Every player on the Hall of Fame ballot was a good player. It takes a special committee just to pare down all the candidates — any player with at least 10 seasons in the majors is eligible — so the final list of 33 on this year’s ballot is the best of the best. Some will eventually get elected, and many of them will drop off after one year, but let’s appreciate all these careers by looking at each player’s signature moment.
We could do an entire list of Bonds home runs. In fact, Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles did just that last summer. Here’s the weird thing: The home run I chose didn’t even crack Grant’s top 10 and he’s a Giants fan, so it’s entirely possible I picked the wrong one. But neither of us picked No. 71 or No. 756, Bonds’ two record-setting home runs. Do you remember the details of either one? I went with Bonds’ gargantuan blast in the 2002 World Series off Troy Percival — OK, it helped that I was sitting out in the right-field stands for this one — which includes one of the great cuts in TV producing history as we see Tim Salmon mouth, “That’s the furthest ball I’ve even seen hit.”
Carpenter won two games in the 2011 World Series, including Game 7 on three days of rest to cap off a Herculean run in which he threw 45 innings over the final month (starting with the final game of the regular season, when he pitched the Cardinals into the postseason with a shutout). His moment came in that stretch, when he beat Roy Halladay 1-0 in Game 5 of the Division Series, the best postseason duel since Jack Morris and John Smoltz in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.
Throwing the bat at Mike Piazza was a king crazy moment, and that playoff game in 1990 when he showed up wearing eye black and got ejected in the second inning was weird, and his 15-strikeout one-hitter against the Mariners in the 2000 AL Championship Series is one of the great playoff starts that nobody talks about. But it was another game against the Mariners that stands as Clemens’ signature moment, when he became the first pitcher to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game. I remember coming home from school and watching the game on a little black-and-white TV. Remarkably, a decade later, Clemens did it again versus the Tigers (and only Kerry Wood and Max Scherzer have matched him).
The 2004 Red Sox were known as The Idiots, and Damon was the king of them with his flowing locks and gritty style of play. Trailing three games to none to the Yankees in the ALCS, they then mounted the greatest comeback in MLB history. Damon’s second-inning grand slam in Game 7 off Javier Vazquez essentially locked up the trip to the World Series.
While Guerrero finally reached a World Series late in his career with the Rangers, he hit just two home runs in 171 career postseason at-bats, so he doesn’t really have a big postseason moment. He does, however, have The Throw.
Hernandez was the story of baseball in 1997, the rookie who defected from Cuba and won NLCS and World Series MVP honors for the Marlins. In the NLCS he struck out 15 Braves (with a little help from ump Eric Gregg).
His 479th save broke Lee Smith’s career record — Mariano Rivera now holds the mark — but let’s go with something a little more dramatic: the final out of the 1998 NLCS, when Hoffman had his best season and the Padres upset the Braves to reach the World Series.
Hudson was a nice player at his peak, making two All-Star teams and winning four Gold Gloves. In his home debut for the Dodgers in 2009 in front of a then-record Dodger Stadium crowd, he hit for the cycle, becoming the first Dodger to do it since 1970. Plus, we can hear Vin Scully say, “The O-Dog is loose.”
When the Giants broke through in 2010 with their first World Series title in San Francisco, Huff was a big reason they got there, hitting .290/.385/.506 and finishing seventh in the MVP voting. His two-run home run in Game 4 sparked the Giants to a 4-1 win and 3-1 series lead.
He came up as a much-hyped starting pitching prospect for the Mets, but got injured and eventually transferred to the bullpen, where he recorded 300 career saves, most with the Cardinals. Isringhausen got hurt late in the 2006 season and missed the club’s run to the World Series title. In 2004, he tied a Cardinals club record with 47 saves and got the final out in Game 7 of the NLCS.
Jones was a transcendent defensive center fielder, winning 10 Gold Gloves, but his moment came in the batter’s box when he was just 19 years old and slammed two home runs in his first two at-bats of Game 1 of the 1996 World Series. His future seemed unlimited.
Chipper won the MVP Award in 1999, in large part because he killed the Mets, the team the Braves were battling for the NL East title. He hit .400 with seven home runs and 16 RBIs in 12 games against them, and in late September, with the Braves leading the division by one game, Chipper hit four home runs in three games as the Braves swept the series. In the first game, he hit two home runs in a 2-1 victory. We couldn’t find that video, so here’s Chipper introducing himself to the world with two home runs in his first postseason game. He’d play in 92 more.
Fighting Bonds in the dugout was kind of cool and falling off a truck while washing it definitely wasn’t. He once went 5-for-5 while hitting for the cycle and had a two-homer game in the World Series for the Giants, but hitting a walk-off home run in an NLCS game was pretty sweet.
Lee ranks in the top 100 in career home runs and RBIs — he had more RBIs than Mike Piazza or Duke Snider or Roberto Clemente, not to mention Larry Walker, Scott Rolen and Edgar Martinez (to name three other players on this ballot) — and is tied for seventh in grand slams, yet he’s one of those good players who seemed to leave no memorable footprint on the game. He played in just one postseason series, leaving the White Sox before their 2005 World Series title and joining the Astros when they turned bad. Let’s go with the lone three-homer game of his career, more remarkable because he hit them into the teeth of a 20 mph wind that night.
Lidge is the one guy on this list whose most memorable moment was, for him, a moment he’d like to forget, when Albert Pujols launched a mammoth, go-ahead three-run home run in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS. What people forget is the Astros won that series anyway. Lidge famously struggled the next season, but redeemed himself in 2008 — albeit with a different team — when he went 48-for-48 in save chances, including all seven in the postseason. So let’s give him the final out of that World Series for the Phillies.
