5. John Smoltz
Smoltz promises to be one of the most heated Hall of Fame debates.
On the plus side:
Strikes against him:
In the end, he'll end up being compared to the other great starter/reliever hybrid, Dennis Eckersley:
|SMOLTZ VS. ECKERSLEY|
I was actually surprised Eck sailed into the Hall so easily on the first ballot. He only had five seasons where you just knew it was lights out, game over, when the A's led after eight innings (and five more where he superficially racked up saves but was pretty mediocre) and two great seasons as a starter. His ERA compared to the league average was as good as Smoltz's.
Add it up, and I say Smoltz gets in. He's 38, having one of his best seasons ever, and should get to 200 wins unless he blows out his elbow playing too much golf. He's one of the most intelligent and personable interviews in the game, which won't hurt. He'll likely stay in the baseball spotlight after he retires, probably cohosting "Baseball Tonight" with Al Leiter and Curt Schilling, and that'll help.
6. Randy Johnson
An obvious inner-circle Hall of Famer, Johnson will be remembered with guys like Koufax, Gibson and Clemens, the ones we discuss in mythological tones 30 years after they've retired. Mariners fans like me will remember Johnson as the man who saved baseball in Seattle -- literally. If Johnson doesn't beat the Angels in that one-game playoff for the division title in '95, the Mariners don't get their new ballpark and the team moves to Florida. Which, come to think of it, might have saved baseball in Tampa.
7. Mariano Rivera
How many consecutive postseason saves could Rivera blow and still be known as the Sandman? I say 14. He's been that good: 70 postseason games, 108.2 innings, 0.75 ERA (that's nine earned runs), 32 saves in 35 chances (and, yes, Red Sox fans, we're all aware of blown save No. 3).
OUT: Mike Mussina
Moose, Mo's and Randy's Yankees teammate, has a resume similar to Bert Blyleven's -- a terrific, underrated and durable pitcher -- but he lacks the final exclamation points voters love: the 20-win seasons, a Cy Young Award.