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Jose Mesa debuts on BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot

December 19, 2012
2013 BBWAA Hall of Fame Candidate Jose Mesa (NBHOF Library)

Perfection is an almost unattainable goal in baseball. But for one season, Jose Mesa came as close as it gets.

And for 19 big league seasons – including that memorable 1995 campaign – Mesa proved to be one of the game’s best relief pitchers. Today, he’s made it to the doorstep of the Hall of Fame.

“All I can say is that God has been pretty good to me,” said Mesa, who went from working on the family farm in the Dominican Republic to starring in the majors in less than a decade.

Mesa is one of 37 players on the 2013 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot for the Class of 2013 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Mesa is making his debut on the Hall of Fame ballot.

BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 9. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all BBWAA votes cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2013. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 28 in Cooperstown.

Born May 22, 1966 in Azua, Dominican Republic, Mesa was a 6-foot-3 amateur outfielder as a 15-year-old in 1981. He caught the eye of legendary Blue Jays scout Epy Guerrero at a tryout, but only after Guerrero convinced Mesa to throw a few pitches to show off his arm. A few hours later, Mesa had signed a free agent contract for $3,000.

Mesa toiled in the minors for seven years, learning his craft on the mound while harnessing his 98 mile-per-hour fastball. On Sept. 4, 1987, he was sent to the Orioles along to complete an earlier trade that sent Mike Flanagan to the Blue Jays in a stretch-drive deal.

After parts of four big league seasons with the Orioles, Baltimore shipped Mesa to the Cleveland Indians on July 14, 1992 for minor leaguer Kyle Washington. He made 33 starts for the Tribe in 1993, going 10-12 with a 4.92 earned-run average in a career-high 208 2/3rds innings. The following season, the Indians converted Mesa into a reliever, where he went 7-5 with two saves and a 3.82 ERA in 51 games as a setup man.

Then in 1995, Mesa earned the closer’s job on a team that was primed for success. He finished the season with a 3-0 record and 46 saves in 62 appearances, posting a 1.13 ERA while finishing second in the American League Cy Young voting and fourth in the AL Most Valuable Player race. He also made his first All-Star team – the first time in his 15-year pro career that he had been an all-star at any level.

The Indians went 100-44 that season, falling to the Braves in the World Series in their first trip to the Fall Classic in 41 years.

“I love to watch those batters swing and miss against Jose,” said Tony Pena, who caught Mesa with the Indians from 1994-96. “Some of them say: ‘Oh, my god!’ I just tell them: ‘You better start your swing early.’”

Mesa never recaptured the brilliance of his 1995 season, but finished with 39 saves in 1996 before losing his closer’s job in 1997 and being traded to the Giants in 1998. He then morphed into a baseball journeyman, moving from the Giants to the Mariners to the Phillies to the Pirates to the Rockies and Tigers before ending his career back with the Phillies in 2007.

Mesa averaged more than 36 saves a season from 2001-05, and his 321 career saves still rank 14th all-time, and his 1,022 appearances rank 11th on the all-time list. He finished with a career record of 80-109 and a 4.36 ERA.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum