Vladimir Guerrero is a Hall of Famer. First ballot, no question. He was a few years ago, but if there was any doubt from potential voters, his extraordinary first season with the American League West-leading Texas Rangers puts to bed any question regarding his candidacy.
Coming off a injury-riddled final season with the Anaheim Angels in which he managed to only appear in 100 games and hit 15 homers and 50 RBI, the free-swinging Guerrero has surpassed those statistics in 87 so far with the offensively-gifted Rangers.
Currently, he is second in the major leagues with 76 RBI, bringing his career-total to 1,394. That’s still nearly 400 away from Manny Ramirez, another future Hall of Famer, and 903 less than Hank Aaron, the all-time leader.
But despite being ranked in the 80s on the list, it’s an incredible amount. He has nine 100-plus RBI seasons, and will increase that total to 10 soon enough.
Who cares about rankings when that’s one of his credentials.
There’s plenty more statistical feats on his resume, too. He has 20 homers this season and 427 in his career.
Usually, if you are a power hitter, you are measured by your home runs. Hitting 500 or more is seen as a shoe-in for power hitters, barring it being steroid-free, really no matter if their career average is in the .260s.
Guerrero may not reach that milestone. If the 35-year-old stays healthy and plays a few more years, he could. But he definitely doesn’t need that on his resume. When you have 2,358 hits and a career .321 batting average, that mark is meaningless as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned.
The same goes for career-long Atlanta Brave Chipper Jones . He has 433 homers as a perennial 30-plus homer hitter throughout his prime, but that’s not what stands out. He has a .306 batting average over 17-plus seasons, a .405 on-base percentage, nearly 2,500 hits, and 1,400 RBI. St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols could retire tomorrow with 387 homers and find himself in Cooperstown five years from now.
Long-legged, well-built at 6’3″ 235 pounds, Vlad the Impaler as he is nicknamed, Guerrero could steal a bag or two in his heyday. His wheels didn’t last long, but he swiped 37 bases in 2001 with the then Montreal Expos and 40 the following year, his second to last with the team.
He narrowly missed joining the illustrious 40-40 club by nailing 39 homers during the latter campaign, and that was really the last he was heard from on the basepaths.
With how he impacts the team in so many other ways, the Rangers, like the Anaheim Angels, could care less if he could rack up the thefts or not. He could and clearly can still hit.
In happily counting Alex Rodriguez as a steroid-user and sadly counting David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez as well, Guerrero is one of only five clean hitters that have hit for power and average consistently over the past 20 years, joining Junior Griffey , Jones, and Pujols. None of the other four have his plate discipline, or lack thereof, however.
What makes Guerrero remarkable is that he’s never seen a pitch he hasn’t liked yet rarely strikes out. He’s aggressive but not over-zealous. He, who is one of the few players that doesn’t wear batting gloves, knows the strikezone but loves to live outside of it.
There may have been some hitter prior to my time, which lasts back until 1990, but he’s the best bad-ball hitter I’ve ever seen. For such a great hitter he’s produced some of the ugliest swings I’ve ever seen, too. He’s swung at pitches that have bounced before reaching the plate.
Sometimes, he’s hit those pitches. He’s fouled off pitches that would have hit him.
This is the main reason why he’s never walked more than 84 times in a season. But his incredible ability to put the ball in play amidst the periodical craziness is the reason why he’s never struck out more than 95 times in a season.
Aside from a cup of coffee with the Expos in 1996 and last season, he has annually driven in more runs than he has struck out.
Pujols hasn’t struck out more than 93 times, and that was in his rookie season. Since, he hasn’t whiffed more than 69 times, which is mind-boggling. Like-wise, Jones hasn’t reached triple-digits. Griffey did five times, from 1996-2000, but that was also his prime. And he was forgiven since those were his most productive seasons: over that span he had a ridiculous 658 RBI and 249 homers.
Griffey had Rodriguez to help him in the middle of the Seattle Mariners order. Pujols has had and currently has plenty of protection. Jones had Andruw Jones, providing a one-two punch that deepened my love for Atlanta.
Guerrero was relatively alone with the Expos. He had scrappiness behind and in front of him with the Angels, along with Garrett Anderson. And now he has Josh Hamilton, forming the deadliest duo in the majors this season.
Baseball hasn’t seen what Guerrero and Hamilton have done since the Ortiz and Ramirez smashed balls out of Fenway nightly. Hamilton started the season slow, but thanks to a June in which he was as hot as can be at the plate, he is in the hunt for the Triple Crown.
He hit .454 (49-108) in the month, which is hard to believe, and socked nine homers, drove in 31 RBI, and reached base 48 percent of the time.
He has continued to hit extremely well and holds a MLB-leading .353 batting average to complement his 22 homers and 67 RBI. Forty-two homers, 143 RBI, and a .337 average. Not too shabby.
And what makes the Rangers so scary is that these two aren’t the only ones hitting. The team carries a .278 batting average, which is second to, of all teams, the lowly Kansas City Royals in the majors. The pitching staff is in the top-10 in baseball across the board. Good pitching and even superb hitting puts them five games ahead of second-place Anaheim.
But, they wouldn’t have the third-best record in baseball if not for Guerrero. Robin to Hamilton’s Batman for the dangerous Rangers. Hall of Famer. And one of the best players ever to play this grand game.
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