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Baseball Hall of Fame: Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols Among 10 Who Are Shoo-Ins

Ben ShapiroAnalyst IIIJanuary 9, 2012

Baseball Hall of Fame: Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols Among 10 Who Are Shoo-Ins

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    With the newest class of the Baseball Hall of Fame set to be announced Monday, it's worth noting that there are several active major league players whose induction is all but assured.

    The debate for many will be whether they make it on the first ballot and with what percentage of the vote.

    The specter of performance-enhancing drugs is the wild card, the X-factor, if you will. 

    Any positive test could derail the Hall of Fame dreams of any of these players. But if they continue to perform as they have, a plaque in Cooperstown figures to be awaiting them six years after they retire. 

Derek Jeter

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    If he quit the game right now he'd be a lock. 

    Derek Jeter is arguably the greatest shortstop of all time. Robin Young and Alex Rodriguez played only half as many games at the position. Ernie Banks had better power numbers and but never played in the postseason. Ozzie Smith had a superior glove but couldn't match Jeter's bat skills. 

    Whether he's making iconic plays like his walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series or diving head first into the third base stands in pursuit of a foul ball against the Red Sox, Jeter has made a habit of coming up big. 

    Jeter is a 12-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner. He has played in 152 postseason games, has a .307 batting average and an OPS of .839. 

    This past summer Jeter became only the 28th player in major league history to break the 3,000-hit barrier. The only players to get 3,000 or more hits and not make the Hall of Fame are Craig Biggio, who is not yet eligible, Pete Rose, who is banned from baseball, and Rafael Palmeiro, whose career has been tarnished by a positive PED test. 

    When Jeter retires you can look ahead on the calendar six years and then plan on being in Cooperstown if you want to watch the induction ceremony. He's automatic. 

Mariano Rivera

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    Even if you think the closer position is overrated. 

    Maybe you feel that the players who dominate the position rarely do so for long enough to validate an automatic entry into the Hall of Fame. 

    In most cases you'd be right. Not with Rivera though. 

    Rivera already owns the career saves record. So every time he registers a save for the remainder of his career, he's setting a new record. 

    In this current offseason, Jonathan Papelbon, formerly of the Boston Red Sox, was the premier closer on the market. He's in the midst of an impressive streak of six straight seasons of 30 or more saves. 

    Rivera just finished his ninth season in a row of 30 or more saves and in the 15 years he's been a closer for the Yankees, he's had 30 or more saves in 14 of them.

    As phenomenal as he's been in his career—with 603 saves, an earned run average of 2.21 and a WHIP ratio of 0.998—his postseasons have been better. Much better, in fact.

    Rivera has pitched in the postseason in 16 different seasons. He's appeared in 96 games. He's amassed 42 saves with an earned run average of 0.70 and a WHIP ratio of 0.759. It's not just unlikely that most of us will live to see anyone match Rivera's regular-season accomplishments; it's an even greater long shot that we'll see anyone come remotely close to his postseason resume.

    Rivera has a chance to match the mark for appearing on the highest percentage of ballots and he probably deserves to as well.  

Albert Pujols

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    Albert Pujols has received his fair share of attention over the past year. 

    First there was the anticipated free agency which was followed by the slump, and then the injury. 

    Then there was his second-half resurgence which helped get his team to the postseason. That was followed by a dramatic postseason in which he had one of the finest individual single-game performances in World Series history

    When the "offseason" began for most players, Pujols' life only got put under more intense scrutiny. The "anticipated free agency" became real free agency and then, in a stunning move, he actually left St. Louis to sign a $254 million mega deal with the Los Angeles Angels. 

    Even with that entire year of activity, Pujols could have at any time said "I'm ready to retire" and he'd still make the Hall of Fame. 

    It's not often that you'd say that about a player who is only 31 years old, but it's not often that a 31-year-old player already has 11 full seasons in his career.

    It's not often that the player has already won National League Rookie of the Year as well as three MVP Awards and has finished in the top five of MVP voting in an astounding 10 of 11 years. Throw in two Gold Gloves as well.

    Then there's the three trips to the World Series with two titles and of course, this past year's three-HR game.

    Were Pujols to retire now he'd become the hitting equivalent of Sandy Koufax.

    Koufax, of course, was the dominant pitcher of his era and may have had the most dominant stretch of pitching in major league history. His final six seasons from 1961-1966 were nothing short of miraculous.

    Koufax retired without having reached 3,000 strikeouts or even 200 wins but so dominated his position and sport for those six seasons that he was easily elected to the Hall of Fame.

    Pujols doesn't have 3,000 hits or 500 home runs but were he to retire, it wouldn't matter. He'd wait the minimum of six years and then waltz in easily on the first ballot.  

Ichiro

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    Prince Fielder is currently on the free-agent market seeking a mega deal. After all, he's 27 years old. He's in his prime. 

