5. John Smoltz
Smoltz promises to be one of the most heated Hall of Fame debates.

On the plus side:

  • One of the best players for one of baseball's great dynasties. Those players tend to get extra credit in Hall voting.

  • One of the clutch postseason pitchers of all time: 14-4 record, 2.70 ERA in 39 games (26 starts).

  • A Cy Young Award and a 55-save season.

    Strikes against him:

  • Won more than 15 games just twice.

  • His lifetime winning percentage -- an excellent .580 -- is barely better than the Braves' .568 since he joined the team in 1988. In fact, since the Atlanta dynasty began in 1991, the team actually has a better winning percentage in games in which Smoltz doesn't get a decision than when he does. Granted, this isn't completely fair, since, in part, you're comparing Smoltz to two other sure Hall of Famers in Maddux and Glavine. Still …

  • Smoltz has had only four dominant, clearly Hall of Fame-type seasons: 1996 (24-8), 1998 (17-3, 2.90 ERA), 2002 (55 saves) and 2003 (45 saves, 1.12 ERA).

    In the end, he'll end up being compared to the other great starter/reliever hybrid, Dennis Eckersley:

    SMOLTZ VS. ECKERSLEY
    Player G GS IP H W L SV ERA ERA +
    Eckersley 1071 361 3285 3076 197 171 390 3.50 116
    Smoltz 623 382 2846 2457 174 126 154 3.24 125


    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.

    Continued...


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    David
    Schoenfield
    HALL ROLL CALL