I read somewhere that at any given time about 30 future Hall of Famers are on the active rosters of Major League Baseball clubs, and while I haven’t done any independent research on the subject the number seemed high. I’m thinking 15 for sure, maybe 20, but 30 might be a stretch.
That predicting future Hall membership with any certainty can be hazardous is seen in the cases of Ryan Braun and Robinson Cano. Both had careers that seemed to be Cooperstown bound until they were ensnarled in the game’s drug-testing net. Given the fate of other dopers their immortality now appears to be unlikely, unless a pharmaceutical company takes over the place or they enlist Kim Kardashian to plead their cases.
That said, though, I think that most of us fans carry a list of future Famers around in our heads and all that remains is to write it down. I’ll do that in the paragraphs to follow. You can, too, if you like-- on your own computer or legal pad, that is.
My list breaks down into three parts: sure things, maybes, and “not there yet.” The last category exists because nobody gets on a Hall of Fame ballot without having put in 10 or more Major League seasons. Contrary to public belief, that and having been retired for at least five years are the only statistical requirements for membership. Players also must pass the muster of a writers’ nominating committee, but that’s a low bar.
Name Number One on my “sure thing” list is easy to guess. He’s ALBERT PUJOLS, the LA Angels slugger. Nobody fills a batter’s box like big Albert and few have filled the box scores better, as his 3,000-plus career hits and 600-plus home runs attest. Though he has his aches and pains he’s still hitting pretty well and at age 38 isn’t talking about retirement. There’s still time to tell your grandchildren you saw him play.
My Number 1A is ICHIRO SUZUKI, maybe the best contact hitter ever. He didn’t show up in the U.S. Majors until age 27 but still topped the magical 3,000-hits mark. Throw in his 1,278 hits in the top pro league of his native Japan and you’ve got an Everest-like record. Technically, the 44-year-old Ichiro isn’t active at the moment, having recently joined the Seattle Mariners’ front office after starting this season on the field, but he’s vowed to return and play until he needs a walking cane, and one can only believe him.
Then there’s MIGUEL CABRERA, the era’s best all-around batsman. His .317 average over 16 seasons is the best of any player with 10 or more years’ service, and his 2012 Triple Crown—leading the Majors in batting average, home runs and runs batted in—was a signal achievement, a 45-year first. Enough said.
Pujols, Ichiro and Cabrera are certain first-ballot electees. Three other players also seem sure to make it, albeit perhaps not that fast. ADRIAN BELTRE qualifies by having hit safely 3,000-plus times, an accomplishment that may die out if the current, swing-for-the-fences hitting mentality endures. His other batting numbers also are of Hall quality. YADIER MOLINA has been the best defensive catcher of his era, a very good hitter and a fiery team leader whose presence dominates any field on which he performs. JOE MAUER has put in 15 seasons, mostly behind the plate, and has batted better than .300 so far, a rare combo. Playing with the out-of-the-way Minnesota Twins hasn’t helped, but his Gold Gloves, All-Star Game appearances and 2009 MVP have.
The best three starting pitchers of the current era—JUSTIN VERLANDER, MAX SCHERZER and CLAYTON KERSHAW-- also seem to be headed for enshrinement, even though recent trends in the game dictate a reassessment of starting-pitching stats. Time was when the best starters aimed at 20-win seasons and careers with 250 or more victories. Now starters start every fifth game instead of every fourth and quick hooks are the rule, so those standards are out of date. Verlander, Scherzer and Kershaw have put in a combined total of 36 Major League seasons but have only five 20-win seasons among them, and none has yet recorded 200 career wins.
Verlander was 197-116 in the won-lost column last week, but he’s 35 years old. Scherzer was 151-77 at age 33. Kershaw, 145-68, is the youngest of the trio at 30, but has spent parts of the last two years on the disabled list, so his longevity is questionable. Where have you gone Greg Maddux?
My “maybe” list is fairly short, including JOEY VOTTO, DUSTIN PEDROIA, BUSTER POSEY, CC SABATHIA, BARTOLO COLON and JON LESTER. Posey, Pedroia and Votto are good bets if they keep playing at a high level for a few seasons more, but Votto and Pedroia both are 34 years old so that might be difficult for them (Posey is 30). Colon and Sabathia lead active pitchers in career wins—Colon with 243 and Sabathia with 241—but neither has been dominant in the manner of Verlander, Scherzer or Kershaw, so Hall electors might find them to be acquired tastes. Ditto for Lester, 167-94 at age 34. He can’t throw to first base but his three World Series rings won’t hurt.
In my “not there yet” category are a bunch of players who have yet to put in 10 seasons. It includes the position players MIKE TROUT, JOSE ALTUVE, BRYCE HARPER, MOOKIE BETTS, MANNY MACHADO, PAUL GOLDSCHMIDT, FRANCISCO LINDOR, AARON JUDGE, GIANCARLO STANTON, KRIS BRYANT and ANTHONY RIZZO, and the pitchers CHRIS SALE, COREY KLUBER, AROLDIS CHAPMAN and CRAIG KIMBREL.
Athletic careers are chancy, easily interrupted or ended by injury or other missteps, so there’s no telling who in that group will make it and who won’t. Those with the best chances to compile truly memorable career numbers started youngest—Harper and Trout at age 19 and Altuve at 21, for instance. The currently dominant Kluber, on the other hand, is 32 years and has 85 wins to show for his seven-plus seasons, so conventional Hall credentials may be beyond his reach.
Still, the fat, jolly Colon is still at it at 45 and just tied Juan Marichal in career wins, so anything’s possible. That’s why we watch, isn’t it?