Year Inducted: 2009 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 511/539)
For many years, the main trait for a leadoff hitter was speed, followed by an ability to get on base. While that has changed more recently, it certainly has held true for most of baseball’s existence. Players like Lou Brock (who was a very good hitter, but never carried a high OBP) were more common than Matt Carpenter (who has a high OBP but little speed). Even less common were hitters that had power and could leadoff. Only one player in baseball history could hit, draw walks, hit for power, and steal bases out of the leadoff position. That was Rickey Henderson.
Year Inducted: 1947 (BBWAA, ballot #4, 123/161)
Every year, after the World Series, the baseball world erupts in the same debate over and over again: What does the word “valuable” mean in the MVP award? For many old school adherents, the MVP must play for a playoff team as there isn’t value in being on a losing team. For many of the younger crowd, the MVP should go to the best player regardless of his team’s ranking. Occasionally, the thought of whether a pitcher should win the award comes up when there isn’t a stand out position player and that opens up another debate. Pitchers have been winning the MVP ever since it was first handed out, actually. Clayton Kershaw’s MVP in 2014 was the tenth won by a lefty pitcher. The first was by Hall of Famer Lefty Grove in 1931, the first year the MVP was handed out officially.
Year Inducted: 1953 (BBWAA, ballot #9, 199/264)
Mike Trout has had the greatest start to a career that any player has ever had. Naturally, the question becomes who else has started similarly. Most recently, Albert Pujols’ first ten seasons were historic and cemented him as the greatest player in the game, a title that Pujols has obviously relinquished to Trout as he becomes more and more like Dave Kingman it’s scary. Before Pujols’ beginning, many other players laid claims to a Hall of Fame career based on their first seasons as well. Players like Ken Griffey were pegged for greatness almost from their first game. But the first player to really jumpstart a Hall of Fame career on the strength of his first 10 seasons would be Al Simmons.
Year Inducted: 1946 (Veterans Committee)
It’s tough to be a big league player, that’s why the Minors exist. Unlike football or basketball, where college is a good prep for a pro-career, the talent gap between MLB and College Baseball is way too wide for most players to make a complete transition. However, that never stopped people from trying. Connie Mack and the A’s signed a pitcher out of Gettysburg College who had yet to play in the Minor Leagues but had attended an academy with instructors like Ty Cobb to a contract and tryout in Spring Training, and the legend of Eddie Plank was born.
Year Inducted: 1946 (Veterans Committee)
There aren’t many first generation starters remaining in the Hall of Fame to cover. And, up to this point, a lot of them have been similar. They threw a ton of innings, didn’t strike many out, and had really low ERA’s. They mostly had short careers, but there were a few that pitched longer than 15 years like Pud Galvin and Cy Young. But, only one of the first generation of starting pitchers could rack up strikeouts like some current pitchers. That would be Philadelphia Athletics lefty, Rube Waddell.
Year Inducted: 2004 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 421/506)
John Smoltz wasn’t the only one who went from great starter to dominant closer. Sometimes a pitcher can have some great seasons, but an odd delivery can lead to arm and back issues and slow them down. Typically, this means the end for a pitcher’s career. However, that wasn’t the case in Oakland in 1986. Manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan noticed that, when he became a reliever, this pitcher’s arm issues were gone and he became absolutely dominant out of the pen if held to a couple of innings at a time. That was how Dennis Eckersley became one of the best closers of all-time.
Year Inducted: 1953 (Veterans Committee)
Baseball can sometimes be a battleground for race it seems. The first professional African American players (Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby) had to endure a ton of pressure and hate and played amazingly despite it. Go back even further in history, the first great Jewish sportsman (Hank Greenberg) went through similar troubles though not quite as severe. Even further back, Irish players like Hugh Duffy had to face racial angst. The country has had tenuous relations with all of those ethnicities, as they have with Native Americans. And, one of the first great Native American players was Chief Bender.