When Al Gore invented the Internet, I think he had the Baseball Hall of Fame on his mind.
OPS = on-base percentage + slugging percentage|
OPS+ = Adjusted OPS, compares a player's OPS to his league average, with 100 being average and 110 being 10 percent better than average, etc.
ERA+ = Adjusted ERA, compares a pitcher's ERA to his league average, with 100 being average and 110 being 10 percent better than average, etc.
OPS+ and ERA+ taken from Baseball-reference.com
There are Web sites pleading the cases for Jim Rice, Dale Murphy, Ron Santo and others. When Rafael Palmeiro reached the 3,000-hit level recently, everyone from Bangor to Bimini had an opinion on his Hall of Fame candidacy and used the Internet to voice it.
Fans care passionately about this. Thousands will make their way to Upstate New York this weekend for the induction of Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg. The rest of us will spend our spare time on the Web with this great debate: Which of today's major leaguers will end up in Cooperstown?
In 1955, when there were only 16 teams, 33 active major leaguers were playing who eventually made the Hall, an average of 2.1 players per team.
In 1965, there were 20 teams and 34 future Hall of Famers, plus Pete Rose -- 1.75 per team.
In 1975, there were 24 teams and 31 Hall of Famers (so far), plus Rose -- 1.29 per team.
In 1985, there were 26 teams and 21 Hall of Famers (so far), plus Rose and certain future inductees Rickey Henderson, Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn and Roger Clemens -- 1.0 per team.
Based on the historical trends, about 40 currently active majors leaguers will be elected to Cooperstown eventually. So I've crunched the numbers, studied the tendencies, pulled out some crazy predictions and peered into the future.
|Vote: Cooperstown Cut|
You've heard the pitch. Are some rule changes in order?
Vote: Who would you send to the Hall?
In the next two days, then, we'll reveal our rankings of the 40 current players who will get their plaques in the Hall of Fame. We're starting with the easier ones today: the top 20. It really gets interesting Friday with Nos. 21-40. Those are the guys who make the greatest debates.
1. Roger Clemens and 2. Barry Bonds
The only questions left with these two: Is Clemens the greatest pitcher of all time? And: Has Rick Reilly already written his "Why Bonds doesn't deserve to go into the Hall of Fame" column?
3. Greg Maddux
His 1992-95 peak, when he won four straight Cy Young Awards with a 1.56 ERA in '94 and 1.63 in '95, matches up with the greatest peak value of any pitcher.
4. Tom Glavine
Glavine has 269 wins and his career is winding down (wait, make that "his career is about to hit a brick wall"), so it appears he'll fall just short of the automatic 300-win barrier. No doubt, many electors -- especially those who used to pour down beers with Cy Young and Lefty Grove -- will disqualify Glavine because of that. After all, no starting pitcher with fewer than 300 wins has been voted in by the writers since Fergie Jenkins in 1991. That's insane. Glavine has won 20 games five times and has two Cy Youngs, finishing in the top three in four other years. He has a 2.47 ERA in eight World Series starts, including a one-hitter in the clinching game in 1995. He's a lock.
5. John Smoltz
Smoltz promises to be one of the most heated Hall of Fame debates.
On the plus side:
Strikes against him:
In the end, he'll end up being compared to the other great starter/reliever hybrid, Dennis Eckersley:
|SMOLTZ VS. ECKERSLEY|
I was actually surprised Eck sailed into the Hall so easily on the first ballot. He only had five seasons where you just knew it was lights out, game over, when the A's led after eight innings (and five more where he superficially racked up saves but was pretty mediocre) and two great seasons as a starter. His ERA compared to the league average was as good as Smoltz's.
Add it up, and I say Smoltz gets in. He's 38, having one of his best seasons ever, and should get to 200 wins unless he blows out his elbow playing too much golf. He's one of the most intelligent and personable interviews in the game, which won't hurt. He'll likely stay in the baseball spotlight after he retires, probably cohosting "Baseball Tonight" with Al Leiter and Curt Schilling, and that'll help.
