Friday, September 29, 2006

Active Hall of Famers, Part I

I haven't been writing that much about sports in this space. In fact, I haven't been writing that much in this space, period. So, I decided to start a little project. I'm going to go through the Major Leagues and take a look at just how many players that are currently active will one day be in the Hall of Fame. I'm going to ignore the young guys about whom we just don't know enough yet (your Ryan Howards, your Justin Morneaus) and focus on two categories:

1. The Plane Crash Guys

Sorry; I know that's a little morbid and insensitive, but, it's a short way of saying that these are the guys who would be Hall of Famers if they went down tomorrow and never played another game. These are guys who don't need another couple of good years to put them over the hump; they'll be Hall of Famers if they never play another game after the season ends on Sunday.

And this is not to say that they're no-doubters; they're just guys who I imagine would make it into the Hall of Fame based on their records to date, not guys (to give you a spoiler of an upcoming installment) like Joe Mauer who look like certain Hall of Famers if they continue their current greatness but if they retired tomorrow you couldn't put them in because they haven't done enough.

2. Probables

Guys who I'm predicting will wind up in the Hall of Fame, but who need to put up a few more numbers first.

I'll be going division-by-division, starting with the American League East. I'm not saying I'll be right on every single one, but, at least 90%. Besides, no one's going to check in 20 years to prove me wrong.

Here goes:

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

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BOSTON RED SOX

Plane Crash Guys

Curt Schilling - Never won a Cy Young, but his post-season heroics for Arizona and Boston should get him in. His win total is low for a guy I normally would think of as a sure-fire Hall of Famer, but as of this writing he's only two shy of Don Drysdale, and with another really good year could catch the likes of Hall of Famers Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter. Sometimes it's not just a guy's stats, it's his "legend."

Plus, and this seems as good a time as any to bring this up, Schilling passes my personal "the great" test. As is, when you say "the great (player's name)," does it sound weird? Or does it sound right? Generally speaking, if it sounds weird then the guy's not a Hall of Famer, and if it sounds good, then he is. Although that means that there are more guys in the Hall who shouldn't be ("the great Tony Perez"?) than there are guys on the outside looking in (but there are a few of those, like the great Goose Gossage and the great Bert Blyleven) (that's another thing you should know: I can't evaluate Minnesota Twins rationally. Especially ones who helped them win a World Series. Tim Laudner is a Hall of Famer in my book).

Manny Ramirez - 10 All-Star selections and counting, 438 homers and counting, and of all the guys with 1500+ RBI, only Harold Baines and Fred McGriff are likely non-Hall of Famers (with a big giant "Who the Hell Knows?" surrounding Rafael Palmeiro). Manny's a Hall of Famer right now, and he's only 34. He could end up in the Hall's VIP room with Ruth, Williams, Foxx et al.

(I'm aware that I'm leaving off David Ortiz. You have to dominate longer than he did, and he's going to be 31 next season. Now that they test for steroids, I don't think you can keep getting better into your late-30s)

NEW YORK YANKEES

Get comfortable; we're going to be here a while.

Plane Crash Guys

Randy Johnson - Top three in strikeouts all time (of course, Bert Blyleven is #5 and he's not a Hall of Famer, but, neither is he Randy Johnson) will win almost 300 games, won five Cy Youngs. No need to waste time analyzing his credentials any further.

Mariano Rivera - Will undoubtedly retire in the top five all-time on the career saves list (maybe the top one or two), but then again, two of those top five (John Franco and Lee Smith) won't be Hall of Famers. So why is Rivera? He played on all those Yankees World Series teams, for one (although John Wetteland was the closer when they won in 1996). But mostly, it's because he's considered by many to be the most fearsome closer of all time. Some people just smell like first-ballot Hall of Famers.

Derek Jeter - Reason: he's Derek Jeter. If he put up these numbers in Kansas City he might not be Derek Jeter, but, that's silly to say, because we all know he wouldn't be putting up those numbers in Kansas City for long. No matter where he'd started, he'd be a Yankee soon enough anyway.

Plus, no one ever talks about this, but, guys who started playing in the mid-90s and played on good teams their entire careers could end up, by the time they retire, playing an entire extra season's worth of playoff games. Jeter has played in 115, and that's not counting this year. That's an entire season's worth of stats that aren't counted in his career totals, an another season's worth of wear and tear on his body (more, probably, since I have to imagine a playoff game takes more out of you than a mid-July getaway day game against the Devil Rays). I'll go ahead and give Jeter a little extra credit for that.

Alex Rodriguez - For all of the falderal that has surrounded Rodriguez this year, let's not forget that, statistically, he's one of the best offensive baseball players of all time, he's 37 home runs shy of 500 (he might hit 800) and, though you wouldn't know it to watch him, he did win two Gold Gloves.

Probables

Gary Sheffield - For me, the question wasn't whether Gary Sheffield would make the Hall of Fame, it was whether he's a Plane Crash Guy or a Probable. He's done enough in my book, but, there are guys like Jose Canseco, Dave Kingman, Albert Belle and Jim Rice who also did enough, yet aren't Hall of Famers because nobody likes them (then there are guys like Blyleven and Andre Dawson, who aren't Hall of Famers for reasons that defy explanation). I think Sheffield is kind of thought of as a jerk, but, a couple more good seasons and his career stats will be too good to ignore, even if he did get a jump on things by starting when he was 19.

Mike Mussina - Maybe the biggest question mark on the list. He's almost 40, no one's ever bought a ticket to see Mike Mussina, but, after the obvious Hall of Famers (Clemens, Maddux, Johnson, Glavine), Mussina's got more wins than any active pitcher. Is anyone going to win 250 again? Will 250 be the new 300 (i.e., an automatic ticket to Cooperstown)? Mussina will probably get 250, but, will he be the Harold Baines of pitchers? I predict he'll end up as a Hall of Famer, but I don't have to feel good about that prediction.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

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TORONTO BLUE JAYS

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Coming up next: the AL Central.

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