Atlanta Braves Blog

The Atlanta Braves blog by David O'Brien, baseball writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Smoltz, Glavine discuss Hall of Fame, PEDs and more


This year’s baseball Hall of Fame election created even more interest and news than usual, and we in Atlanta are fortunate now to have a bunch of recent inductees – Big Three starting pitchers Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz, and their longtime manager Bobby Cox – to whom we can go for opinions on the state of the HOF and the game in general.

And so,  John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, members of the Baseball Hall of Fame classes of 2015 and 2014, respectively, weighed in on Wednesday’s HOF election results, including the record-breaking but still-not-unanimous election of Ken Griffey Jr. -- three voters left him off for unknown and surely silly reasons -- and the fourth-ballot election of Mike Piazza, whose delay resulted from long-whispered suspicions of steroid use.

Speaking of steroids, to their credit neither Smoltz nor Glavine declined to comment when asked about the uptick in votes for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in the fourth year on the ballot for those superstars whose suspected steroid has thus far kept them far from the 75-percent voting threshold required for election.

Although each's total was up more than 7 percent this year, Clemens still made just 45.2 percent of the ballots and Bonds 44.3 percent. And while the percentage jump, if repeated next year, could point toward eventual election, many observers believe Clemens and Bonds benefited from reduction in the BBWAA voting ranks, specifically a rule change that led to the purge of many older and/or retired BBWAA members who were no longer covering games. There will not be another such significant reduction in the voting group in the forseeable future.

Smoltz and Glavine also spoke about their disappointment over the continued low vote total for Fred McGriff -- I’ve said and written for years that McGriff, who hit .284, a .377 OBP, 493 homers, ten 30-homer seasons and a spotless reputation, belongs in the Hall of Fame – and their surprise that Billy Wagner, a former Braves closer, was named on just 10.5 percent of 440 ballots submitted by writers.

Wagner’s 16-year career included just one season with the Braves, his final season in 2010. He posted a stunning 1.43 ERA and 37 saves in that age-38 season, and left such a profound impact on teammates that Braves relievers such as Eric O’Flaherty gave a lot of credit for their subsequent success to Wagner, for the lessons and tips he provided about pitching, particularly the mental side of the craft.

Wagner had a 2.31 career ERA, 422 saves and nearly four times as many strikeouts (1,196) as walks (300) in 903 innings. "Wags" will have up to nine more chances to be elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot, provided he continues to get at least the minimum 5 percent of votes required to stay on the ballot. But not McGriff. "Crime Dog" has only three years left after the rules were changed in 2014 to reduce the number of eligible years on ballots from 15 to 10.

Since McGriff got just 20.9 percent of the votes and has never received more than 23.9 percent – seriously, that’s absurdly low for a player of his ilk, not to mention one without any PED suspicions – it’s almost certainly going to be left to the veterans committee to vote him in someday, just as it’ll be up to that committee to vote in Braves icon and two-time former MVP Dale Murphy.

And lately, the veterans committee has voted in almost no one.

Anyway, I’m going to give you the Smoltz and Glavine comments now. And rather than break them down, I’ll just give you the quotes in full, or almost (I slightly edited a couple of quotes for the sake of brevity).

This is from a conference call some of us writers had with Smoltz and Glavine on Thursday (Jan. 7), a day after the HOF results were announced.

Smoltz on the HOF election and trends, including the increased votes for some suspected PED users:

“Look, I think there are some confusing situations and trends that are happening, here people are changing their minds. It’s intuitively up to them, as voters, to do that. But the fact is that, I was a little surprised that Billy Wagner received such a low (number of) votes. I know there’s time, 10 years, for it to happen, but I was a little surprised by that. I think Billy Wagner is an incredible left-handed closer, and closers are now starting to get a little bit more of a look. (Trevor) Hoffman, of course, is well-represented (in the balloting).

