Since the National Baseball Hall of Fame inducted its first class of players in 1939, 300 members have been enshrined in its hallowed halls. With names like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Nolan Ryan, it is shocking to think that the Baseball Writers of America have still yet to induct any player unanimously.
The New York Mets’ Tom Seaver holds the record for being the player with the highest percentage of hall of fame votes at 98.84 percent, or 425 of the 430 ballots cast. In order to become a member, the presumptive inductee must be named on at least 75 percent of the ballots.
In 2014, the Hall of Fame will welcome one of its most prestigious classes in history when the Atlanta Braves will likely send Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Bobby Cox to Cooperstown. While all three have every right to be first-ballot Hall of Famers, Maddux is in a different stratosphere of baseball legends and should unequivocally become the first unanimous selection in history.
Why it Should Happen
The art of pitching has devolved into a position of throwers. Much the same way the quarterback is trending toward the athletic sprinter over the cerebral thinker, pitching intangibles are being ousted in favor of any rubber-armed mound jockey who can cock and fire 95 mph anywhere in the general vicinity of the plate.
But Maddux was different.
He was the thinking man’s pitcher who simply out maneuvered hitters to get them out. In this prime, Maddux was downright filthy. His cut-fastball painted the black with such ease and precision, as he forever kept hitters off-balanced by adding and subtracting speed from each pitch.
Like a Rolodex of information, Maddux’s baseball mind was continually spinning to remember tendencies and past match-up of hitters in an era in which every stat and piece of game film was not immediately collated and indexed for easy reference by a team of nerds who should really be working for NASA instead of figuring out the ERA of left-handed pitchers in outdoor stadiums where the hot dog vendors serve Hunts ketchup instead of Heinz.
One of my favorite Maddux stories happened in the twilight of his career, when he returned to the Chicago Cubs at age 38. A youngster on the Cubs’ staff recounted a tale of sitting with Maddux during one of his off days and listening as the old-timer would tell him the exact pitch that the opposing pitcher was about to throw before he even started his windup. There should be little reason why they called him “The Professor.”
Very few pitchers have ever attacked the art of pitching the way Maddux did, and he has all the requisite numbers to back up his place in history with any player who has ever had the joy of having to sweat in a polyester uniform on a 95-degree day in August.
His 355 career win ranks him No. 8 all-time, and most for any pitcher from his own era. From 1992 to 1995, Maddux won four consecutive Cy Young awards, marking the first time in history any pitcher ever completed the feat. From 1988 to 2004, Maddux recorded and unheard-of 17 straight seasons with at least 15 wins. And lest we forget, Maddux was also the best fielder at his position. He has 18 Gold Glove awards on his mantle - the most for any player in MLB history.
But throw out all of the awards and accolades. The greatest thing Maddux ever accomplished was being able to pitch until the age of 42. Maddux could still get major league hitters out with a fastball that had bottomed out at only 82 mph – Craig Kimbrel’s change up isn’t even that slow. But Maddux was a pitcher, not a thrower, and proved again and again why he was in a class all his own when it came to the art of pitching.
Maddux is a unanimous Hall of Famer. Whether or not the baseball writers choose to log the information correctly into the history books will not change that fact.
And Now Here is Why it Never Will
The Hall of Fame is arguably the most prestigious club – outside of Yale’s Skull & Bones secret society – to which anyone could hope to become a member. In order to maintain that air of superiority, the idea of the Hall of Fame must forever remain above its individual members. To say a player is 100 percent worthy of inclusion is to blatantly point out that the player is greater than the club itself, and the Hall simply would not allow that to happen.
There is no case to be made for why players like Aaron or Maddux shouldn’t be written on every single writer’s ballot with fourteen exclamation points after their name. Conspiracy theorists will paint a picture of old men in a room filled with cigar smoke and mahogany wood accents all plotting together to make sure no one player supersedes their authority. As valid as that image may ultimately be, it could also be a necessary evil.
Some will argue that the steroid players and backlog of cheaters throughout baseball’s history has already tainted the records to the point that the Hall of Fame has become a superfluous treehouse fort for adults, but the game of baseball is built on tradition, and the Hall of Fame is one of the bedrocks of that tradition. To denounce its importance is to denounce the essence of what makes the game great, and no individual player would ever be allowed to be the cause of that.
Maddux is absolutely a unanimous Hall of Famer who will have to be happy settling for 99.76 percent of the votes.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Braves for over 20 years. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.