(UPDATED: 6 p.m.)
One year after former Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were inducted into the Hall of Fame with manager Bobby Cox, the top of the Braves' Cooperstown rotation should be complete soon.
The 2015 Hall of Fame ballot was released Monday. As anticipated, John Smoltz was on it.
Like Maddux and Glavine, Smoltz has first-ballot potential. He didn't win 300 games, a number some voters and baseball fans lock onto (present company excluded). But he had a tremendous career that included a great record as a starter (209-149, 2,804 strikeouts in 3,211 2/3 innings), 154 saves as a closer, comebacks from countless surgeries -- that prompted his transition from starter-to-closer-and-back again -- a Cy Young Award, eight All-Star Games, an NLCS MVP award and a postseason record of 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA.
"I was honest when I told people that I had never really thought of the Hall of Fame, until last year when Tommy, Greg and Bobby went in," said Smoltz, who was in Cooperstown as an analyst for the MLB Network. "It was the first time I had a chance to see it, I had a great time watching those guys go in, and I thought what an honor it would be to get that call. It's honestly never really consumed me before. But now the reality of at least the first part happening is a great honor. If it happens, it would be the coolest thing in my career."
Smoltz is first-ballot worthy, but voting is difficult to predict. Some voters don't believe in first-ballot inductees, at least those not named Greg Maddux. Some may not give proper weight to his years as a closer and only view his win total.
When asked if he thought about the potential of going in his first year of eligibility, he said, "When people talk about being in the Hall of Fame, nobody ever asks, 'What year did you get in?' The process is what it is. The bottom line for me is I never played to get in the Hall of Fame. I played for championships, as evidenced by the things I did for the team (transitioning to the bullpen). I sacrificed a lot. I had five or six surgeries but I was able to sustain enough time on the field to miss only about a year and a half. It truly was a blessing. Whatever happens, my experiences in the postseason are something I'll never forget."
Smoltz is one of 34 players on the ballot, including 17 newcomers. Two other first-year candidates would form a nice top-of-the-rotation with Smoltz: Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. Other newcomers include former Brave Gary Sheffield, Nomar Garciaparra and Carlos Delgado. The 17 returnees on the ballot include Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Lee Smith and former Brave Fred McGriff.
I’m not going to finalize all my votes now. But in past years, I’ve voted for Biggio, Raines, Smith, Trammell, Smith and McGriff. I’ve generally taken a position to: 1) Not voting for players who are strongly believed to have used performance-enhancing drugs, at least not without their admission to doing so and some clarity about context; 2) Not voting for players possibly suspected of PED use, at least until the end of the 10 years that they’re on the ballot. I believe that offers the best chance for information about their individual career and the era to become public.
So if you’re wondering why I have not voted for a specific player above who has seeming HOF credentials, they probably fit into one of those two categories.