Believe it or not, pitchers have had it worse before
Posted: Tuesday June 7, 2005 12:42PM; Updated: Tuesday June 7, 2005 12:42PM
Greg Maddux is one of the few thirtysomethings with a spot in the Hall of Fame locked up.
John W. McDonough/SI
While recently examining the decline in runs this year, which partly is due to the maturation of a good crop of young starting pitchers, I noticed a lack of quality starters in their early and mid-30s -- a lost generation of pitchers that was nowhere deep enough to combat what's been the greatest extended run of slugging baseball ever has seen. Only one starter in that group looks like a Hall of Famer: Pedro Martinez. And so I wondered: Is this a historic dry spell for pitching greatness? It turns out it's not even close.
I looked at when each Hall of Famer was born as well as current over-30 players who could be considered borderline candidates for Cooperstown. For instance, I can't find any Hall of Fame starters born between 1966 (the birth year of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine) and 1971 (Martinez). Yes, John Smoltz is in there (1967), but his is a hybrid candidacy, built on starting and closing.
That drought, however, is nothing compared to the years between 1947 and 1962 -- the Dark Ages of great pitchers being born. In the 14 years between the birth of Nolan Ryan in 1947 and Roger Clemens in 1962, not one Hall of Fame starting pitcher was born. (The span does include one hybrid, Dennis Eckersley, and may soon have two relievers, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter, who are gaining support among the electorate.)
How improbable is that streak? It's twice as long as the next-longest stretch without a Hall of Fame starter (1911-17). Here are the longest streaks without the birth of a Hall of Fame starter since the oldest Cooperstown hurler, Old Hoss Radbourn, was born in 1854 (see chart, above).
First, look at the 30-somethings of today. It's such a weak group that Martinez is the only one standing in the way of at least an eight-year drought. The best of the rest born between 1967-74? Mike Mussina, whose chances are hurt by a lack of a 20-win season and a slow decline during the past few years. After that it's Mike Hampton, Andy Pettitte, Brad Radke and Bartolo Colon.
Where did all the Hall of Famers from this generation go? The batter's box, not the mound. For instance, in 1968 alone, six future Hall of Famers were born, which will rank as the third greatest birth year for Hall of Famers. The list:
Lou Gehrig, Mickey Cochrane, Paul Waner, Tony Lazzeri, Travis Jackson, Chick Hafey, Charlie Gehringer, Carl Hubbell, Cool Papa Bell
Ted Lyons, Gabby Hartnett, Lefty Grove, Hack Wilson, Goose Goslin, Jim Bottomley, Judy Johnson
Sammy Sosa, Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Gary Sheffield, Mike Piazza, Roberto Alomar
Luke Appling, Jimmie Foxx, Bill Dickey, Hilton Smith, Buck Leonard
Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Eddie Mathews, Ernie Banks, Jim Bunning
Note that three of the five most productive years occurred within an eight-year span (1900-07). Here's a decade-by-decade look at when Hall of Famers were born. (As a rough rule of thumb, add 30 years to the birth years to get the peak playing years; the offensive boom of the 1930s is well represented in Cooperstown.)
This leads back to the Dark Ages of pitching, the 14-year gap between Ryan and Clemens. The decade-by-decade numbers reveal that those were lean Cooperstown years for hitters, too. Those who played in the 1970s and '80s seem underrepresented in the Hall.