    When Ichiro Suzuki arrived in Seattle for his first major league season, he was 27 years old as well. The year was 2001 and all Ichiro did in his first season was lead the league in hits, stolen bases and batting average. He would make the All-Star team and go on to win Rookie of the Year, MVP and a Gold Glove.

    That would become a trend. In his 11-year career he's led the American League in hits seven times. He's been an All-Star 10 times and won a Gold Glove 10 times as well. In 2004 he peaked when he set the all-time single-season hit record with 262 and also hit .372 for the season. 

    Ichiro may have only 2,428 hits but in only 11 seasons, that's outrageous. At the conclusion of his 11th season, all-time hits leader Pete Rose had 2,152 hits. Of course, Rose entered Major League Baseball at the age of 22.

    Ichiro is 38 years old now. He isn't retiring yet but last season was the first season in his major league career in which he didn't make the All-Star team or win a Gold Glove. Has the irreversible decline brought on by age finally begun? It may have, but Ichiro has more than proved himself Hall of Fame-worthy in his brilliant but somewhat brief major league career.  

Jim Thome

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    Jim Thome is quite simply a Hall of Fame power hitter. 

    There are only eight players in all of major league history to hit more than 600 home runs over the course of their careers. Thome is one of them. In addition, there are three men in that group who will leave the game of baseball or have already left with questions surrounding performance-enhancing drugs hanging over their accomplishments—Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez. 

    That places Thome in a group with Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Ken Griffey Jr. and Willie Mays.

    Thome has hit 40 or more home runs in a season six times. He's driven in over 100 runs nine times. He's been in the majors for 21 years and he's still productive as he prepares to start his 22nd season in April of 2012.

    Yes, longevity can inflate statistics, but Thome has been pretty consistent and he's still earning spots on rosters to this day. Plenty of Major League Baseball players have had long careers but only eight have hit 600 or more home runs. Thome will unquestionably make the Hall of Fame.  

Chipper Jones

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    An MVP Award. 

    A seven-time All-Star. 

    Through 18 seasons, Chipper Jones has always been a member of the Atlanta Braves. 

    His 454 home runs make him one of the most prolific power hitters in baseball history among third basemen. They also place him very high on the list of switch-hitters. 

    Chipper seems unlikely to reach the 3,000-hit threshold. His across-the-board numbers coupled with his power numbers and his place at 40th all-time in the RBI category will be more than enough to push him into the Hall of Fame.

    Chipper won't go down as "the best third baseman of all time." That debate will remain centered around Mike Schmidt, Eddie Matthews and George Brett, but he's not far behind. He won't have to worry about being on the outside looking in of the Hall of Fame debate, though. 

Roy Halladay

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    Roy Halladay, in the Hall of Fame? 

    Yes. It's going to happen and there's no use arguing it. 

    The metrics and standards by which pitchers are granted entrance to Cooperstown are going to change. 

    If you're looking for 3,000 strikeouts and 300 wins, then don't hold your breath. You're not going to see it very often. 

    What puts Halladay in the "lock" category? 

    His 188 wins and 1,934 strikeouts are nice. What's nicer are the two Cy Young Awards. Six top-five finishes in Cy Young voting show off a period of dominance as well.  

    What's even nicer? Hall of Fame voters tend to remember an occasional singular accomplishment. Halladay did pitch only the second no-hitter in postseason history. Don Larsen never made the Hall of Fame but Larsen had only 81 wins in his career. Halladay will finish with a lot more. 

    Three hundred? Maybe, maybe not though. In the end it won't matter. Halladay will be a member of the Hall six years after his eventual retirement. 

Omar Vizquel

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    Shortstops tend to get a bit more leeway when they're considered by Hall of Fame voters.

    If Omar Vizquel were a right fielder or first baseman he wouldn't even have a slide in this piece. In fact, he also would not have been a major league baseball player since 1989 either. Yet that's exactly what he's been since 1989. 

    For 21 years, Vizquel has found a place on a major league roster and a large part of that is due to the fact that a good team needs a good glove patrolling the crucial shortstop position and not many have been better than Vizquel.

    While never dominant with his bat, Vizquel amassed an astounding 11 Gold Gloves between 1993 and 2005.

    His offensive numbers aren't amazing but his 2,841 hits, a batting average of .272, an OPS of .690 with 1,432 runs scored and 401 stolen bases place him right in line with other Hall of Fame shortstops such as Luis Aparicio, Phil Rizzuto and Ozzie Smith.

    Vizquel is one of those players likely to elicit a lot of discussion among both fans and voters but when push comes to shove, he's got one of the best gloves at a crucial position in the history of the game and that's going to put him over the top. If he plays long enough to crack the 3,000-hit barrier, then he'd become only the fourth full-time shortstop to amass that many hits. joining Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken Jr. and Derek Jeter. Impressive company, to say the least.   

