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Final Game of First Ballot Hall of Fame Pitchers


On Sunday, July 26th the baseball world congregated to celebrate the induction of four new members into the Hall of Fame, with second baseman Craig Biggio being joined by pitchers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz. Their selections were mostly non-controversial, as all these players became iconic presences in the 90's and the start of the new millennium, and well away from any kind of the PED suspicions that have plagued many of their contemporaries.

In the case of the 3 hurlers, their selection was also made special by the fact that they were all voted in during their first appearance in HOF ballots. While being a first-ballot selection does not automatically suggest inner-circle greatness (Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Cy Young were not selected in their first try, for example), the distinction does carry a certain gravitas, especially considering that 2015's trio of hurlers are now among only the 16 pitchers who were selected in their first try.

Last season, as we awaited Derek Jeter's final at-bat as a major leaguer, we took a look at the final plate appearance of each first-ballot Hall of Famer. Considering that Jeter will most likely be a near-unanimous pick when his time comes, it made sense to stack him up against his peers. Today we are running a similar exercise, but taking into account the final line posted by the 17 pitchers that, so far, have been inducted into Cooperstown in their first ballot.

Even as most of them were old and in the literal final breath of their careers, there were still a few gems up their sleeves.

Player

Induction Year

Last Game

Opponent

Final Line

Walter Johnson*

1936

Sep. 22, 1927

Browns

3.1 IP, 5 ER, 9 H, 0 BB, 2 K (ND)

Christy Mathewson

1936

Sep. 4, 1916

Cubs

9 IP, 8 ER, 15 H, 1 BB, 3 K (W)

Bob Feller

1962

Sep. 30, 1956

Tigers

9 IP, 8 ER, 14 H, 3 BB, 0 K (L)

Sandy Koufax

1972

Oct. 2, 1966

Phillies

9 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 1 BB, 10 K (W)

Warren Spahn*

1973

Oct. 1, 1965

Reds

0.1 IP, 0 ER, 1H, 1 BB, 0 K (ND)

Bob Gibson*

1981

Se. 3, 1975

Cubs

1 IP, 5 ER, 2 H, 3 BB, 0 K (L)

Jim Palmer*

1990

May 12, 1984

Athletics

2 IP, 4 ER, 4 H , 1 BB, 1 K (ND)

Tom Seaver

1992

Sep. 19, 1986

Blue Jays

4 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 2 BB , 1 K (L)

Steve Carlton

1994

Apr. 23, 1988

Indians

5 IP, 8 ER, 9 H, 3 BB, 4 K (L)

Nolan Ryan

1999

Sep. 22, 1993

Mariners

0 IP, 5 ER, 2 H, 4 BB, 0 K (L)

Dennis Eckersley*

2004

Sep. 26, 1998

Orioles

1 IP, 1 ER, 1 H, 0 BB, 2 K (ND)

Tom Glavine

2014

Aug. 14, 2008

Cubs

4 IP, 7 ER, 7 H, 4 BB , 3 K (L)

Greg Maddux

2014

Sep. 27, 2008

Giants

6 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 2 K (W)

John Smoltz

2015

Sep. 30, 2009

Reds

4 IP, 6 ER, 6 H, 5 BB, 3 K (L)

Pedro Martinez

2015

Sep. 30, 2009

Astros

4 IP, 3 ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 2 K (ND)

Randy Johnson*

2015

Oct. 4, 2009

Padres

1 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 0 BB, 2 K (ND)

*Relief appearances

As we can see from the table, almost all of the first-ballot pitchers had a rough ending to their careers, with more than a third of them serving bullpen duty instead of their usual role as a starter (save for Dennis Eckersley, of course). If we combine their lines, it mixes up to this ugly composition:

62.2 IP, 66 ER, 91 H, 29 BB, 35 K, 3-7 Record

This means that these legendary crop left behind a combined 9.48 ERA, 1.91 WHIP, and a Chris Young-like strikeout rate. Outside of Koufax's swan song and Maddux's final gem (there must have been something in those Dodgers uniforms), this group of guys didn't have much left in the tank. Even Koufax should come with an asterisk, as he made his final appearance at age 30, and so was still near the prime of his career.

In the end, this all probably too much nitpicking, as it is always hard to retire at the top, especially for a pitcher. It is no coincidence that only 16 of them have made the Hall on their first try, as it becomes really difficult to build such a strong case despite only playing every 5 days, instead of the star hitters that are ubiquitous during each baseball season.

The 2016 ballot doesn’t include any obvious choice among pitchers (though  Jr. will be a slam-dunk selection among hitters), and neither does the 2017 potential set of candidates, so it seems that this 2014-2015 span was just a blip that happened to group some of the very best pitchers of their generation, who are now rightfully enshrined among the baseball elite.

A final bad day doesn't mean anything in the greater context of their star careers, but this final setback serves as a reminder that in life, and in baseball, everything must come to an end.



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