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Nightengale: Another World-Class Group for Baseball Hall of Fame

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Vladimir Guerrero played six seasons for the Angels and was selected the American League MVP in 2004. Photo: MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ / AP

It was just five years ago, Jan. 8, 2013.

The day no one was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The moment that supposedly broke the Hall of Fame, with demands it be overhauled.

The Hall of Fame remained patient, refused to listen to the noise, and voila, validation.

Once again, for the third time in four years, four players were elected into the Hall of Fame – Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman. They’ll join electees Jack Morris and Alan Trammell from the Modern Era committee, producing the biggest Hall of Fame player class in history.

The Baseball Writers Association of America, which from 2000-2013 never elected more than two players in a single year, has now elected a record 16 players in the last five years.

If Seattle Mariners DH Edgar Martinez had received 20 more votes, it would have equaled the original 1936 five-member class when Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson christened the doors.

For the first time in history, we will have a 600-save closer, and a 600-homer hitter, too, representing one of the diverse groups ever entering Cooperstown on July 29.

We have a brilliant all-around player, and one of the greatest switch-hitters in baseball history in Jones. He’s the only switch-hitter to hit .300 from each side of the plate, and lone one to produce a .300 batting average, .400 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage. He’s the seventh third baseman to be elected into Cooperstown, the first since Wade Boggs in 2005, and the sixth member of the Atlanta Braves to be elected since 2014 – joining decades-long teammates Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.

We have an old-school slugger, who hit more home runs than Frank Robinson and walked more than Stan Musial, and compiled a .402 on-base percentage, in Thome. He’s the fifth member of the 600-homer club to be elected, joining Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Ken Griffey, Jr.

“I’m probably more happy than Jim, who is like a son to me,’’ said Charlie Manuel, Thome’s former manager with the Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies. “This is totally deserving and, for me, ranks up there with anything I’ve ever seen happen in the game of baseball.  I started thinking this was possible after he hit his 500th home run, and for the day to finally be here, it’s like winning the World Series all over again.”

Said Thome: “I wouldn’t be here without him.’’

In Guerrero, we have a sheer hitter who never saw a pitch he wasn’t tempted to demolish. He has the fourth-highest career batting average, .318, in the last 55 years, and will either be the first to wear a Los Angeles Angels cap into the Hall of Fame or the fourth from the Montreal Expos’ organization.

And we have an elite closer in Hoffman, the first pitcher to reach 600 saves, with 10 seasons of 60 or more appearances, and only the sixth primary reliever to reach the Hall of Fame and first since Goose Gossage in 2008.

“I can understand how [the one-inning save] is being picked apart a little bit,’’ Hoffman said. We’re seeing how sabermetrics come into play with matchups. But when I came along in the early ‘90s, that was my job. I think managers can appreciate someone who they can count on in the back end of their bullpen to set up their bullpen.’’

Take a bow, gentlemen.

Martinez, who just missed receiving the 75% needed from the BBWAA voters, but has risen dramatically from receiving 25.2% of the vote in 2014, will be a shoo-in next year on his final year of the ballot. He’ll join saves king and first-ballot lock Mariano Rivera. And perhaps starter Mike Mussina and the late Roy Halladay, too.

Then comes Derek Jeter in 2020, who will threaten to become the first player to receive 100% of the vote. That could be the year Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will finally be elected, too, receiving their highest voting percentages this year and nearly clearing the 60% mark.

“Barry Bonds is the best player I’ve ever seen don a uniform,’’ Jones said. “It’s unfortunate some of the best players of their era have a cloud of suspicion. You’re talking about some of the greatest players of all-time. [Eight] MVPs. Seven Cy Youngs.

“Both seem to be picking up some steam with some of the new voters, so we’ll see.’’

But for now, this is a pure celebration of the game’s elite, with no controversy or steroid clouds surrounding any of the four new electees, as Jones and Thome were elected on their first year of eligibility, Guerrero on his second and Hoffman the third.

Incredible, isn’t it?

Sixty years went by without four players ever being elected the same year, and for 14 years from 2000 to 2013, there were never more than two electees.

Now, it’s getting more crowded than a TSA line.

Maybe the BBWAA has softened its stance, or simply become smarter with its decisions, but there are even more players who could soon be walking through those hallowed doors.

Ichiro Suzuki will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer if he ever decides to retire. Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre and Yadier Molina don’t have to play another game and they’re in. And starting pitchers Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer are knocking on the door.

The Baseball Hall of Fame, which should see overflow crowds this summer, followed by Rivera and Jeter’s induction, suddenly finds itself swelling in popularity.

What’s wrong with the Hall of Fame voting procedures?

Nothing, absolutely nothing.

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook.

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