This weekend is traditionally baseball’s Hall of Fame Induction Weekend in Cooperstown, NY. The ceremonies were, not surprisingly, postponed last summer, and were rescheduled for this coming weekend.
But because New York State still has some pandemic restrictions in place, the Hall announced in early June that the induction ceremonies were again being postponed, this time not to a summer Sunday when fans can attend or watch on TV, but instead nonsensically to a Wednesday in early September, when practically no one can go – which should infuriate baseball fans in general, but particularly Yankees fans, who would have relished seeing their captain, Derek Jeter, get inducted, as well as Rockies and Cardinals fans who would have flocked to Cooperstown to see Larry Walker and Ted Simmons get their eternal accolades.
All three of those players were elected for the class of 2020, along with longtime labor guru Marvin Miller, while Simmons was chosen, somewhat controversially, by the Veterans Committee, which had a season earlier elected Harold Baines — in most eyes, undeservingly—– to enshrinement in the central New York hamlet.
This past election for the class of 2021 saw no players receive the requisite 75 percent of votes, although former Sox hurler Curt Schilling got 71.1 percent of the vote.
In the meantime, why not take a look at what current MLB players seem headed someday for their day in the sun on that Cooperstown outdoor stage?
Seemingly on a drama-free trip to induction is Angels outfielder Mike Trout, who is approaching his 30th birthday but already has nine All-Star appearances, three MVPs, and eight Silver Slugger awards to his credit, along with a career batting average of .305 and 310 home runs.
Still, the guy is still in his twenties and hopefully has a lot more baseball to play before he finally hangs ’em up, but likely only significant injuries or a years-long slump will derail Trout’s ultimate journey to Cooperstown, so let’s just enjoy seeing him play for now and debate his already-solid Hall credentials later.
Phillies’ right fielder Bryce Harper was on a seemingly similar trajectory as Trout, but his numbers aren’t nearly as impressive, and he’s only had two .300-average seasons in his decade of MLB play, along with six All-Star berths and the 2015 NL MVP. Definitely not Hall material yet, if ever.
Right now, there are just two surefire Hall of Famers who could punch their tickets tomorrow if eligible: the Dodgers’ Albert Pujols and the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera.
Pujols has had an illustrious 21-year career, although the numbers have dropped precipitously since 2012, but his total of 675 home runs ranks fifth all-time, and his RBI total of 2,135 is third. Those numbers were achieved with only the most minor of whispers of PED use, which have all been denied and never been raised as a result of failed drug tests. If this is Pujols’ last hurrah in baseball, he will retire as a guarantee for Cooperstown in 2027, with a career BA of .297 helping to make his case.
Like Pujols, Cabrera, 38, has seen his numbers drop the last five seasons, but they’re only starkly disappointing because of the high level of his play during his first 14 seasons. He has hit over .300 11 times, been an All-Star 11 times and a Silver Slugger winner seven times, and has two AL MVPs, the second of which in 2014 capped off the first Triple Crown season since Yaz did it in 1967. Overall, the numbers Miggy has compiled in his career are jaw-dropping, and he will be a worthy recipient of the Hall’s call five years after he decides to call it quits.
The other two offensive players who seem to be trending toward election down the road are both catchers: St. Louis’s Yadier Molina and San Francisco’s Buster Posey.
Molina, 39, beloved by Redbird fans over his 18-year career in St. Louis, has a career average of .280, and only once in his lengthy career has he hit below .250. He has also led the Cards to the postseason 11 times, and was part of a pair of World Series champions. In addition, he’s a 10-time All-Star and has earned nine Gold Glove as a catcher, which is saying something. His career total of 2100 games is fourth among current players, as is his total of 2,069 hits.
Posey, meanwhile, has been in the majors a dozen years and has already backstopped three World Series champions. He has a career average of .303 and was the 2012 NL MVP with an astounding .336 BA, 24 home runs, and 103 RBI. After opting out of last season’s COVID-laced season, he has bounced back in a big way in 2021, hitting .326 with 13 homers through 62 games.
Five years ago, Reds’ first baseman Joey Votto may have been in the future Hall discussion, but the 15-year veteran has been on a downward slide lately despite a career .302 average and 307 homers (along with an MVP in 2010). Still, while likely Cincinnati’s best player for quite a long time and a six-time All-Star, Votto's been victimized by the Reds having been a bad team for most of his career, so Votto has only played in 15 postseason games.
Among pitchers, there are five guys perhaps on the fast track to Cooperstown.
I’d give the best shot right now to the Astros’ Justin Verlander, 36, who has 226 career wins – which is still only 67th all-time — but he has eight All-Star appearances, two Cy Youngs, an MVP (which is remarkable for a pitcher), and, oh, almost forgot: three no-hitters. Verlander, a free agent-to-be after this season, is on the shelf in 2021 after Tommy John surgery last fall, but he’s likely a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.
Six-time All-Star and 2009 Cy Young winner Zack Greinke also is in the mix, but 217 career wins is borderline despite being second among active pitchers behind Verlander, and his 3.38 ERA is a little high. Greinke’s been on six teams in his 18-year career, and his postseason record of 4-6 and ERA of 4.22 is obviously just average.
I like the chances of Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer better, since he has three Cy Young awards, eight All-Star selections, led the NL in strikeouts for three straight seasons from 2016-2018, tossed two no-hitters, and led the Nats to the 2019 World Series championship.
Still, he only has 182 career wins, so he still has a lot to accomplish in his career at age 36 before we call him Hall-worthy. But he’s definitely on an upward trajectory moving forward, barring injury. His teammate, Stephen Strasburg, has shown amazing talent when he's healthy, but that's been rare, and he's only notched 113 career wins so far over his 12-year career.
Dodgers’ lefty Clayton Kershaw is also on the right track, but the 33-year-old 184-game winner still has plenty of time to burnish his credentials, which include three Cy Youngs, an MVP in 2014, eight All-Star selections, a career 2.48 ERA, and a World Series crown last season, when he went 2-0 as a starter.
And finally, you might think that three-time World Series champion Madison Bumgarner, now of the D-Backs, would be a shoo-in, but he’s still only 31 (turns 32 Aug. 1), and 124 career wins is just not nearly enough to merit serious consideration at this point — especially since he hasn’t had a winning season on the mound since 2016, when he capped off a five-year run for the Giants that was among the best in MLB history.
One more name to keep an eye on: former Sox closer Craig Kimbrel, who has turned his game around this season with the Cubs (22 saves, .051 ERA), and now ranks ninth all-time in saves with 370. He keeps this up, and he might just be Cooperstown-bound after back-to-back season disasters on the North Side of Chicago.
Stranger things have happened.
See you in Cooperstown!