This is easy. In Seattle, they call it The Double. It’s still the greatest moment in Mariners history, giving the Mariners the extra-inning walk-off win in the 1995 Division Series.
A great player who slugged over 500 home runs between Japan and the majors, Matsui won World Series MVP honors in 2009, driving in a World Series record-tying six runs in the clinching Game 6. He got the Yankees on the board with a two-run homer off Pedro Martinez in the bottom of the second.
Sorry, but I have to do it.
(OK, here’s a legitimate highlight.)
Millwood had an underrated career, winning 169 games and an ERA title with the Indians. He never matched his 1999 season with the Braves when he went 18-7 with a 2.68 ERA and threw a one-hitter against the Astros in the playoffs (a Ken Caminiti home run was the only hit). He also threw a no-hitter for the Phillies in 2003.
The seminal moment of Moyer’s career really came in 1992 when he was 29 years old. He failed to make the Cubs that year and the team offered him a job as a minor league pitching coach. He decided to keep pitching. He spent the entire season in the minors, but made it back to the majors and would win 235 more games in his career, lasting until he was 49. In 2010, at age 47, he became the oldest pitcher to throw a shutout.
People forget Mussina’s 1997 ALCS, when he struck out 15 in one start and then threw eight scoreless innings in a second, because the Orioles lost the series. They forget his three scoreless innings in relief in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. What they might remember is when he came within an out of a perfect game against the Red Sox in 2001.
We could cancel the rest of this list and just go with a list of Manny highlights — the man hit 29 postseason home runs, for starters. While the “Manny being Manny” moments at times overshadowed his greatness — from 1996 to 2008 he hit .318/.415/.601 while averaging 119 RBIs per season — it’s hard not to go with the quintessential Manny moment: The time he cut off a throw from Johnny Damon.
A terrific two-way player, Rolen helped the Cardinals win the 2006 World Series when he hit .421 (although David Eckstein won MVP honors). His biggest moment, however, came in Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS, when he broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning with a two-run homer off Roger Clemens.
His best years came with the Twins, when he won two Cy Young Awards (and should have won three) and was the best pitcher in the game. He holds the Twins’ record with 17 strikeouts in one game. His ultimate moment, however, came with the Mets in 2012, when he spun the only no-hitter in franchise history. He threw 134 pitches that night. He’d win only three more games in his career.
Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. You know it better as the Bloody Sock Game.
In Helena, Montana, where Sheffield played rookie ball, there’s a house beyond the left-field fence that used to have a bull’s-eye target painted on the roof where Sheffield once hit a home run. Alas, no video exists of that home run. Sheffield is one of 27 players with 500 home runs, and he did it while drawing more walks than strikeouts thanks to his legendary bat speed. His Hall of Fame case has received little attention — in part because he admitted to using a steroid cream in the 2002 season (introduced to him by Bonds), but also because of poor defense, the crowded ballot and the lack of identity since he played for eight teams. He did help the Marlins win the 1997 World Series. Here he is from that season swatting two home runs in one inning.
We have to go to 1998, right? Back when Sosa was still a fan favorite and everyone loved that he and Mark McGwire were battling for home run history. McGwire topped Roger Maris first, but Sosa actually led 66 to 65 for about 45 minutes before McGwire tied him (and eventually surpassed him). Here’s a three-homer game on June 15 against the Brewers — he’d hit 20 that month.
Thome’s 600th career home run made him just the eighth player to reach that milestone (now nine), but I feel like we need a Cleveland highlight here. How about this crucial go-ahead home run in Game 5 of the 1995 ALCS? I still can’t believe Lou Piniella didn’t bring in a lefty. Plus, we get to see skinny Thome.
I’m tempted to go with the time Vizquel got in a fight with Arthur Rhodes over the glare from Rhodes’ earring, or the feud with former Indians teammate Jose Mesa — after Vizquel was critical of Mesa for blowing Game 7 of the 1997 World Series in his 2003 autobiography, Mesa threw at Vizquel on three different occasions over a period of years — but we have to go with a seminal Vizquel barehand. Maybe it wasn’t the flashiest play he ever made, but with Chris Bosio’s no-hitter on the line in 1993, it was his gutsiest.
I was always more of a Wagner guy than Hoffman guy. Wagner was more dominant, throwing 100 mph back when that was a thing, and averaging 11.9 K’s per nine innings over his career. Hoffman finished with more saves, which is why he’ll probably get elected this year, but there’s no reason Hoffman is polling at 78 percent and Wagner at just 10 percent. But I digress. When I think of Wagner, I think of strikeouts, so here he is setting the record for strikeouts by a lefty reliever.
The moment everyone remembers is his All-Star at-bat against Randy Johnson when he turned his helmet around and hit right-handed, or the time he forgot how many outs there were. He had a three-homer, eight-RBI game with the Rockies and three batting titles. Walker also was a great two-way player. Just ask Tony Fernandez.
Only maybe the most dominant game ever pitched.
Zambrano had a terrific run from 2003 to 2006 when he had four straight 5-WAR seasons, and he ranks fifth among all pitchers in WAR from 2003 to 2010. He also hit 24 home runs. Unfortunately, his temper often got the best of him — he had fights with teammates Michael Barrett and Derrek Lee — and in 2011 he was suspended for the rest of the season after cleaning out his locker in a fit of anger after getting ejected from a game. He did throw a no-hitter in 2008.