What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
Today, we induct this year’s class into The National Baseball Hall of Fame. Today, six will join the roughly 350 others who have been granted baseball immortality in the hall’s nearly 90 years of existence. Every year, we celebrate the best of the best, and likewise we have discussions about who got “snubbed.” As the saying goes, I’ve been there and done that. That’s why this time around, I’m looking at today’s players and determining who is headed for Cooperstown ranked in order of their résumé today.
1) Ichiro Suzuki
Although he retired earlier this season, there is absolutely no way this guy isn’t a “first ballot” Hall-of-Famer. When you look at his career tallies, don’t forget he played nine season in Japan before coming to America in 2001 and became one of two players (Fred Lynn, 1975) to win Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season.
The numbers boggle the mind. 3,000 hits, 500 stolen bases, 1,400 runs scored, 10 straight seasons with 200+ hits, 10 seasons with at least 30 stolen bases, 10 Gold Gloves, 10 All-Star appearances, and one of the strongest throwing arms on an outfielder since Dave Parker. Had this guy played more of his career in America, we could be talking about Suzuki as the all-time hits leader and possibly the greatest all-around player in the history of the game.
Every year, some dumb-ass writer will leave a guy off his Hall of Fame ballot over that “nobody is unanimous” horse shit. Any writer who does that with Suzuki should not only have his vote taken away, he should have all his pencils broken.
2) Adrian Beltre
For a good part of his career, Adrian Beltre was over-shadowed at third base by Chipper Jones. That’s why many baseball fans had no idea Adrian Beltre very quietly became of the greatest third basemen ever. 3,000 hits, 450 Home runs, 1,600 RBIs on top of the fact Beltre only has about half as many Gold Gloves (5) as he should. Jones gets his day today, and Beltre will get his five years after he retires. Say what you will, but Beltre belongs in the conversation for the greatest third baseman EVER.
3) Miguel Cabrera
How many players have won the Triple Crown since 1900? Fifteen. How many have won it in the last 50 years? One…Miguel Cabrera. Out of the fifteen winners in this and the last century, only Heinie Zimmermann of the 1912 Chicago Cubs and Cabrera are not in Cooperstown, and that’s going to change the minute Cabrera becomes eligible. Even though his career is in the waning years, his current injury notwithstanding, Cabrera has a solid shot at 500+ home runs and 1,700+ RBIs.
4) Albert Pujols
If you’ve ever studied Latin, you know there an oft-used legal term “race ipso loquitor,” which roughly means “it speaks for itself.” It’s very clear that Pujols’ career is nearing the end, but as far as his candicacy for Cooperstown is concerned, it’s very much a race ipso loquitor situation. 600 home runs, 3,000 hits, and by the time he’s done, he’s likely will be only the fifth player all-time with 2,000 RBIs.
5) Max Scherzer
The rules for pitchers have changed. Saves never used to be a “thing,” but with Trevor Hoffman’s induction this year, we’re going to see a lot talk about the importance of the guys in the bullpen. This also factors in how starting pitchers are handled. Not only do teams primarily use a five-man rotation thus limiting the number of starts and consequently the opportunity for wins. On top of that, managers are tending to go to the pen sooner, which increases the number of “no decsions” for starters.
Starting pitchers take the mound less often, and now they pitch less innings. Its been common knowledge for a while that the days of the 300-win, 3,000-strikeout Hall-of-Fame credential is an endangered species. this is why we are starting to see starting pitchers compared by the “Koufax Standard.”
Instead of looking at the length of a career, evaluating a pitcher’s worthiness for Cooperstown involves a comparison to Sandy Koufax’s seven-year run of complete dominance. Scherzer has definitely hit his peak in the last five years; he’s thrown more than 1,000 innings of 2.85 ERA baseball, and taken home three Cy Young Awards, including one in each league and going back-to-back in 2016 and 2017. He also has 1,000 strikeouts in each league and his career total when it’s all said and done should easily surpass the 3,000 mark.
6) Joey Votto
Votto might very well be the most under-appreciated “sure-fire” Hall of Famer on this list. His career batting average is a mere tenths of a percentage point from being identical to that of Ichiro Suzuki. The guy just gets on base and doesn’t give away outs. One of the few Sabremetrics “statisitcs” which isn’t complete bullshit is On-Base Percentage plus Slugging because it’s actually a pretty good ranking indicator measuring a player’s ability to get on base and hit for power. By this measure, the only current active player better than Joey Votto is Mike Trout, and all-time Votto ranks ahead of Ty Cobb, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, and Hank Aaron.
