THE HALL TRUTH
Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday. Blyleven was elected on his 14th time on the ballot, his next-to-last opportunity. Alomar made it in the second year he was eligible. Staff writer Ben Bolch offers his take on the chances of some active players:
First ballot, baby
Vladimir Guerrero has been one of the most feared hitters in both leagues, capable of hitting balls a long way whether they are over the plate or bounce in front of it (just ask Pete Harnisch about that split-fingered fastball off the Olympic Stadium turf in 1998). Before he’s done, Guerrero just might reach two milestones -- 500 home runs and 3,000 hits -- generally thought to make hitters a lock for Cooperstown.
Jim Thome is a throwback in the best sense. When he becomes the eighth player in baseball history to hit 600 homers, he will do it without a whiff of suspicion about performance-enhancing drug use. Three others to reach that hallowed mark in recent years -- Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa -- can’t share that distinction.
Derek Jeter has been nothing if not consistent. The New York Yankees shortstop never hit below .291 in a full season before 2010, helping him reach 3,000 hits only a few weeks after turning 37. He should have first-ballot company in teammate Mariano Rivera, who figures to eclipse Trevor Hoffman as baseball’s all-time saves leader. Though closers are often shunned by the Hall of Fame, the most dominant reliever in the history of the game should be quickly enshrined.
Get the plaque ready
The winner of a record 13 Gold Glove Awards, Washington’s Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez has been unrivaled defensively as a catcher over the last 20 years. He’s also batted only a tick under .300 for his career and is within reach of 3,000 hits. He’s as good as in.
One of the best switch-hitters of any era, Chipper Jones put together an eight-year stretch when he drove in at least 100 runs every season. The Atlanta third baseman also was a cornerstone of 13 playoff teams and batted a career-high .364 at age 36.
Ichiro Suzuki is human after all. After collecting at least 200 hits, winning a Gold Glove and being selected an All-Star in each of his first 10 seasons, the Seattle outfielder is hitting well below .300 this year for the first time in his career. That probably won’t keep him out of Cooperstown unless it precipitates an unusually steep decline for one of the most dynamic leadoff hitters in baseball history.
Give peace (and these guys) a chance
Players aren’t inducted for being versatile and sticking around into their mid-40s. Good thing Omar Vizquel can hit too. The last remaining player who made his debut in the 1980s, the 44-year-old shortstop could reach 3,000 hits if he sticks around a few more seasons. He also has won 11 Gold Gloves and has played every infield position.
Assuming he plays until he’s 40, Johnny Damon, 37, could easily surpass 3,000 hits. Of the 28 players who have reached that threshold, 24 are Hall of Famers and two -- Jeter and Craig Biggio -- probably will be. Only the scandal-plagued Rafael Palmeiro and Pete Rose will likely be left out.
David Ortiz will always be beloved in Boston for helping the Red Sox break the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004. And if the slugger who has averaged 35 homers and 118 RBIs over a full 162-game season in his career makes it to Cooperstown, he just might find something to love about New York as well.
Cooperstown, circa 2025
It’s never too early to start thinking about your legacy. There are several 34-and-younger players who will merit strong Hall consideration if they maintain their current pace, or even tail off a bit.
Albert Pujols, 31, already has three MVPs and more than 420 homers. It’s going to be hard to keep him out. The same can be said for Ryan Howard, 31, who has averaged 45 homers over his five full seasons, and Miguel Cabrera, 28, who is already more than halfway to 3,000 hits at an age when some guys still rely on mom to do their laundry.
Joe Mauer, 28, an MVP in his fifth full season, could be among the greatest catchers to play the game if he can stay healthy. Roy Halladay, 34, has been the most dominant starter of the last decade. CC Sabathia, 31, could notch his 200th win as soon as 2012.
The asterisk wing
Alex Rodriguez’s steroids admission puts him in the same unelectable spot as Mark McGwire and Palmeiro despite the possibility that the New York Yankees third baseman could overtake Bonds -- another suspected drug cheat -- as baseball’s home run king. McGwire received fewer Hall of Fame votes in 2011 than he did the previous year, so it looks as if the voters aren’t softening their stance on those believed to have used performance-enhancing drugs.
That’s also bad news for Jason Giambi and Manny Ramirez. Giambi’s vague apology and subsequent mea culpa that he was “wrong for doing that stuff” likely ended the borderline candidacy of a former AL MVP who could reach 450 homers. Any lingering chance Ramirez had of reaching Cooperstown vanished when he failed a second drug test earlier this season and retired. The former Dodger will probably be remembered more for his use of a female fertility drug than his 555 homers.