On Sunday, four baseball legends took their rightful place at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. This year’s four inductees are Pedro Martinez, the Expos’ and Red Sox’ ace who won the pitching Triple Crown in 1999; John Smoltz, the Braves’ starter and reliever who teamed with fellow Hall of Famers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux to form historically great rotations in the ‘90s; Craig Biggio, the Astros’ legendary second baseman; and Randy Johnson, the “Big Unit,” who was the most dominant pitcher in baseball for a decade with the Mariners and Diamondbacks, among other teams.
With another spectacular Hall of Fame class in the books, it’s time to see who will be inducted in the next five years, starting with players who are currently eligible but have not yet made the cut.
SHOULD BE IN SOON: Jeff Bagwell (received 55.7 percent of votes last year; 75 percent is required for induction) should join his teammate Biggio soon. He was a fantastic player, named the NL MVP in 1994. Another key point in Bagwell’s Hall case: he has never been connected to steroids. Pitcher Curt Schilling (39.2%) has the numbers for Cooperstown: 216 wins, 3116 strikeouts, a 3.46 ERA and — perhaps most importantly in this era —, a 80.1 WAR, higher than that of Warren Spahn, Robin Roberts, and Tim Keefe, all enshrined in Cooperstown. There are a couple things holding him back. One is the fact that he had a bit of a brash personality, coming into conflict with the media and several fellow players over the years. The other is that some believe he used steroids, something no one has ever proven.
ON THE BUBBLE: Mike Piazza (69.9 percent) is so close. He was the greatest hitting catcher of his time, maybe of all time. He has been linked to a few steroid rumors, though. If and when the smoke clears, Piazza should be headed to Cooperstown. Mike Mussina (24.6 percent) may be a surprise inclusion, but he is perhaps the most underrated pitcher in baseball history. His WAR is north of Schilling’s; he won nearly 300 games, and had 2813 career strikeouts. Mussina was also a great fielder, amassing seven gold gloves. His high ERA (3.68) may be holding him back, as well as the fact that Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson were his contemporaries. Outfielder Tim Raines (55.0 percent) has a chance, as “Rock” swiped 808 bases and hit .294 in his career. He’s been eligible for the Hall since 2008, and has slowly climbed up the list, from a 24 percent of ballots in his first year of eligibility to 55 percent most recently.
ELIGIBLE IN 2016
FIRST BALLOT: Seattle and Cincinnati outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. doesn’t need anyone to make a case for him: 630 home runs, 1836 RBIs, 1662 runs, 77.7 WAR, and no steroid suspicion.
SHOULD BE IN EVENTUALLY: Trevor Hoffman and his 601 saves — the most in baseball history until Mariano Rivera broke his record in 2011 — are a lock for Cooperstown. The only facts hurting him are that he played out of the national spotlight in San Diego, and that he is a reliever. Jim Edmonds captured eight Gold Gloves, was a four-time All-Star, and bashed 393 homers. His WAR is higher than Yogi Berra’s and Roberto Alomar’s.
ON THE BUBBLE: Outfielder Garret Anderson’s WAR is a pedestrian 24.0. But he was truly Mr. Angel during his tenure in Anaheim, appearing in an L.A. uniform every year from 1994 to 2008. He also got 2,500 hits, smacked over 500 doubles, and was a three-time All-Star. Expect him to make noise in the voting but fall short.
ELIGIBLE IN 2017
FIRST BALLOT: Catching great Ivan Rodriguez won 13 Gold Gloves and was a 14-time All-Star for the Rangers and Tigers. That’s not bad. Neither is this: former Expos and Angels outfielder Vladimir Guerrero’s 449 homers and .318 lifetime average. Guerrero also was a nine-time All-Star.
SHOULD BE IN EVENTUALLY: Jorge Posada likely won’t be inducted right away, but no discussion of great catchers is complete without him. He also contributed to many Yankees championship teams as a member of the famed “Core Four.”
ON THE BUBBLE: A word to describe knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield’s case would be “sketchy.” He was a workhorse and a fixture on several Red Sox playoff teams. He also won 200 games, but with a relatively high ERA of 4.41. Other players eligible this year with good but not Hall-worthy careers include former Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee and Red Sox backstop Jason Varitek.