The reason for this is simple. Votto has a “Ted Williams”-level batting eye which makes him one of the games’ great “two-strike” hitters. Last season, he swung and missed only 21% of two-strike pitches he faced and drew 63 walks when facing a full count. In other words, Votto is an anomaly in today’s game because he walks more than he strikes out. Votto isn’t going to hit 500 home ruins or 3,000 hits, but he is going to hit 500 doubles, 2,000 hits, and score 1,000 runs.
The bottom line is the job of a major-league hitter is to put the ball in play and get on-base, and Votto is in an exclusive class when it comes to doing just that. If you call yourself a baseball fan and don’t understand that, get in line behind the guy who won’t vote for Ichiro Suzuki and I’ll deal with you shortly…
7) Joe Mauer
Like it or not, the Hall of Fame voting process is in many ways a popularity contest, and Mauer is a “well respected man about town” with the Baseball Writers Association of America. But the real meat on the bone here is Mauer did something nobody else has. Mauer won three batting titles and and brought home an American League MVP award as a catcher. There could be a bit of a traffic jam on the road into Cooperstown because a lot of guys on this list are going to retire around the same time, so Joe may not be a “first-ballot” inductee, but he’s in.
The fun fact about today is that Jack Morris will be the third player inducted who comes from the same neighborhood in St. Paul that I once called home. He’s preceded by Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor, and someday soon, he will be followed by Joe Mauer. Not to mention, at some point in their careers, they all played for the hometown Minnesota Twins.
8 ) Buster Posey
Replace the three batting titles with three World Series championships, and the Hall of Fame resume of Joe Mauer becomes eerily similar to that of Buster Posey. They were both great defensive catchers at their peak who now play a lot of first base (Mauer exclusively so) to cut down on the wear and tear catchers take. The big difference is in the power numbers. Posey’s detractors point to the fact he doesn’t put up the “sexy” numbers like Mike Piazza, but he never played in a ball park as punitive to right-handed sluggers as that in San Francisco.
There’s only ever been six catchers to win an MVP award; Elston Howard (1963), Johnny Bench (1970, 1972), Thurman Munson (1976), Ivan Rodriguez (1999), Joe Mauer (2009), and Buster Posey (2012); the same year Posey won a batting title. The thing that strikes me about that list is who isn’t on it…no Yogi Berra, no Gary Carter, and no Mike Piazza…amongst many, many others.
Note to self: Maybe it’s time to start asking why Elston Howard isn’t in the Hall of Fame…
9) Clayton Kershaw
Much like Joe Mauer and Buster Posey have similar cases for Cooperstown, the comparisons between Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw are not just a few. They are roughly at the same point in their careers, they both have three Cy Young awards, and you can’t have a mention of dominant pitchers in the game today without including both names.
So what’s the difference? Over the last few years, Kershaw is starting to show signs of durability issues having battled back issues each of the last two seasons. Then’s there’s the proverbial “elephant in the room;” fair or not…at some point Kershaw needs to address the bugaboo he picked up for not delivering come October.
10) Robinson Cano
Had this guy stayed in New York, he’d be a household name. But that the price you pay when you opt for the remotest major city in the contiguous 48 states. Even being a career .300 career hitter with 300 home runs, 1,200 RBIs, and knocking on the door of 2,500 can’t guarantee escaping anonymity. Despite that, Cano has been one the most consistently great players of this century and has a legitimate chance to break Jeff Kent’s all-time home run record for second basemen at 377.
11) Felix Hernandez
Here’s another guy shrouded in secrecy in Seattle, but he’s also the only other guy around today who honestly compares favorably to Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw. Having a career ERA of 3.28 after 13 full seasons in the American League is nothing short of remarkable. Throw in his Cy Young award, and the fact he likely will end up in the 200 win, 3,000 strikeout neighborhood, there’s no reason why Hernandez doesn’t go to the Hall of Fame.
12) CC Sabathia
Sabathia’s claim to the Hall of Fame is admittedly a bit unorthodox; he doesn’t have the big “peak” seasons as dictated by the “Koufax Standard,” but he does have 17 seasons in the bigs, the majority of which he was one of the best pitchers in the game. He’s got a Cy Young, 240 career wins, and a better-than-reasonable shot at 3,000 strikeouts. I think he needs that last “magic number,” but he only needs less than 80 to get there.
Honorable Mention: Mike Trout
The only reason he’s not a “lock” yet is his career in my mind hasn’t been long enough. But I’m going to be ready to drop that claim soon. One really can’t have a better start to a career; in just over 1,000 career games, Trout has snagged a Rookie of the Year award, 2 MVPs , 7 All-Star appearances, and 5 Silver Sluggers. The guys career “slash line” at this point is .306/.415/.571 and at age 26, his career arc – barring injury – is only going up.