremonies when he was inducted into the Mariners' Hall of Fame in 2013 and then joined his father, Ken Griffey Sr., in the Cincinnati Reds' Hall last year.
''The ultimate goal as an individual player is to be in the Hall of Fame when you grow up,'' Junior said then. ''This is no different. To be in the Hall of Fame with my dad is special.''
Hoffman and Wagner will seek to join Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Hoyt Wilhelm as the only pitchers in the Hall who were primarily relievers. The top holdover on the 2016 ballot will be catcher Mike Piazza, who received 69.9 percent support on his third try this year, 28 votes shy of the 75 percent needed.
Hoffman held the career saves record with 601 before Mariano Rivera topped him with 652. While Wagner had 422 saves, his 2.31 ERA was far better than Hoffman's 2.87. Both were seven-time All-Stars.
Gossage spent years arguing relievers were underappreciated - especially in his era, before closers were limited mainly to the final three outs.
''The bullpen was kind of a junk pile where starters went that couldn't start anymore. It wasn't a glamorous place to be like it is today,'' he said prior to his election. ''Now it takes three guys to do kind of what I used to do.''
Before Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine last year, the only starting pitcher voted in by the writers since Nolan Ryan in 1999 had been Bert Blyleven, elected on his 14th try in 2011. Following the election of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz on Tuesday, five pitchers who were for the most part starters were voted in during a two-year span, joined by offensive stars Frank Thomas in 2014 and Craig Biggio this year.
The only other pitchers elected since Ryan had been a trio who made it for bullpen success: Eckersley (2004), Sutter (2006) and Gossage (2008).
And the five pitchers in the last two elections all made it on their first try. Before that only starting pitchers elected on the first ballot since Warren Spahn in 1973 had been Bob Gibson (1981), Jim Palmer (1990), Tom Seaver (1992), Steve Carlton (1994) and Ryan.
After this year, no starting pitcher figures to get substantial support until Roy Halladay in 2019, when Rivera also will be eligible for the first time.
Lee Smith, who received 30 percent support this year, maintains the evolution of baseball has put the priority on the bullpen over the rotation.
''You see of any team in the last 10 years, if they don't have a good closer, they don't go anywhere,'' he said in 2006. ''If I was going to start a ballclub, I think I would start with a closer and go back.''