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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.


Induction Year

Last Game


Final Line

Walter Johnson*


Sep. 22, 1927


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

Christy Mathewson


Sep. 4, 1916


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

Bob Feller


Sep. 30, 1956


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

Sandy Koufax


Oct. 2, 1966


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

Warren Spahn*


Oct. 1, 1965


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

Bob Gibson*


Se. 3, 1975


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

Jim Palmer*


May 12, 1984


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

Tom Seaver


Sep. 19, 1986

Blue Jays

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

Steve Carlton


Apr. 23, 1988


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

Nolan Ryan


Sep. 22, 1993


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

Dennis Eckersley*


Sep. 26, 1998


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

Tom Glavine


Aug. 14, 2008


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

Greg Maddux


Sep. 27, 2008


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

John Smoltz


Sep. 30, 2009


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

Pedro Martinez


Sep. 30, 2009


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

Randy Johnson*


Oct. 4, 2009


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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