ELIGIBLE IN 2018
FIRST BALLOT: Third baseman Chipper Jones was the heart of the Atlanta Braves for 20 years, including during their World Series title in 1995. He wasn’t a bad player, either, hitting 468 homers with a .303 lifetime average, giving him the 32nd highest WAR in major league history. Jim Thome — the face of another team that peaked in the ‘90s, the Indians — will also make it right away. He hit 612 home runs, had a 68.9 WAR, and throughout his career was known as the quintessential “nice guy.”
SHOULD BE IN EVENTUALLY: The greatest defender of all-time, Cleveland shortstop Omar Vizquel will head to Cooperstown soon enough, if not right away. He captured 11 Gold Gloves and dazzled on defense right up until the very end. He also was a prolific base stealer, with 404 thefts lifetime.
ON THE BUBBLE: The versatile Johnny Damon hit over .300 for several seasons, but his counting stats — 235 dingers and 2,769 hits — aren’t terribly impressive. Scott Rolen is the Mike Mussina of third base: perpetually underrated despite being a key member of good teams. With 316 homers, 70.1 WAR, and eight Gold Gloves, he has a better case than Damon. We also have to mention Jamie Moyer. Moyer is the oldest pitcher to both throw a shutout and win a game. He’s even the oldest player to record an RBI! But despite his many milestones, he fell short of several key career marks, including 300 wins and 3,000 strikeouts.
ELIGIBLE IN 2019
FIRST BALLOT: The underrated first baseman Todd Helton will be right at home in the Hall. He was a five-time Silver Slugger winner and a frequent All-Star, complete with a .316 career average and 592 doubles (16th most all-time). Mariano Rivera was the greatest closer in an era flush with dominant firemen. His 652 saves and a career WHIP of 1.00 are tough numbers to equal. He may be the first unanimous Hall of Famer.
SHOULD BE IN EVENTUALLY: The induction of first baseman/outfielder Lance Berkman could mean a complete Killer B’s (Biggio, Bagwell, and Berkman) trio in Cooperstown. Spending most of his career in Houston, Berkman put up very solid numbers: 366 homers, 1,234 RBI, and a .293 average. Toronto and Philadelphia hurler Roy Halladay, despite missing some statistical benchmarks, has too large of a case not to get the call.
ON THE BUBBLE: Rangers third baseman Michael Young may be a victim of better stats: In spite of his .300 lifetime average and seven All-Star appearances, he accounted for just 23.8 WAR It’d be a shame to see Young, the Rangers’ all-time hits leader, not be inducted. Outfielder Juan Pierre has similar statistics to Young, but no All-Star appearances, so he is likely out.
ELIGIBLE IN 2020
FIRST BALLOT: Derek Jeter is an American icon, a 3000-hit man, the Captain of the Yankees, the greatest shortstop of them all, and so on. If Jeter isn’t in with 100 percent of votes, it would be very surprising.
ON THE BUBBLE: Outfielder Bobby Abreu was never considered one of the best in baseball, but his numbers are impressive. He hit 288 home runs and stole 400 bases, and reached two All-Star Games. Perhaps his 59.2 WAR will get him attention. White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko suffers from the “Michael Young Syndrome:” He’s a franchise-defining player with impressive numbers, but no seasons that stick out and a low WAR number.
There’ll be some impressive names parading into Cooperstown in the next half-decade. From players who defined generations like Griffey and Jeter to quiet superstars like Helton and Thome, inductees of all sorts will have the opportunity to take their rightful place in upstate New York. Here are my predictions for the next five Hall of Fame classes:
2016: Jeff Bagwell, Ken Griffey Jr.
2017: Mike Piazza, Trevor Hoffman, Ivan Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero
2018: Jorge Posada, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Curt Schilling
2019: Jim Edmonds, Omar Vizquel, Todd Helton, Mariano Rivera
2020: Derek Jeter, Lance Berkman, Roy Halladay
Photos: Scott Jordan Levy//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images (Piazza), Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images (Rodriguez, Bagwell), Chuck Solomon/Sports Illustrated (Griffey), Donald Miralle/Getty Images (Hoffman), Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images (Guerrero, Thome), Jeff Gross/Getty Images (Helton), Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images (Jones), Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated (Rivera), Jared Wickerham/Getty Images (Jeter)