Not Hall-bound, but worth recalling
BOSTON -- Hall of Fame voting results are scheduled to be announced Wednesday, and the likelihood is that no one with a Red Sox pedigree will be elected, with Curt Schilling having a slim chance of making the cut and Roger Clemens the Sox player suffering the greatest PED backlash.
Last year, Schilling received 221 votes, or 38.8 percent of the ballots cast, for a seventh-place finish in a year in which no one received the requisite 75 percent (427 votes) for election to the Hall. Clemens finished right behind, with 214 votes.
Four players who played for Boston at some point in their careers did not receive the necessary 5 percent of the votes required to remain on the ballot: David Wells, Aaron Sele, Mike Stanton and Todd Walker.
Besides Schilling and Clemens, there are six players on this year's ballot who also wore a Sox uniform in his career: Sean Casey, Eric Gagne, Todd Jones, Hideo Nomo, Lee Smith and Mike Timlin. All except Smith are appearing on the ballot for the first time; Smith finished sixth last year with 272 votes (47.8 percent), but in a year in which some Hall voters make a compelling case that allowing a vote for just 10 players penalizes worthy candidates, Smith's numbers are liable to go down this year.
The others might very well be one-and-done, but it's worth noting that all had distinguished big league careers and are deserving of recognition. A few words on each:
Mike Timlin: The right-hander from Midland, Texas, was 37 when he joined the Red Sox, but that didn't keep him from running off four consecutive seasons of 65 or more appearances, including a league-leading (and club-record) 81 in 2005, when he was 39. He ranks eighth all-time in appearances with 1,058, his first game coming against the Red Sox in 1991, the first of his 18 big league seasons spent with six teams. He has four World Series rings, two each with the Blue Jays (1992-93) and Sox (2004-07), and appeared in 46 postseason games.
"Think of the number of balls Mike has thrown, the stress on his shoulder, his elbow, his body, year after year,'' former bullpen coach Gary Tuck once told me. "That shows you how tough he is, how big his heart is.''
Hideo Nomo: Before there was Daisuke -- and Yu Darvish and Hisashi Iwakuma and Masahiro Tanaka -- there was The Tornado, the right-hander who paved the way for the influx of Japanese talent that has had a huge impact on the game played on this side of the international dateline. There was tremendous pressure on Nomo when he debuted with the Dodgers in 1995, his move to the United States viewed by some in Japan as akin to betrayal, and he responded by winning the NL Rookie of the Year and breaking Sandy Koufax's franchise record by striking out 11.1 batters per nine innings. He pitched only one season with the Sox, 2001, and began in spectacular fashion, throwing a no-hitter against the Orioles in his Boston debut. It was the first no-no by a Sox pitcher since Dave Morehead in 1965. Nomo led the AL in both strikeouts (220) and walks (96), finishing the season with a 13-10 record and 4.50 ERA. He returned to the Dodgers as a free agent and had back-to-back outstanding seasons for L.A., and he retired at age 39 in 2008.
"He was the first one," former Sox pitching coach Dave Wallace told me. "He had everything to lose and nothing to gain. He set the table for a lot of other guys who are now reaping the benefits.
"His makeup was off the charts. He knew the game, he was extremely competitive and you never had to worry about whether he was doing his work. He'd be at the field before everyone else."
Lee Smith: When Smith retired in 1997, he was baseball's all-time saves leader with 478 but has since been passed by Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, who figure to be future inductees. Smith's support peaked in 2012, when he received 50.6 percent of the votes. Three relievers have been voted in since he retired: Dennis Eckersley (who began his career as a starter), Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage.
Smith pitched for eight teams, was an All-Star seven times and led his league in saves four times. He came to the Sox from the Cubs in a 1987 trade for Calvin Schiraldi and Al Nipper and helped the Sox to the 1988 AL East title by saving 29 games and striking out 96 batters in 83 2/3 innings. But he gave up the winning run to Oakland on two-out singles by Tony Phillips and Walt Weiss in Game 2 of the ALCS, and in his only other appearance in the series entered in the eighth inning of Game 4 with the Sox trailing 2-1 and gave up two runs, the Athletics completing a four-game sweep.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound native of Jamestown, La., went 6-1 with 25 saves in 30 opportunities, in 1989, then was traded early the following season to the Cardinals for Tom Brunansky, the outfielder whose game-saving catch against the White Sox clinched the 1990 division title.
Besides the PED debates, judging closers remains one of the most contentious conversations at voting time. Smith has three years left on the ballot after this. His best bet to get in will likely come in veterans' committee balloting.
Todd Jones: Like Timlin, Jones was deep in his career by the time he reached Boston, signing at age 35 in July 2003 after being released a couple of days earlier by the Colorado Rockies. He appeared in 26 games and posted a 5.52 ERA, hardly representative of a 16-year career in which he pitched for eight big league teams, twice recorded 40-plus saves, and pitched seven scoreless innings in eight postseason appearances. He was gone by the next season but was part of a wild-card winner in Boston. On the night the Sox clinched, Jones walked out to the bullpen and sprayed champagne on fans sitting in the bleachers.
"I told 'em we were sorry,'' Jones said afterward. "But how could I not go out there and thank them? They were with us all year. There were times they could have shot us and they didn't."
Eric Gagne: When Theo Epstein made his trade-deadline acquisition of Gagne from the Texas Rangers in 2007, it looked like a coup. The Yankees had made a run at Gagne as well, closer Mariano Rivera urging the team publicly that it needed help in the bullpen, but Epstein offered a better package, then paid Gagne $2.1 million to waive his no-trade clause. Gagne had made an impressive comeback from elbow and back surgeries with the Rangers and was bringing a save conversion rate that at the time was the best in history among pitchers with at least 180 chances (177-of-184, a 96.2 percent success rate, including a record 84 straight when he was with the Dodgers). He was willing to give up closing to serve as setup man with Hideki Okajima for Jonathan Papelbon.
"The bullpen is already a strength of the club," Epstein said, "but acquiring a pitcher the caliber of Eric Gagne only makes us stronger and helps give us what we hope will be a truly dominant bullpen for the remainder of the year."
It didn't work out that way. The trade wound up being one of the worst made by Epstein, as Gagne blew his only three save opportunities, posted a 6.75 ERA in 20 appearances and was charged with a loss in the ALCS against the Indians.
But the trade wasn't a total bust. With the first-round sandwich pick the Sox acquired as compensation for losing Gagne, they drafted pitcher Bryan Price, who subsequently was traded to the Indians as part of the Victor Martinez deal.
Sean Casey: The Red Sox got The Mayor for only one season, 2008, but that was sufficient to understand why he easily had won a Sports Illustrated poll as the nicest guy in baseball. Casey played just 69 games for the Sox in what would prove to be his last season in the big leagues, but he hit .322, consistent with the .302 lifetime average he posted in 12 seasons spent with five teams. A three-time All-Star, Casey hit .300 or better six times and had a .410 average (16-for-39) in a dozen postseason games, though he struck out in his only two at-bats for the Sox in the ALDS.
"So real, so sincere, the greatest kid ever, absolutely genuine," Bill Mosiello, who coached Casey in the Cape Cod League, once told me. "I still stay in touch with him, he's got a special place in my heart.
"Tough for him to get back to me, though. The guy has about 5 million friends. I tell people, 'He treats me great.' Well, he's great to everybody."