And now the final installment of my take on the 2015 Veteran’s Ballot. Today I look at the pitchers. As with the other two posts, the disclaimer about me seeing all of them play is still in effect.
Jim Kaat arrived in the Major Leagues in 1959 as a left-handed pitcher with the Washington Senators. He moved with them to Minnesota and became their lefty ace. He made the All Star team twice, won 20 games once with the Twins (a league leading 25 in 1964) and was a member of the 1965 pennant winning team. He went to Chicago (the White Sox) in mid-1973, stayed through 1975 (and made the All Star team that season), then went to Philadelphia where he helped the Phillies to a couple of division titles. In 1979 he moved to the bullpen becoming a relief specialist. He won a World Series with the Cardinals in 1982 becoming in the process the oldest pitcher to appear in a World Series game (I’m not sure if that’s still true). He retired in 1983 at age 44 and as the last active Washington Senators player. He went into broadcasting and has done both the World Series and the College World Series. For his career he was 283-237 (.544%) with 2461 strikeouts (1.259 WHIP) and an ERA of 3.45 (ERA+ of 108). His Baseball Reference.com WAR is 45.3 with a peak of 7.8 in 1975. Part of his problem with receiving Hall of Fame consideration is that his most famous game is the seventh game of the 1965 World Series. He lost it 2-0 to Sandy Koufax. It’s tough to be considered great when your most famous game is one you lost.
Billy Pierce was an 18-year-old phenom when he arrived in Detroit in 1945. He got into five games, then went back to the minors for 1946 and 1947. He was back in Detroit for 1948 and remained in the big leagues through 1964. He stayed with Detroit through ’48, then was sent to Chicago (the White Sox not the Cubs) in 1949. There he became a seven time All Star, winning 20 games twice. He led the AL in wins, strikeouts, ERA, and losses once each. In 1959 the ChiSox made the World Series for the first time since 1919. He pitched in three games, all in relief, without giving up a run (Detroit had also made the Series in 1945, but Pierce did not pitch). The Sox lost in six games. In 1962 he was traded to the Giants where he promptly won 16 games and helped lead the team to its first ever West Coast World Series (and the team’s first since 1954). He lost one game (3) and then won game six against Whitey Ford to set up the final game, which San Francisco lost. He pitched two more years then retired. For his career he was 211-169 (.555%) with 1999 strikeouts (couldn’t you gotten just one more, Billy?), and an ERA of 3.27 (ERA+ of 119). His WAR is 53.1 with a peak of 7.1 in 1952 (a year he did not make the All Star team). He was considered an innings eater (averaging 225 with Chicago) who could occasionally come out of the bullpen (he has 32 saves, 12 in years where he did his major work out of the bullpen).
Luis Tiant is the son of a major Cuban pitcher of the 1940s. Tiant, Sr. joined Minnie Minoso as one of the stars of the 1947 New York Cubans Negro World Series champions. So the son was destined to be a pitcher. He hit Cleveland in 1964 and had his breakout year in 1968 when he led the American League in ERA. Then his career tanked for three years. He led the AL in losses and in walks with 129 (the only time he had more than 82 walks). He wandered through Minnesota to Boston, where things turned around in 1972 when he picked up his second ERA title. He won 20 games three times in Boston (once in Cleveland), made the All Star team in 1974 and 1976 (and in 1968), led Boston to its first AL pennant since 1967, and picked up two wins in the 1975 World Series. He started to slide in 1978 and was finished in 1982 at age 41. For his career he was 229-172 (571%) with 2416 strikeouts, an ERA of 3.30, and an ERA+ of 114. His WAR is 66.1 with a peak of 8.4 in 1968. Today he is probably most famous for his unorthodox delivery which saw him turn his back to home plate as he wound up and for the 1975 performance. Unfortunately, he’s also got that three year gap that is difficult to explain. He apparently got hurt, but taking three years to recover certainly harms his Hall chances. Although this should not effect his Hall chances one way or the other, during the off season Tiant played in the Venezuelan League throwing a no hitter and pitching well enough to make the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.
So, my take. By this point I’ve got one vote left (remember the Vet’s Committee people get 5 votes each). Frankly, I’m not certain any of these deserve Hall of Fame induction. If someone put a gun to my head and told me I had to vote for one, I guess I’d take whichever one the guy with the gun insisted upon, but wouldn’t be overly happy about it.