The Baseball Hall of Fame has rarely had a class like this. On Wednesday it welcomed four new members — Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman — in voting by the baseball writers. A smaller committee elected two other players, Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, in December.
The six living inductees match the most ever, and will be honored for their playing careers at a ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., this July. The only other class of newcomers with six living player-inductees was in 1955, when Home Run Baker, Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons, Ray Schalk and Dazzy Vance made it.
“We have a large class,” said Hoffman, the first pitcher to reach 600 saves. “I couldn’t be more humbled and excited to be part of such an amazing group.”
This year’s class was nearly even bigger — Edgar Martinez missed induction by 20 votes, collecting 70.4 percent of ballots from the 422 voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Others who gained more than half the votes, but fell short of the 75 percent threshold for induction, were Mike Mussina (63.5 percent), Roger Clemens (57.3), Barry Bonds (56.4) and Curt Schilling (51.2).
Bonds is the career home run leader and Clemens is the only pitcher in history with 350 wins and 4,000 strikeouts. But both have ties to performance-enhancing drug use, and failed to gain election on their sixth try. Candidates can remain on the ballot for 10 years, as long as they receive at least five percent of the vote. Manny Ramirez, a prolific slugger who served drug two suspensions, received only 22 percent in his second year as a candidate.
Jones played 19 seasons for the Atlanta Braves, hitting .303 with a .401 on-base percentage and a .529 slugging percentage. Only two other switch-hitters, Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray, hit more homers than Jones’ 468.
As the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1999, Jones led the Braves past the Mets in the N.L. Championship Series that October. He had torched the Mets for a .400 average in that regular season, and famously named his son Shea in honor of the Mets’ old ballpark.
“I have never had so much fun playing the game of baseball as I did against that team, that organization, and in that city,” Jones said.
Thome slammed 612 home runs across 22 seasons, including 13 years with the Cleveland Indians. He ranks eighth in home runs — and second in strikeouts, to Reggie Jackson — and his .956 on-base plus slugging percentage trails only 15 retired hitters on the career list.
While Thome appeared in the postseason for five franchises — the Indians, the Chicago White Sox, the Minnesota Twins, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Baltimore Orioles — he did not get there with the Philadelphia Phillies, who signed him away from Cleveland with a lucrative free agent offer in Dec. 2002. Even so, the Phillies honored Thome with a plaque in their Wall of Fame, and the Indians built a statue of him at their ballpark.
“The message I would send would be that every Midwest kid can dream of a day like this,” said Thome, a Peoria, Ill., native who was drafted in the 13th round in 1989. “I’m living it today.”
Guerrero was the last superstar for the Montreal Expos, electrifying the franchise for most of its final seasons. He moved to the Angels in 2004 (the Expos left for Washington a year later), and won the American League’s M.V.P. award in his first season in Anaheim. After six years there, Guerrero made an All-Star team for the Texas Rangers and helped lead them to their first A.L. championship, in 2010.
Florida Marlins in 1993 and was traded that summer to the San Diego Padres. He earned 552 saves for the Padres, and his changeup — one of the best in history — helped him average 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
Hoffman learned the grip in 1994 from his teammate and catch partner, Donnie Elliott, then deadened the ball even more by shoving it deeper in his hand. The pitch came in so slowly that it made his modest fastball play up.
“It evolved to more of a palmball,” Hoffman said. “It allowed me to feel comfortable throwing the pitch like a fastball, and I got some decent action out of it.”
Hoffman joins Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage and Dennis Eckersley as the only pitchers in the Hall of Fame who primarily worked in relief. Rivera, who retired in 2013, comes up for election this December, with Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte, Todd Helton and Lance Berkman among the other first-time candidates.