“But I think all the topic and all the conversation is starting to trend toward the guys who are speculated -- who may be connected to PEDs -- getting an increase (in votes). That seems to be ‘the watch,’ if you will, and that’s stealing a lot of the headlines, in my opinion, from guys like ex-teammates like Fred McGriff who I think definitely deserves to be a stronger candidate for the Hall of Fame than he is. Or a Mike Mussina. Guys that have been above reproach. That, to me, is an interesting trend. It’s like anything else in sports – in March Madness, (college basketball) teams that get snubbed, we focus a little more on that than guys who were deserving.”

Glavine on the election and his thoughts on voting trends, etc.:

“First and foremost, congratulations to Mike (Piazza) nd Ken (Griffey Jr). They certainly are both deserving of it. For Mike I know it’s been a long couple of years; he’s been close the last couple of years. He finally got in, so I’m sure there’s a bit of relief for him. But it’s deserved. He was the best offensive catcher, by far, in our era. Put up some incredible numbers from that postion.

“And with Junior, I don’t think there’s anyone who thought for a second that he wasn’t going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I think there’s a lot of us who thought he might be the first guy to get 100 percent of the vote. Obviously that didn’t happen, but like John said, the fact that, you take a guy like Griffey or you take a guy like Maddux, and explain to me why there are people who don’t think they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. That, to me, speaks to the fickleness of the process. It’s something that I certainly haven’t been able to figure out; it’s something that we all can continue to talk about, but it’s a weird phenomena in terms of why guys don’t go in with 100 percent of the vote, or why certain guys aren’t viewed as first-balloters, or why certain guys don’t get more votes like Billy Wagner, who John mentioned.

Glavine on pure closers finally getting more HOF consideration, led by Trevor Hoffman’s 67.3 percent in his first time on the ballot:

I think in the case of closers, it’s a position where I think people are still trying to figure out what it is and what it means. I had this conversation earlier today – teams that have good closers have an appreciate for what they mean. And teams that play against a team that has a good closer know what that means and what an effect it has on the game. So the appreciation certainly isn’t lost from teams or within games, because we know how much those guys can impact a game if you have a good one.

“I think everyone looks at Mariano (Rivera) and thinks he’s going to be a Hall of Famer and potentially a first-ballot (selection), but you take a guy like Billy Wagner – look at Billy Wagner’s numbers compared to Mariano. They’re all right there with Mariano, and better in some instances, other than the number of saves. So I’m with John, I’m a little bit surprised that Billy didn’t have more of a presence (in the votes total).

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Trevor’s getting in, but yeah, there’s still other guys, too, that you kind of wonder what people are thinking and if it’s going to change over time, where a few more years down the line a guy like Freddie McGriff or Jeff Bagwell gets in. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

Glavine on Piazza, his longtime former opponent and Mets teammate for three seasons: “I know, and I know Smoltzy can attest to it as well, all those years we played against him, whether he was with the Dodgers or the Mets, he was the first guy you would always identify in the lineup and say, alright, we’re going to do everything we can to not let him beat us tonight. That speaks volumes to the type of player that he was, when opposing pitchers identify him as the guy they don’t want to beat them. He’s a game-changer. It doesn’t always go that way, but he had that ability to change a game in an instant. A lot of times when he was swinging the bat well, you were perfectly fine with giving up a single or double to him, so long as you kept him in the ballpark. It was fun competing against him, it was certainly fun playing with him, and I’m glad he’s in.”

Glavine on possibility of Clemens, Bonds getting elected eventually: “For me, personally, look, (Clemens) has the numbers to be in the Hall of Fame. Barry has the numbers to be in the Hall of Fame. And if it turns out that they get voted in, then so be it, I’m fine with that. And if they don’t, I’m fine with that too. I think there are people who have a lot stronger opinion on it than I do. But I think that’s one of those things that – it’s going to be interesting to watch it and see how it all plays out, but I wouldn’t be surprised either way.”

Smoltz on on Clemens, Bonds and other suspected PED users’ HOF chances: “Being newly inducted, and the fact that we don’t get to vote, drastically changes how your opinions are. As a writer, when you’re thinking about these guys, putting together the information, trying to accumulate what they (writers) think they know or what they hear -- basically I would think they would want to be 100 percent (committed) in what they feel is their vote, one way or another. To me, the last year has probably changed maybe that ‘100-percent’ feeling. So it is a tremendous slippery slope.

