Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn (Cooperstown, NY - July 2007)
Think back four years ago.
No, not to the point when unemployment was still under 6%, the debt was under $10 trillion or the St. Louis Cardinals were reigning World Series Champions, but to the voting in January 2007.
Baseball writers, fans and historians all knew that it was going to be a unique day, when Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn, two of the surest Hall of Famers anyone who had watched baseball between 1982 and 2001 ever saw, went into Cooperstown.
An entire career of 20 years or more with only one franchise. Hometown sports heroes.
It was rare then, but as we look back, it going to be even more rare that we see even ONE player elected to the Hall of Fame who ever stays his entire career with one franchise.
Looking at the two newest members of the Hall of Fame: They were the product of the free agency era for sure. Bert Blyleven did spend 10 of his 22 years with the Twins, but in two stints of six years early in his career and four years late in his career.
One of the most mind-blowing statistics that I saw was that he lost between 15 and 17 games each year for four straight seasons (1971-74), yet never struck out fewer than 224 batters, had an ERA higher than 2.81 or completed fewer than 11 games during any of those seasons.
Roberto Alomar never spent more than five years with any team. A journeyman at the end of his career, his five-year stretch with the Blue Jays from 1991-95 remains as great a stretch by any second basemen in MLB history. He averaged .308, 11 HR, 71 RBI, 40 SB, and 90 Runs during that stretch, even though two of those seasons were cut short by the MLB Players' strike.
But neither of these players is the sports hero or likened to one franchise, let alone spending their entire career with one team; neither of these players spent more than HALF of their career with any one team.
So the question is: What future Hall of Famers will go in to Cooperstown, with no doubt in anyone's mind, what cap is on their plaque?
We'll start with players already retired, but not yet voted in:
Larkin was this year's highest vote-getter not to get in, which bodes well for him in 2012.
While he did play 19 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds (1986-2004), his hit totals may seem a bit low, but there were four seasons ('86, '97, '01, '03) where he missed more than half of the season either in the minors or out with injury.
His 12 All-Star appearances, nine Silver Sluggers, seven Gold Gloves, 1995 NL MVP and .295 career average with almost 1000 RBIs as a shortstop and almost 400 SB will put a "C" on his plaque in the next year or two.
Bagwell earned a healthy 42% of the vote in his first year of eligibility. The eight-time All Star owns a Rookie of the Year Award (1991), an MVP (1994) and spent all 15 major league seasons (1991-2005) with the Houston Astros.
The .297 career average, .408 career OBP, and .948 career OPS with 449 HR and 1500+ RBI definitely helps his case.
He was dominant for over a decade at his position and like most players, age caught up with him once he reached 37.
He could get in as early as 2012, but he'll need a big jump in votes to get in.
Bagwell's teammate for 15 seasons (and 5 others before and after) spent all 20 seasons with the Houston Astros, from 1988 to 2007.
Seven All-Star selections, five Silver Sluggers and four Gold Gloves were earned mostly at second base, but also at catcher. His versatility and 3000 hits will endure him to voters in 2013, once he's eligible.
Just Missed The Cut
Bernie Williams, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez
Williams had a very good career, but his power numbers for a center fielder won't hold up.
The Braves' trio will all go in wearing Braves' caps, but Smoltz's year with Boston and St. Louis, Glavine's tenure with the Mets and Maddux's extensive time with the Cubs and brief stints with LA and San Diego mean they don't make this list.
Bonds's stint with the Pirates doesn't hurt him, but steroid allegations mean that although he WOULD go in as a Giant, he may never get voted in.
Griffey will go in as a Mariner, but it was weird seeing him in a White Sox uniform in 2008.
Edgar Martinez was a fantastic hitter, but I don't see the voters putting him in the Hall because as a DH, he needed more productive years, especially with regards to power numbers, to make his career numbers seem impressive.
Now For The Current Major Leaguers:
Jeter's been Mr. Yankee since he arrived in 1995. Sure, he showed his greedy side with this past offseason's negotiations for his new contract, but it would be unbelievable if anyone saw him in something other than Yankee pinstripes.
He'll likely retire with about 2000 Runs scored, 1400+ RBI and 3500 hits, along with a career batting average well over .300.
He's a shoe-in sometime around 2021 on the first ballot.
Larry Wayne Jones will have statistics that are wonderful when his career is over, but don't tell the whole story.
He's spent all 17 seasons with the Atlanta Braves, the organization that selected him No. 1 overall in the 1990 draft. If he plays through the 2011 season, he'll likely reach 2500 hits, 1500 RBI and 1500 runs and 450 homers, most of it as a third baseman and a switch-hitter.
His combination of average (.306) and power (436 HR, 1491 RBI) are both top three all-time for switch hitters and he's third all-time in homers by a third baseman.
In 2018, a script "A" will be on his plaque, with plenty of Mets fans taunting "Laaaaarreeeeeeee" in the audience.
In his 16 seasons (1995-2010) with the Yankees, Rivera has become the pre-eminent shutdown closer in the regular season and postseason.
He's amassed over 1000 strikeouts as a reliever, and is second on the all-time saves list with 559.
He'll likely retire as the saves leader when he chooses to hang 'em up. I'd say around 2018, Cooperstown will have NY ready for his plaque.
Pujols may go down as the greatest hitter since Ted Williams, and maybe even better when he does call it a career.
His 10-year career with the Cardinals—he could retire today and be elected with 90%+ of the vote in 2016, his numbers are that amazing.
He's only 30 years old and already has a World Series ring, three MVP's, nine All-Star selections and a career .331 average with over 400 HR and 1200 RBI.
He's never had a stat line worse than .312 BA, 32 HR, 103 RBI, and .955 OPS. His career numbers will probably be in Hank Aaron's territory (.300+ average, 750+ HR, 2100+ RBI) when he calls it a career.
He's still got plenty of years ahead of him, but I can't fathom the St. Louis faithful ever letting Albert play anywhere else.
Thanks to those readers who reminded me about the hit machine. All Ichiro has done since his arrival from Japan is play ten seasons with the Mariners, match Pujols' .331 career average, score 1000 Runs, rack up 2200 hits, and steal almost 400 bases.
He's earned 10 Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, went to 10 All-Star Games, won two batting titles, an MVP and the Rookie of the Year. Like Pujols, he's a rare talent with the bat that Seattle fans would never let play anywhere else. If he stays healthy, he might reach 3,000 hits in just 13 or 14 seasons - no one else has done it that quickly, or come even close.
Too Early To Tell.
These guys have put up great numbers with one team (five-plus seasons), but whether they stay with their current franchise, keep up their current pace or have enough to get voted in is impossible to know
Jorge Posada, Jason Varitek, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Brian McCann, David Wright, Jimmy Rollins, Prince Fielder, Todd Helton, Mark Buehrle, Michael Young
Looking at the list of potentials, I can see one possible year (2018) that two franchise lifers both head to Cooperstown: Chipper Jones and Mariano Rivera both have contracts that conclude after the 2012 season and both will be over 40 when that season ends.
Jones' injuries may end his career sooner or Rivera might stick around longer. Jeter's contract is up after 2013, but most in baseball think he'll try to play into his 40s before calling it quits.
So if you went to Cooperstown to see Tony and Cal enshrined, you may have seen the last day like that ever in baseball history.