Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz, all unique characters, come together in Cooperstown on this special weekend honoring their massive contributions to America’s pastime. Joined by Houston Astros versatile position player Craig Biggio, the big-armed trio makes 2015’s inductees arguably the best pitching class in Hall of Fame history.
Unless you are a PETA member, still fuming at the 99 mph fastball that made a seagull vanish in mid-air, chances are you love Randy Johnson.
How could you not?
A power-forward-sized pitcher, the mulleted man with the goofy mustache dazzled us for over two decades, culminating his career in 2009 with his 300th win. For a pitcher who accomplished so much, it’s fascinating that he needed the words of a former great to set his mind straight. “I told Randy he could be the most dominating pitcher in baseball if he would just work on his game. He was a lot like me when I was younger. He was just pitching and not doing a lot of thinking,” Nolan Ryan told him in 1992
It’s fair to say, he started thinking.
Featuring one of the scariest fastball/slider combinations ever witnessed, Johnson struck out 4,875 batters (second all-time behind none other than Ryan), won five CY Young Awards, made 10 All-Star teams, crafted a pair of no-hitters, and captured his lone title with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001.
His performance in that World Series may have been his greatest. After a 105-pitch victory in Game Six, Johnson netted the final four outs in game seven, setting up Luis Gonzalez’s famous walk-off single that clinched the championship. After the game, Series co-MVP Curt Schilling put it perfectly, “That relief appearance is everything you ever need to know about Randy Johnson.”
Yankee fans may have hated him, but they certainly respected him. Whatever he lacked in size, he made up with heart. Sometimes he was reclusive, sometimes he was clown. He united cultures and pushed old men to the ground. There was almost nothing Pedro Martinez didn’t do.
Facing long-odds given his stature, Martinez, when he got his shot, made it count. The heist the Red Sox pulled off to land him, a pair of prospects for the reigning CY Young award winner, set up an era of unparalleled pitching dominance.
From 1998 to 2004, Martinez enjoyed a .760 winning percentage, 11 strikeouts per nine, and an opponent batting average of .206, all Red Sox records. His 2.53 ERA in that span remains second only to Babe Ruth.
Speaking of Ruth, his curse was one Martinez was itching to break, leading to this memorable quote: “I don’t believe in damn curses. Wake up the Bambino and have me face him. Maybe I’ll drill him in the ass, pardon me the word.”
Three years later, Martinez got his wish, as the Red Sox completed a memorable championship run. Down 3-0 in the ALCS to the rival Yankees, they stormed back to avenge the previous year’s playoff exit, before promptly sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. He tossed seven shutout inning in Game Three of the finale.
Martinez finished his career with a remarkable 219-100 record, a 2.93 ERA, a WAR of 86, and the fourth lowest WHIP of all time. He did all this during a juiced-up era when a leadoff man hit 50 home runs and 25-homers-a-year guys became 45-homers-a-year guys.
Aside from his brilliance, Martinez will be remembered for his vicious approach to the craft. He didn’t just face batters, he faced villains set on destroying him. He demonized his opponents in ways few could imagine. “I would conjure up a scene straight out of the most gruesome Hollywood blood-and-gore slasher flick,” he revealed in his autobiography, “my mother, strapped tightly by ropes to a chair, her mouth gagged, her eyes clenched shut, too terrified to look down at the tip of a knife held to her throat by the leader of a gang of kidnappers.”
The quietest of the trio, but perhaps the most versatile, John Smoltz played as a manager’s dream.
Well on his way to a glorious career as a starter, Smoltz posted 155 wins and 2,061 strikeouts between 1989 and 1999. He then did the unthinkable, giving up his spot in the rotation to assume the role of closer, where he was well … equally dominant.
In 2002, he recorded 55 saves in a season, third most all time. He earned the NL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award for his efforts.
To this day, he stands as the only player in history to record 200 wins and 100 saves.
His playoff performance, if possible, was even more impressive. Across 213 innings, he compiled a 15-4 record and a startling 2.67 ERA. He won his only title in 1995.
Aside from his remarkable trophy collection, which also included a Silver Slugger (1997) and the NL CY Young award (1996), Smoltz was an amazing person loved by many. As former teammate Matt Diaz put it: “People are going to say that John Smoltz was the most competitive player they played with and a selfless teammate…. Those are true, but I hope in all the celebration of his accolades on the field, we don’t lose track of John Smoltz off the field. This is where he challenged me the most. He is a good man with a great heart.”