Will Vladimir Guerrero be the first Angel in Cooperstown?
The Angels have retired six numbers, three in honor of men that never played for the team: Jackie Robinson, founding owner Gene Autry and beloved coach Jimmie Reese.
The three numbers retired in honor of players: pitcher Nolan Ryan, who represents the Texas Rangers in the Hall of Fame; infielder Rod Carew, who represents the Minnesota Twins; and infielder Jim Fregosi.
Don Sutton, Dave Winfield and Reggie Jackson wore the halo, but Sutton represents the Dodgers in Cooperstown, Winfield the San Diego Padres and Jackson the New York Yankees.
No team has more players sporting its logo on a Hall of Fame plaque than the Yankees, with 18. The Giants rank second with 15, counting their time in New York and San Francisco. The Dodgers have 14.
The Angels have none.
They are one of five current teams for which no player wears their cap on a Hall of Fame plaque. The others, according to the Hall: the Colorado Rockies and Miami Marlins (founded in 1993), the Tampa Bay Rays (1998) and the Washington Nationals (2005).
The Angels were born in 1961. In their sixth decade, the Southland’s home-grown major league team might finally get a Hall of Famer to call its own.
Outfielder Vladimir Guerrero is expected to be elected to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday, joining third baseman Chipper Jones and slugger Jim Thome in the class of 2018. Closer Trevor Hoffman and designated hitter Edgar Martinez are on the bubble for Wednesday’s announcement, based on the tracking of Ryan Thibodaux, who has compiled roughly half of the ballots disclosed by voters in advance of the announcement.
The Angels are guardedly optimistic — not about Guerrero’s election, which is all but assured, but about whether he will decide to sport a halo on his cap. They won’t say so, though.
“It’s almost like talking about a no-hitter in the ninth inning,” said Tim Mead, the Angels’ vice president of communications.
Guerrero could be the first to wear an Angels cap into the Hall of Fame, or the last to wear a Montreal Expos cap.
He has been coy about what his choice might be. The Hall overrides a player’s preference only to ensure historical accuracy, so the choice is his unless he suddenly decides he would like to wear a Rangers cap.
He played seven full seasons in Montreal, six in Anaheim. His greatest statistical years came in Montreal, his most valuable player award in Anaheim.
He had three 1.000 OPS seasons in Montreal, none in Anaheim. He had three finishes in the top three of MVP voting in Anaheim, none in Montreal.
Guerrero, dynamic on the field and delightful off, finished his career with a better slugging percentage than David Ortiz (.553-.552) and a better batting average than three-time batting champion Jose Altuve (.318-.316).
Guerrero hit pitches that bounced before they reached home plate, drew gasps with the strength of his arm and never met a pitch he considered too far out of the strike zone. He wore a Superman T-shirt under his uniform, did not wear batting gloves, lived with his mother and brought pots of her homemade Dominican food to share with teammates and rivals.
He was inducted into the Angels Hall of Fame last summer, cheerfully dodging the question of whether he would wear the Angels logo on his Cooperstown cap. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame last summer, cheerfully dodging the question of whether he would wear the Expos logo on his Cooperstown cap.
The Expos opened for business in 1969, closed in 2004. They had no parades. Their one dominant summer was crushed when players went on strike and owners called off the World Series. And yet they still have three Hall of Famers in Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines.
“For a franchise that doesn’t exist any more, to be able to have celebrated three players wearing the cap, I think we consider ourselves quite lucky,” said Annakin Slayd, a Montreal hip-hop artist whose “Tip That Cap” video valentine to Raines debuted at last summer’s induction festivities.
“If it doesn’t happen with Vlad, I don’t think anybody is going to cry about it. Of course, we would love it. The more Expos, the better.
“But we get that the Angels, who have been around way before the Expos and have a World Series, they don’t have one player that has an Angels cap, which is kind of crazy. So I think we’re all resigned to the idea that they deserve one.”
They have one other than Guerrero, of course. His name is Mike Trout, but he might be two decades from induction.
The Expos might never have another Cooperstown chance. Montreal would welcome back baseball, but the mayor that led the city’s public push for another major league team lost his re-election bid last November.
Whatever Guerrero decides to wear, the Montreal contingent will pack cars, buses and trains come July, bound for Cooperstown. The Expos played their last game 14 years ago. This will be the final flicker of glory for a warmly remembered franchise.
“There are a lot of heartfelt moments that we value,” Slayd said, “because we don’t have any more to come.
“When we’re celebrating in Cooperstown, we don’t think about that. There’s definitely no mourning at all.”
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
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