MINNEAPOLIS -- Six players will take their place in Cooperstown, N.Y., this weekend, forever enshrined in Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Two — Harold Baines and Lee Smith — were elected by the Today’s Game Era Committee, while the other four were voted in by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Three of them — Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina and the late Roy Halladay — spent either all or a majority of their careers in the American League East, a fact that Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, who spent his whole career in the AL East, is acutely aware of. The fourth inductee is former Mariner Edgar Martinez.
Throughout his major league career, which began in 2003 and ended in 2010, Baldelli faced only two pitchers more than he saw Mussina and only four more than he saw Halladay. Somewhat surprisingly, he faced longtime Yankees closer Rivera only four times.
“One thing you knew when you were facing any of those guys … it was challenging,” Baldelli said. “You know every day when you show up, you know who you’re facing. There’s no actual fear in who you’re facing, but you know who you’re facing and you know you’re facing guys that are exceptional at what they do.”
Mussina, who pitched for the Orioles and Yankees over his 18-year career, gave Baldelli fits. And Baldelli will be the fist to admit that.
“I remember having no idea,” he said.
In 27 plate appearances against Mussina, Baldelli hit a mere .115/.148/.154. He managed just three hits off the right-hander.
Mussina was voted in on his sixth entry on the Hall of Fame ballot, earning 76.7 percent of the vote, just over the 75 percent required for entry. The five-time all-star posted a 3.68 earned-run average, won 270 games and seven Gold Gloves. He had a career 82.8 WAR, per Baseball Reference, good for 23rd all time.
“It was almost like he would leave in the offseason and come back and make a new pitch up like it was nothing, like it was no big deal,” Baldelli said. “But never, ever did I feel good about knowing what might be coming and there were at-bats where he would throw seven fastballs in a row and the next at-bat, he would throw three curveballs followed by a fastball followed by four changeups. It made no sense.”
The Twins manager had more success against Halladay, who spent a majority of his career in Toronto, though that by no means meant he enjoyed facing him. Halladay, who was voted in on the first ballot, will go into the Hall of Fame posthumously after dying in a plane crash in 2017.
He was a two-time Cy Young winner, an eight-time all-star, had a 3.38 career ERA in 16 seasons and a 64.3 WAR, per Baseball Reference. Halladay and Baldelli squared off 23 times. Baldelli slashed .333/.391/1.010 against him with a pair of home runs.
“He was like a machine, but he would just go out there and you knew exactly what was going to happen. You knew you were going to be in the seventh inning and he would have about 65 pitches and 60 strikes,” Baldelli said. “You knew he was going to come at you, and there was very little you could do about it. I remember him early on when he was still throwing very hard and the ball would just do things that looked very wiffleball-ish.”
Baldelli faced Rivera, regarded as the best closer of all time, only four times. The Yankees were much better than the Rays during many of those years, so a closer wasn’t always necessary.
In 19 seasons, Rivera posted a 2.21 ERA, was a 13-time all-star. He has the most career saves at 652 and was the first player voted to the Hall of Fame unanimously.
When they did square off, Baldelli recorded one hit. In another at-bat, Rivera threw him a sinker — one of the first of his career, Baldelli believes — instead of his signature cutter. It didn’t end well for Baldelli.
“He’s the best and an extremely classy individual and a guy that I think everybody was honored to be on the field with even though you’re competing against him,” Baldelli said. “You knew that he was incredible.”