6. Randy Johnson
An obvious inner-circle Hall of Famer, Johnson will be remembered with guys like Koufax, Gibson and Clemens, the ones we discuss in mythological tones 30 years after they've retired. Mariners fans like me will remember Johnson as the man who saved baseball in Seattle -- literally. If Johnson doesn't beat the Angels in that one-game playoff for the division title in '95, the Mariners don't get their new ballpark and the team moves to Florida. Which, come to think of it, might have saved baseball in Tampa.
7. Mariano Rivera
How many consecutive postseason saves could Rivera blow and still be known as the Sandman? I say 14. He's been that good: 70 postseason games, 108.2 innings, 0.75 ERA (that's nine earned runs), 32 saves in 35 chances (and, yes, Red Sox fans, we're all aware of blown save No. 3).
OUT: Mike Mussina
Moose, Mo's and Randy's Yankees teammate, has a resume similar to Bert Blyleven's -- a terrific, underrated and durable pitcher -- but he lacks the final exclamation points voters love: the 20-win seasons, a Cy Young Award.
Mussina also has a reputation for not being clutch in big games, primarily because the Yankees haven't won a World Series since he joined the team. But check his postseason performance with other top hurlers of his generation:
Among those games: beating the Big Unit twice in the 1997 ALDS, allowing one run and striking out 25 in two starts in the '97 ALCS (but getting no wins), a 1-0 victory in Game 3 -- the "Jeter Flip Game" -- of the 2001 ALDS (Yankees trailed 2-0 in the series), and three scoreless innings of relief as the Yankees rallied to win Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.
So he has pitched well when it matters. And as for the lack of 20-win seasons? Isn't 20 just an arbitrary number anyway? In the 1970s, there were 91 different 20-wins seasons; from 1992 to 2004, there were just 49. If voters are going to discount hitting performances in the Steroid Era, don't they have to adjust pitching performances as well? Mussina won't win 300, but he might win 260.
Still, I think he'll draw a short straw in the final vote. Although maybe when Ripken and Derek Jeter get on the Veterans Committee, the Moose will get in.
Speaking of which
8. Derek Jeter
He's nowhere near as great as Tim McCarver thinks he is, and nowhere near as overrated as Yankee-haters want you to believe. But he's a clear Hall of Famer, on his way to 3,000 hits and 2,000 runs scored, and you know, he plays the game the right way.
9. Alex Rodriguez
Baseball loves its history. Consider the Top 10 pantheon immortals: Ruth, Bonds, Mays, Aaron, Williams, Cobb, Musial, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle. Bonds is the only player from the last 30 years to crack the list. Does A-Rod add his name? I'm not 100 percent sure that will happen.
10. Albert Pujols
I do predict, however, that Pujols will crack it.
11. Vladimir Guerrero
Vlad already has Hall of Fame-caliber nicknames -- Vlad the Impaler, Vladdy Daddy -- and will eventually have Hall of Fame-caliber numbers, assuming he doesn't permanently ruin his back carrying Darin Erstad and Steve Finley into the postseason this year.
12. Miguel Cabrera
Yes, it's completely ridiculous to project somebody who has just two years in the big leagues as a Hall of Famer, but that's the fun part of this exercise. Next to Pujols in the 25-and-younger set, Cabrera has clearly established the most high-end potential. Of course, in 1975, that list would have included Jeff Burroughs and Claudell Washington.
13. Ken Griffey Jr.
How will we remember Junior in 25 years? As the guy who ranked alongside Bonds as the game's best all-around player for a decade, or as the guy with the bad hammy that prevented him from even bigger accomplishments? (See: Mantle's drinking, Koufax's arthritis, Sid Fernandez's waistline.) But anybody who watched his 11 seasons in Seattle will never forget the sweet swing, the grace in center field, the clutch home runs and that huge smile from the bottom of the dogpile in the '95 playoffs.