“It is something that I explain with an illustration of golf – if in our golf tournament that we’re playing in Orlando this week, some people used Chapstick or Vaseline on their golf club, it’s an unfair advantage. You can’t put Chapstick or Vaseline on a golf club of somebody who’s never swung and make them a golfer. Just like PEDs will not make a superstar or great player. No one’s denying how great these players were – if associated (with PEDs) or not. The question is, how authentic or how real are the numbers (they produced)?

“That’s the hard line that people are trying to differentiate without hard evidence. That is the slippery slope. You can’t water down truth and make it what you want it to be. It is, or it isn’t. You’re either 100 percent committed to a Hall of Famer, or you’re not. That has changed over time as the Hall of Fame has tried to accomplish some authenticity to the voting. But as a player who played the game and survived, if you will, the (steroid) era that we survived, I think there is a difference to how that is viewed, if it’s not authentic.

“As a competitor, I want to compete, and compete against whomever I’m competing against authentically. I think it would be like any other industry. If in the writing industry there was plagiarism, I don’t think anyone would stand for that, letting someone else get ahead (from not) doing all the work. So I think it’s relevant to the person and their beliefs and who is in position to vote somebody in. I’m not, Tommy’s not in position to vote. I’m sure that would change if we were given that opportunity, and we would do the best, to our ability, to find out the correct information so that what we vote, and have an opinion about, is verified by fact and not innuendo and circumstantial evidence.”

More from Glavine on Bonds’ and Clemens’ vote totals increase: “I don’t know if the guys who are voting are softening their stance or softening their feelings. I guess it would suggest that, certainly, the fact that their percentages are going in the right direction. But I still think it speaks to, there’s a ways to go before enough people that feel as though they can cast a vote for those guys to get in the Hall of Fame.

“Look, at the end of the day it’s shame that we’re even talking about it. I mean, they’re two of the greatest baseball players of all time, certainly in our generation. The fact that we’re having to have these conversations about these guys is unfortunate. But you know what? It is what it is. I guess that’s what makes it difficult. It’s like John said, it’s really trying to figure out how you come down on this whole thing, whether you’re 100 percent sure how you feel about it or not. They’re clearly seems to be some wavering on that.”

• Let's close with this one from The Felice Brothers off their great album Yonder Is The Clock. They're from upstate New York, by the way. Like Mark Lemke, and the Hall of Fame, cool things that we like a lot. I just wish I'd had occasion to describe someone's game as being like "a war machine," as he does here for Ty Cobb. Such an effective, if unconventional, description.

"COOPERSTOWN" by The Felice Brothers 

The water's wide, it's deep and wide

It's down a long and windy road

And everyone knows that a boy can't swim it

In Narrows church

The white-walled church

They're singing that gospel song

"Bye and bye, I'ma see my King"

The clouds will break

And the pews shake

And the choir softly cries

And it's Georgia in the spring of 1905

Oh, Ty Cobb, you're dead and gone

You had a game like a war machine

And through the great Hall of Fame you wander

In Tigers Field, a girl in heels

She had a face like a magazine

And through the long, metal stands, she wandered

Oh, the ball soared and the crowd roared

And the scoreboard, sweetly hummed

And tomorrow, you'll surely know who's won

Well, I'm on first, and you're on third

And their wolves are all between

And everyone's sure that their game is over

The catcher's hard, he's mean and hard

Then he nips at the batter's heels

And everyone's sure that their game is over

The ball soars and the crowd roars

And the scoreboard, sweetly hums

And tomorrow, you'll surely know whose won

The water's wide, it's deep and wide

It's down a long and windy road

And everyone knows that a boy can't swim it

Oh, the clouds break and the pews shake

And the preacher's feet do pound

As the rain beats the streets of Cooperstown



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About the Author

David O'Brien has covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2002.