Brian Curtis explores what baseball writers were up to in the steroid era. Jonah Keri’s mock Hall ballot and suggestions for fixing the voting process. There was no reasonable defense for spurning Maddux on this year’s ballot, and Mad Dog received 555 votes from the 571 submitted ballots, good for a 97.2 percent rate that falls just short of Tom Seaver’s 98.8 percent mark for the highest of all time.
I examined Maddux’s historic peak, a two-year stretch (1994-95) smack in the middle of the PED era in which he posted an obscene 1.60 ERA. There’s a fun debate to be had about where Maddux ranks among the best pitchers of all time. Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, which combines career and peak value,. I’d put him closer to the top five, behind the likes of Roger Clemens, Cy Young, and Walter Johnson, but in the same zip code as Seaver, Lefty Grove, Christy Mathewson, and other legends. Those who believe in awarding bonus points for pitching in a high-offense era and who think players from the pre-integration (and pre-scouting!) era shouldn’t get as much credit as they often do might argue that Maddux and Clemens are the two best pitchers of all time. Glavine was Maddux’s teammate for 10 seasons, and they were the two driving forces behind the Braves’ dynasty of the ‘90s and early aughts.
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(More importantly, they were co-stars in.) Glavine wasn’t anywhere near Maddux’s class, but that’s OK. The most determined “small Hall” voters, who think Cooperstown is the dominion of Ruth, Mays, Aaron, and few others, have constructed a fantasy that doesn’t match reality. Glavine’s career fits comfortably alongside Hall of Famers like Fergie Jenkins, Juan Marichal, and Don Drysdale. A curmudgeon could argue that Glavine garnering 91.9 percent of the vote while equally or even more deserving candidates like Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina came nowhere close is a product of the Braves teams on which Glavine played, as well as his ability to nudge beyond 300 wins at the end of his career. But the Hall doesn’t parse relative worthiness beyond a simple yea or nay vote. Glavine’s on his way to Cooperstown, and he earned it. Meanwhile, here’s what I wrote about Thomas last month: Bagwell and Thomas were born on the same day and have long been compared.
Thomas’s career path was pretty different, of course, with more games played at DH than at first base, and none of the non-hitting skills that Bagwell possessed. But man, could the Big Hurt mash. Using, a stat that takes a hitter’s offensive contributions and adjusts them for park and league effects, Thomas rates as, in a virtual dead heat with Willie Mays and Hank Greenberg. Thomas’s best season was downright Bondsian, only without the Bonds drama:.353/.487/.729, numbers that, on an adjusted basis, were only ever topped. It wasn’t easy to put up numbers that stood out at a time in baseball history when 30-homer second basemen seemed a dime a dozen, but Thomas did.
Voters were obviously similarly bullish, tabbing the Big Hurt on 83.7 percent of ballots. In some ways I’m a bit surprised by that vote count, given what Thomas was: a preposterously big and strong slugger who played from 1990 through 2008, covering the duration of the high-offense era that came to be linked to performance-enhancing drugs. The book on Thomas was that he was huge even as a rookie, having starred as a tight end as well as a first baseman at Auburn. He also before most other players did. In voters’ eyes, those factors combined with Thomas’s video-game numbers to make him a first-ballot lock.