Fingers, Seaver turned pitching dominance into bronze
One set the standard for starting pitchers, the other redefined the role of the reliever.
Seaver received votes on 425 of 430 ballots, breaking Ty Cobb’s longstanding record percentage mark by reaching 98.84 percent. The record would hold until 2016 when Ken Griffey Jr. reached 99.32 percent (437 out of 440) and remains No. 4 all-time (after Mariano Rivera hit the 100-percent mark in 2019 and Derek Jeter polled 99.75 in 2020).
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“There have been few times in my career when I was speechless, but last night was one of them,” Seaver told the assembled media at a press conference in New York City on Jan. 8. “There are moments that will stand out, that a person will take with him forever. I’ve had a few of those as a player and a few of those in my personal life, and this is one of them.”
When Seaver retired during the 1987 season (after attempting a comeback with the Mets but not pitching in the big leagues that year), there was little doubt he was headed for Cooperstown in 1992. Over 20 seasons with the Mets, Reds, White Sox and Red Sox, Seaver won 311 games, posted a 2.86 ERA, struck out 3,640 batters and earned three National League Cy Young Awards.
The ace of the 1969 Mets team that shocked the sporting world by winning the World Series, Seaver was widely considered the standard bearer for big league pitching.
Fingers, meanwhile, became just the second relief pitcher to earn election while garnering 81.2 percent of the vote in his second year on the ballot.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Fingers told the Associated Press. “Last year, people kept saying: ‘I was in. I was in. I was in.’ And then I wasn’t.”
After moving to the bullpen early in his career, Fingers became the stopper for the Oakland Athletics team that won three straight World Series from 1972-74. Fingers won or saved eight of the A’s 12 World Series victories during their three-year run and later pitched for the Padres and Brewers, winning the 1981 AL Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player Award.
He finished his career with 114 wins and 341 saves over 17 seasons, with his saves total sitting atop the record books for more than a decade.
In a year that featured a stacked BBWAA ballot, each of the six vote-getters following Seaver and Fingers – Orlando Cepeda, Tony Pérez, Bill Mazeroski, Tony Oliva, Ron Santo and Jim Kaat – was eventually elected to the Hall of Fame.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum