MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Cooperstown should be buzzing again next July

This year's Hall election showed many deserving candidates can still achieve approval

Cooperstown should be buzzing again next July

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- One by one, Greg Maddux, Bobby Cox and Tom Glavine stepped up to the podium Sunday and talked about their careers. They each paused to say how much they looked forward to being joined in the Hall of Fame by John Smoltz next July.

Smoltz looked on with a smile from the nearby MLB Network set. He even seemed to enjoy Maddux's line about how he passed the end of his Braves' tenure "watching John Smoltz's hairline recede."

You can't buy that kind of publicity, as the endorsements will be planted in the brains of the Baseball Writers' Association of America voters when they receive their 2015 ballots next December. The memory of this past weekend's Hall of Famer-a-palooza will also be fresh with voters, and that's a good thing.

As remarkable as it was for Frank Thomas, Tony La Russa, Joe Torre, Maddux, Glavine and Cox to be enshrined in one afternoon -- the most living Hall of Famers elected since 1971 -- that same basic scene could play out again next summer.

With Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield, Nomar Garciaparra and Smoltz among first-timers on the upcoming ballot, Craig Biggio only two votes short a year ago and deserving men like Minnie Minoso, Luis Tiant, Gil Hodges, Ken Boyer, Jim Kaat and possibly Dick Allen on the Golden Era Committee's ballot, it's likely that there will be more big crowds on Main Street.

The 2014 Hall election showed that the process hasn't been destroyed by the backlog of candidates who currently seem unelectable because of their links to performance-enhancing drugs -- ultra-productive players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Not since the early elections in the 1930s have ballots been as crowded as they are now, but strong candidates can still achieve the necessary 75-percent vote of approval.

This wasn't clear before the Class of 2014, but it should be now. That's especially good news for Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz, who seem the most likely newcomers to win election, not to mention Biggio.

The igniter of the Houston Astros stands closer to election than any player ever not elected. Biggio received 74.8 percent of the vote last year, when he improved by 39 votes after receiving 68.2 percent his first year on the ballot. You can look foolish predicting Hall of Fame votes as dog races, but it is almost impossible to imagine that he would be denied after essentially losing a photo finish last time.

Fans of the Mariners and the D-backs can probably start booking their reservations. Johnson, a five-time Cy Young Award winner, is 22nd all-time with 303 victories and second to Nolan Ryan with 4,875 strikeouts. That's a slam-dunk Hall of Fame career.

The situation isn't quite as clear for Martinez and Smoltz, but they are held in the same generally high regard.

Smoltz isn't as simple of a choice as were Maddux and Glavine, as he split his remarkable career between the rotation and the bullpen, winding up with 213 wins and 154 saves. But he just might be joining the other three Braves as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Martinez started his career as a reliever, no doubt affecting his career stats, but he racked up three Cy Young Awards while compiling a 219-100 record. He is third all-time with an average of 10.04 strikeouts per nine innings.

Sheffield has a stronger case than some might think. He ended his 22-year career with 509 home runs, 1,676 RBIs and a .292 average. Garciaparra ended his 14-year career as a .313 hitter. Other first-timers on the ballot include Carlos Delgado, Brian Giles, Jermaine Dye, Troy Percival, Eddie Guardado, Tom Gordon, Jason Schmidt, Darin Erstad, Tony Clark and Mark Loretta.

Minoso, as a dark-skinned Cuban who was a star in Cuba and in the Negro Leagues before emerging as an All-Star for the White Sox, was a pioneer who experienced hardships like Jackie Robinson, but he has always fallen between the cracks when considered for the Hall. The Golden Era Committee passed him over three years ago, when it elected only Ron Santo from a strong ballot.

Hodges, who has a strong case as a player and manager, could benefit from Torre's election. He hit .273 with 370 career homers, and he showed his brilliance managing the 1969 Mets. Hodges probably would have earned election long ago, but he died in 1972, just before his 48th birthday.

The Golden Era Committee ballot will be released in November, with the 16-man committee meeting to hold its election in December. BBWAA ballots are due Dec. 31, with the results set to be announced Jan. 7.

As usual, the arguments will start early and never end.

Phil Rogers is a columnist to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.