Vladimir Guerrero

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    They're not my "locks" per se. 

    What I mean by that is the list you're reading isn't based on a personal wish list for the Hall of Fame. It's been formulated by looking at past inductees and current players and then calculating that there are comparable players already residing in the Hall of Fame, so it would be safe to suggest that those on this list will as well. 

    Then again, when I looked over Vladimir Guerrero's numbers, I realized something: He really should make the Hall of Fame. 

    Among the numerous questions worth asking oneself when trying to determine Hall of Fame potential there are a few keys:

    "Are there comparable players already in the Hall?"

    "Has the player crossed statistical thresholds that would suggest he's a lock?"

    "Was the player a dominant player at his position for a decent period of time?"  

    Unfortunately there's also one more now as well: "Has this player's accomplishments been tainted by accusations or positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs?"

    With regards to Guerrero the answers are, in order: yes, no, yes, no.

    That's a good series of results when assessing his Hall of Fame potential.

    If Andre Dawson and Kirby Puckett are both in the Hall of Fame, then Guerrero would seem a natural and easy selection.

    After all, Guerrero has more hits than either of them. He has a .318 career batting average which is outstanding and matches Puckett, but Guerrero's career OPS of .931 dwarfs both Dawson's (.806) and Puckett's (.837).

    Guerrero won an MVP Award; Dawson won one also. Puckett never won an MVP but Puckett's postseason heroics may have pushed him over the top. He needed it too, since Puckett's 207 home runs and 1,085 runs batted in are easily eclipsed by Dawson's 438/1,591 and Guerrero's 449/1,496.

    It's also important to note that while Guerrero was not as good an all-around fielder as Puckett, he was better than Dawson and when Guerrero patrolled the outfield, he did so with one of the most feared outfield arms in all of baseball. At one point in his career Guerrero had hit over .300 12 seasons in a row. Puckett's entire career was 12 seasons. 

    Guerrero will make it to Cooperstown.  

Ivan Rodriguez

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    Ivan Rodriguez has won an astounding 13 Gold Gloves playing catcher which is the most physically grueling position in the sport of baseball. 

    His 311 home runs place him seventh all-time among catchers. His .296 career batting average is higher than that of Yogi Berra (.285), Johnny Bench (.267 ), Carlton Fisk (.269) and Gary Carter (.262). In fact, one could make a case that Rodriguez's combination of offense and defense places him right near the top of all catchers. 

    He has one MVP Award and 14 All-Star appearances. 

    Only the specter of performance-enhancing drug use could derail what should be a first-ballot admission to Cooperstown. Rodriguez never appeared in the Mitchell Report and has never tested positive for any drug of any kind. 

    It seems unlikely that he'll be punished for merely the assumption when there are players with actual drug-use admissions or positive tests that will have their Hall of Fame credentials questioned more intensely.  

The Sign of the Times

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    There are two active players conspicuously absent from this slideshow. Both have absolute, no-questions-asked Hall of Fame resumes. Both have also had at least one positive test for performance-enhancing drugs. 

    Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez will be true tests of the impact of PED use on Hall of Fame admission. 

    Ramirez was quite simply the most feared right-handed hitter in all of baseball for a period of time. 

    He's a 12-time All-Star with 551 home runs and his 1,851 runs batted in place him 18th all-time in the category. There is no one in the top 20 of that list that's not in the Hall of Fame except for Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. (not eligible yet) and Rafael Palmeiro (whose lack of votes are a bad sign for both A-Rod and Ramirez). 

    Manny also won the 2004 World Series MVP Award which was, of course, the first World Series title for the Boston Red Sox since the 1918 season. 

    Yet the combination of Manny's two positive tests as well as an ugly domestic battery charge filed against him last spring will not sit well with voters who have the right to call one's character into question when considering their voting. 

    Rodriguez has even more impressive numbers than Manny.

    He's a 14-time All-Star with three MVP Awards. He's already eclipsed the 600-HR mark and could easily finish with over 700 given his age. His 1,893 runs batted in place him 11th all-time as well as within reach of Hank Aaron's all-time career mark of 2,297. 

    Yet his positive performance-enhancing drug test and subsequent admission of guilt loom large over his Hall of Fame prospects. 

    To this point, the players who have been directly linked to performance-enhancing drugs have not just not made it into the Hall; for the most part, the voting hasn't even been close. Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro both have numbers that would make them absolute first-ballot locks but last year they received a paltry 19.8 and 11.0 percent of the vote, respectively. That's not even close. 

    It will be interesting to see what happens to these two superstars. There are compelling arguments to be made on both sides, but given the current voting tendencies, it's impossible to call either of these men "locks" for the Hall of Fame. 

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