14. Manny Ramirez
Prediction: Manny's Hall of Fame speech will be the shortest of all time.
15. Sammy Sosa
Despite the steroid rumors, the corked-bat scandal and the leap ("Yes! It's going, going ohh, no, it's just a fly ball to the warning track"), Sosa will be an easy first-ballot Hall of Famer. Certainly, few of his peers have been more famous. That said Sosa's greatness is exaggerated. His run as a truly elite player only lasted five seasons, from 1998 to 2002. And, yes, his 2001 season (64 home runs, 160 RBI, 146 runs, .328 average, .737 slugging percentage) looks like Kelly Leak's Little League numbers. But prior to '98, he didn't get on base enough -- his lifetime on-base percentage through 2004 (.348) is barely better than the league average (.339) -- and even though he's only 36, he's looking like he may be done by 37.
OUT: Bernie Williams, Juan Gonzalez, Larry Walker
Bernie has a lot of positive checkmarks on his ledger and has delivered as many clutch October hits as Jeter, but he didn't really get his career going until he was 27. And once he decided to become a recording artist, he stopped hitting. Gonzalez enters the Dale Murphy "How does a guy win two MVP awards and not get in the Hall of Fame?" debate. (OK, here's how: You never have another good year past the age of 31.) Walker hit .366, .363, .379, .309, .350 and .338 from 1997 to 2002. How does he not make it? Because he missed approximately 1,748 games through the years with various ailments.
16. Miguel Tejada
Sportswriters drool over power-hitting, RBI-machine shortstops like they do when a woman wears a skirt in the press box. Miggy is on his way to his sixth season of 100 or more RBI. Only Joe Cronin (eight) and Alex Rodriguez (seven) have had more as a shortstop.
OUT: Nomar Garciaparra
Of course, sportswriters once drooled over Nomar.
17. Mike Piazza
The man hit .362 (!) in Dodger Stadium in 1997 -- and didn't win the MVP award. How is that possible? If he'd played in Coors Field that year (like a certain MVP winner did), Piazza might have hit .400.
18. Ivan Rodriguez
Pudge wins with the arm, but Piazza wins with the bat and his underrated game-calling skills. And since the value of the arm is overrated, Piazza ranks better on my list. But both are clear Famers and join the Bench/Berra/Cochrane/Campanella debate over the best catcher ever.
19. Craig Biggio
He has more than 2,700 hits and should reach 3,000, but he doesn't have to get to that magic number. This guy has done everything on the field: hit for average (four times over .300), hit for power (six times with 20-plus homers, twice with 50-plus doubles), steal bases (as many as 50 in one season), draw walks (.400 on-base percentage four times), score runs, win Gold Gloves, change positions, hustle (one year he grounded into zero double plays while playing every game), stay healthy well, everything except clean his helmet.
20. Jeff Bagwell
The inside of Bagwell's shoulder is a bigger mess than a postgame spread under attack from David Wells and David Ortiz. It's even possible his career might be over. I fear the nonthinking man's response will be: "Bagwell didn't hit 500 home runs, he played in the Steroid Era, he choked in the playoffs and he had that crazy batting stance, so I'm not voting for him."
Let's do a quick comparison of Bagwell to the post-World War II first basemen who have made the Hall, along with one who will:
|BAGWELL VS. THE WORLD|
Bagwell is the best player of the bunch. Only McGwire tops him in adjusted OPS; only Murray can come close as a fielder; and none is in the same league as Bagwell as a base runner. Bagwell's 152 runs scored in 2000 ranks as the most in one season since 1950. He was such an alert, aggressive runner, he once led the majors in frequency of going from first to third on singles. He put up monster numbers despite spending most of his career in the Astrodome. Add it all up, and the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia ranks him as the 21st best player (not including pitchers) of all time, entering the 2005 season.
Now, that's my case for Bagwell's enshrinement I think I've persuaded the jury.
COMING FRIDAY: THE TOUGHEST CALLS
David Schoenfield is a long shot at being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.