Five years after shutting out all candidates, baseball’s Hall of Fame continues to swing its doors wide open.
For the fourth time since 2014, at least three new members joined the game’s most exalted club as Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman were voted in by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Worthy aspirants like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, held back for years by allegations of using performance-enhancing drugs, inched closer but remained below the 60% mark, while slugger Edgar Martinez moved to the doorstep of the magic 75% figure in his penultimate year on the ballot.
The writers elected only four players between 2010-2013, causing considerable consternation with the shutout in that last year. Since then, the BBWAA has given its stamp of approval to 16 greats, including 13 over the last four years, the largest number ever in such a span.
“This is day that’s going to change my life forever,’’ Jones said in words that could have been repeatedly by the other three inductees. “We have a handful of those during our lifetime, transcendent moments that just change your life forever. Today was certainly one of them.’’
There was little doubt Jones and Thome would burst through on their first year of eligibility.
Jones, who played his whole 19-year career with the Atlanta Braves, becomes the second No. 1 overall draft pick to reach the Hall, after Ken Griffey Jr. in 2016. Jones didn’t fall too far behind Griffey’s record-setting 99.3% of the vote, getting named on 97.2% of the ballots.
An eight-time All-Star and the 1999 National League MVP, Jones had a career batting average of .303 with 468 home runs. He ranks third all-time in home runs by a third baseman and also third among switch-hitters. Jones is one of only nine players to combine at least a .300 average, .400 on-base percentage, .500 slugging percentage and 400 home runs. Seven of the other eight are in the Hall of Fame.
And yet, Jones said one of his proudest accomplishments was finishing his career with more walks than strikeouts, an indication he was always ready to give the pitcher a tough battle.
“I was always of the belief that if you go up there and you’re the toughest out possible every single time you walk up to the plate, the numbers are going to take care of themselves,’’ he said.
Guerrero, who nearly missed gaining admission last year on his first try, made it easily this time by garnering 92.9% of support to become the first Dominican-born position player in the Hall. He will join pitching countrymen Juan Marichal and Pedro Martinez in Cooperstown.
After overcoming a childhood of abject poverty in the tiny Dominican town of Don Gregorio, Guerrero become one of baseball’s most riveting players, a five-tool right fielder who made nine All-Star teams in his 16 seasons and won the 2004 American League MVP award. His combination of a career .318 batting average and .553 slugging percentage is matched or surpassed by only seven players in history, all of them Hall of Famers.
It was during those youthful days in Don Gregorio that Guerrero developed the knack for hitting bad pitches that would become his trademark. He honed the skill playing "plaquita,’’ a two-vs.-two game in which hitters swung a broomstick and a license plate served as home plate.
“You had to hit bad pitches because they always threw the ball on the ground or away from you, and the only way to score was to hit them,'' Guerrero said in Spanish. "What also helped me was that a lot of big league pitchers didn’t realize that if they threw the ball down the middle, they could get me out.’’
Thome, who broke in as a third baseman before shifting to first, made his mark mainly with his power and keen batting eye. In a 22-year career that included 12 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, Thome compiled 612 home runs and 1,747 walks, ranking eighth and seventh, respectively, on the all-time list.
He drove in at least 100 runs nine times, had a career on-base plus slugging percentage of .956 and was universally beloved as a teammate wherever he played. Thome received 89.8% of the vote.
“When you become a Hall of Famer, everybody sees the big steps, they see the numbers," said Thome. "But what I don’t think they see is the downsides that we all as players go through, and those long hours with guys like (former manager and hitting coach) Charlie Manuel … and my father, all the countless hours as a kid having dad through me batting practice, hit ground balls. It’s much more than all the things people see. It’s about sweat equity and getting after it.’’
Hoffman, who spent 15 ½ of his 18 seasons with the San Diego Padres, ranks second in career saves with 601 and was the first pitcher to reach the 500- and 600-save marks. In a 15-year span, he recorded at least 30 saves 14 times, twice finishing in the top 10 in the MVP voting.
Hoffman came within one percentage point of election last year but faced some skepticism because closers like him typically pitch about one-third of the innings of top starters. Still, he gained entry on his third try with 79.9% of the votes.
"When I came along in the early '90s, that was my job,'' Hoffman said of the three-out save, which has been devalued by modern metrics. "I can understand how it can be picked apart a little bit. We’re seeing how the sabermetrics come into play with matchups. But I think managers can appreciate someone who they can count on in the back end of their bullpen to set up their bullpen.''
Bonds and Clemens have seen a recent increase in support as attitudes toward suspected PED users have softened and the voting ranks have been purged of inactive writers.
Running on parallel tracks, they have gone from a mid-30s debut in 2013 to mid-50s last year. This time, they picked up a few extra votes but no meaningful bump.
Bonds garnered 56.4% of the vote and Clemens 57.3%, as their clock begins to run out.
Martinez was named on a personal-best 70.2% of the ballots, his 297 votes falling 20 shy of the induction line. He will be in his final year of eligibility next season, but with four players coming off the ballot and saves leader Mariano Rivera the only sure-fire electee in 2019, Martinez has an excellent chance to earn induction on his final try.
“I say thank you to all the fans that supported my candidacy,'' Martinez said. "The positive is that it’s trending up and there’s still a chance for next year.’’