Wetteland a first-time Hall eligible

Wetteland gets first crack at Cooperstown

Through the early-to-late 1990s, John Wetteland was the closest thing to a sure thing. When Wetteland strode confidently to the mound to save a game, the opposition was in deep trouble.

Wetteland, who reached a career zenith when he saved four games for the Yankees and became the Most Valuable Player of the 1996 World Series, wound up saving 330 games over a 12-year career before back trouble forced his retirement after the 2000 season. Five years later, Wettleland finds himself on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time.

Wetteland's career was also saluted last August when he was inducted in the Texas Rangers' Hall of Fame. In four seasons with the Rangers, the right-hander became the club's all-time leader with 150 saves. He finished his Texas tenure with a 2.95 ERA in 248 relief appearances.

Wetteland credits his individual success to the people he was surrounded by during his rise to Major League prominence.

"Any success I had is a function of the quality of players and management that I played with, from starting pitchers to hitters to my guys in the bullpen," Wetteland told MLB.com after induction into the Rangers' Hall of Fame.

Wetteland, now a roving pitching instructor in the Texas organization, joins Orel Hershiser as current Ranger employees who are first-timers on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Wetteland, a native of San Mateo, Calif., broke into professional baseball in 1985 and made his Major League debut with the Dodgers in 1989. He established himself as a quality closer with the Expos in 1992 and 1993, saving 37 and 43 games respectively in those two seasons.

  John Wetteland's resume
Teams: Dodgers, Expos, Yankees, Rangers
Key stats: 330 saves, four seasons with 40 or more saves
Awards: All-Star appearances in 1996, 1998 and 1999. Named World Series MVP in 1996. Won AL Rolaids Relief Award in '96.
Best HOF vote Pct.: First year on ballot
Peers in Hall: Robin Yount, Dennis Eckersley
More stats and bio >

After joining the Yankees in 1995 and saving 31 games, Wetteland became a first-time All-Star in '96. But that honor at mid-season paled in comparison to what Wetteland would experience down the stretch. The Yankees returned to championship glory by outdueling the Braves with Wetteland closing out each of the four wins. Wetteland won the AL Rolaids Relief Award while leading the AL with 43 saves in '96.

One year later, Wetteland was the Texas closer and helped the Rangers win two American League West titles in 1998 and 1999. He had a combined 85 saves over those two seasons with two All-Star appearances and retired after saving 34 games in 2000. Wetteland, who won't turn 40 until Aug. 21, might still be going strong today if not for back trouble.

Wetteland recorded his 300th save on May 12, 2000 at Anaheim, tying Lee Smith as the then youngest pitcher to accomplish that feat.

"The relationships and people are what kept me going out there day after day," Wetteland said.

Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.