By Steve Silverman
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If you are in love with pitching, this year's Hall of Fame class is for you.
Take nothing away from former Houston Astros second baseman-catcher-outfielder Craig Biggio, who earned his spot in Cooperstown because of his versatility and aggressiveness, as well as his ability to lash the baseball all over the park.
But this year's class is all about the pitching.
Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and John Smoltz represent the best group of pitchers to enter the Hall in more than 40 years.
Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux got in last year, and they were a great duo. Tom Seaver, Rollie Fingers and Hal Newhouser were enshrined in 1992, and they certainly deserve a tip of the hat. One year earlier, Ferguson Jenkins and Gaylord Perry went into the Hall of Fame together, and both of those greats ate up huge innings and piled up the wins.
However, there's only one class of pitchers in the last 50 years that comes close to this year's trio. Sandy Koufax, Lefty Gomez and Early Wynn went in together in 1972.
While Koufax may be the greatest pitcher of all time -- although it's difficult to argue with peers like Juan Marichal or Bob Gibson -- Martinez, Johnson and Smoltz were dominant throughout their careers.
Martinez was a favorite of Yankee Stadium fans for giving them perhaps the greatest chant of all time. "Who's your daddy" would greet Pedro every time he pitched for the Red Sox when he came to The Bronx after his famous "call the Yankees my daddy" remark in 2004.
By that time, the Yankees had figured out Pedro's remarkable pitching sequence, and he had also lost a couple of miles per hour off his fastball.
But when Pedro was at his best, he was nearly unhittable. What made his performance even more remarkable was how effective he was during the height of the steroid era. Hitters who were on the muscle and were belting home runs all over the place could not touch Martinez.
In 1999, Martinez had what is often recognized as the best pitching season since Bob Gibson's remarkable 1968 season. Martinez went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts, and he followed that up with an 18-6 record in 2000 to go with his mind-boggling 1.74 ERA and 284 strikeouts.
He was nearly untouchable, but it looked like he would never taste World Series glory, especially when former Red Sox manager Grady Little refused to remove Pedro in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against the Yankees. He had to watch his team lose in painful fashion yet again to the Bombers.
The Red Sox shockingly pulled off their own miracle against the Yankees in 2004, and Pedro finally got to work his magic in the World Series in a win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Johnson was perhaps the most intimidating pitcher of all time, barely gaining an edge on Gibson, who would have been happy to knock down his own mother if it would have helped him win a ballgame. Johnson, all 6-foot-10 of him, would come directly at left-handed hitters with his devastating slider, and he rendered them weak as kittens.
The 1993 All-Star Game one-on-one with John Kruk is often looked at as baseball comedy because of Kruk's heart palpitations in the Camden Yards batter's box, but it was truly an example of how Johnson frightened the best hitters in the world.
Johnson was spectacular in his best seasons -- he averaged 354.3 strikeouts per season from 1999 through 2002 -- but he was also consistent enough to win 303 games in his career.
Smoltz finishes third among this trio, but the ultracompetitive Braves pitcher was as tough as they came in the postseason, with a 15-4 lifetime record and a 2.67 ERA. He pitched in one of the greatest games in World Series history, when he blanked the Minnesota Twins for 7 1/3 innings in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series at Minnesota's cacophonous Metrodome.
However, he was pitching against childhood hero Jack Morris, who blanked the Braves for 10 innings and ultimately got the victory.
Smoltz was as unique a pitcher as the game has seen in the last 50 years. He recorded 213 victories for the Braves, but he would have either topped or approached 300 wins if he had not gone to the bullpen to become the Braves' closer during the prime years of his career, when he earned 154 saves over the course of three seasons.
Smoltz was remarkably consistent throughout the whole of his career, but he stepped it up in 1996 when he had a 24-8 record, a 2.94 ERA and 276 strikeouts.
It's a remarkable weekend for pitching, and it will be celebrated with the induction of this spectacular trio at baseball's Upstate New York shrine.
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