Craig Biggio could join them, too. The same goes for Mike Piazza and Jack Morris, but only if you stretch your imagination. This is more plausible: Maddux, Glavine and Thomas will take the Hall of Fame stage this summer with Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa after those former Major League managers were dubbed Cooperstown-worthy in December by the Expansion Era Committee.
Then there is the future, where the list of undisputed Hall of Fame picks stretches from now into forever. In 2015, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Gary Sheffield will lead first-timers on the ballot, and if Biggio doesn't get in this year, he'll do so next year. In '16, there is Ken Griffey Jr., and that's more than enough. Then comes a drought in '17 -- well, unless holdovers such as Trevor Hoffman or Curt Schilling make Cooperstown. But '18 will give us Chipper Jones, and then we'll have some Yankees in '19, with Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. Jim Thome didn't wear pinstripes, but he also could be in that class.
You get the idea. When you combine the picks of the Expansion Era Committee of those legendary managers with what the BBWAA voters will announce Wednesday and with all of those Cooperstown entrees to come beyond this year, the Hall of Fame selection process is working just fine, thank you. And contrary to popular belief, the whole thing also was validated last year when zero players were voted into the Hall of Fame.
Nobody deserved it. That's the hidden beauty of the Baseball Hall of Fame compared to most of its counterparts. Whereas the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, for instance, has a tendency to induct anybody inside its walls whoever was around dribbling for a given stretch, Cooperstown is only for the most elite of the elite. Even then, those fitting that category must satisfy No. 5 on the BBWAA Rules for Election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame: "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
No question, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa had the numbers to reach Cooperstown in 2013 during their first year of eligibility, but their careers were tainted by steroid controversies. Which brings us back to No. 5 and the words "integrity" and "character." Which eliminates any player involved with PEDs. Which shoves Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and others away from Cooperstown's city limits. That otherwise terrific trio represented the first wave of players from the Steroid Era destined to fall shy of the 75 percent of the votes needed during a given year to reach Cooperstown. Good. That's even more vindication for the Hall of Fame voting process.
Here's more vindication: The present, where Hall of Famer voters get it. We really do, especially since Maddux will come as close to a 100-percent lock for Cooperstown as you can get. If you combine his numbers from the seasons in which he won four consecutive National League Cy Young Awards from 1992-95, he was 75-29 with a 1.98 ERA. Maddux is eighth on the all-time victory list with 355. He also won 18 Gold Glove Awards, and he ranked among the top hitting pitchers of his time. As a result, this master of pinpoint control could snap Tom Seaver's record for receiving the highest percentage of Hall of Fame votes at 98.84 in 1992.
Nobody ever has been a unanimous pick for Cooperstown. Not Hank Aaron, not Babe Ruth, not Willie Mays. While some voters cite the precedent of past baseball heavyweights not receiving unanimous entry into Cooperstown as a reason for not doing so now with candidates, other voters just don't believe in choosing guys during their first year of eligibility, period.
I have a problem with that. If you were a Hall of Famer after you retired, you remain one forever. So why play first-ballot games? But remember: I said the voting process was almost flawless.