Only a fool would predict the future, although Jules Verne did pretty well in a science fiction book he wrote in 1863 (though it wasn't published until 1994) titled “Paris in the Twentieth Century,” in which he predicted such technological advances as gas-powered cabs, high-speed trains, fax machines, skyscrapers and a worldwide communication network.
On the other hand, in “The Politics of Glory,” Bill James' 1994 book on the Hall of Fame, James predicted Steve Garvey, Al Oliver, Dave Parker, Jim Kaat, Ted Simmons, Dale Murphy, Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Joe Carter, Brett Butler, David Cone, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Don Mattingly, Jack McDowell, Fred McGriff, Dwight Gooden, Ruben Sierra and Juan Gonzalez would all get elected to the Hall of Fame by 2019. None has made it so far.
So this little exercise is ultimately an impossible endeavor, but we’ll give it a shot and forecast all the Hall of Fame selections up to the year 2045. Print this out and send me a brain-wave message in 28 years.
2017 HOF election
Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez are headed to the Hall of Fame. Go inside the road to Cooperstown.
You have to consider not only which players will put up the necessary numbers, but how long they’ll play, how many years it will take for them to get elected and how generous the voters will be. Then we have to figure out what the eras committees will do in selecting players expunged from the BBWAA ballot, plus managers, executives and even umpires.
Most difficult of all is trying to predict what will happen to the PED guys. The barricade against suspected steroids users seems to be bending, and after consulting with a few of my ESPN colleagues, here’s what I think happens. There are eight players most affected by their ties to PEDs. Here’s how I would rank their chances of getting in:
1. Barry Bonds
2. Roger Clemens
3. Alex Rodriguez
4. Mark McGwire
5. Manny Ramirez
6. Sammy Sosa
7. Rafael Palmeiro
8. Ryan Braun
I believe Bonds and Clemens, playing in the wild-west era when anything went, get elected in a few years. Voters, however, will draw the line on the others.
Rodriguez, Ramirez, Palmeiro and Braun all flunked tests or served suspensions. McGwire and Sosa are generally viewed as sluggers who might not have put up their monstrous home run numbers without the aid of steroids. McGwire appeared on the Today’s Game ballot this era and received fewer than five of the 16 votes from the committee (12 were needed for election). I could be wrong. If Mike Piazza was the crack in the door and Ivan Rodriguez followed him through the door, maybe Bonds and Clemens kicking it in opens it for everyone.
Another note: I have 36 players active in 2016 eventually getting elected. Seem like a lot? It’s not. Hall of Famers active in the following seasons:
Remember there are now nearly twice as many teams as in 1956 and a third more than in 1966, so the modern era is comparatively underrepresented. It could turn out 36 Hall of Famers who were active in 2016 is a low total.
New to the ballot: Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Johnny Damon, Johan Santana, Jamie Moyer, Omar Vizquel
Elected: Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Jack Morris, Alan Trammell
With Vlad and Hoffman falling just short this year, next year’s class could be a huge group, especially if the Modern Game committee votes in longtime Tigers teammates Morris and Trammell. The veterans committees have been very tough in electing former players in recent years, electing just four since 2000 and just two post-1950 players in Ron Santo and Bill Mazeroski, so electing a living, breathing ex-player, let alone two, goes against the recent trend.
Morris is the pitcher whom stat guys don’t like, but he peaked at 67 percent on the BBWAA ballot, and that means it would be unprecedented for him to not eventually get in. The people voting will be Hall of Famers who played against him when he was viewed as an ace and media members who covered him when he felt like a Hall of Famer, as opposed to those looking at a statistical resume on Baseball-Reference.com. While Hall of Fame players on the committee are never eager to increase the size of their club, Trammell was a respected player and clearly above Hall of Fame standards for his position. He got lost in the BBWAA votes because he entered the ballot when shortstops such as Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra were putting up big numbers, but he was a good all-around player for a long time.
New to the ballot: Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Miguel Tejada
Elected: Mariano Rivera, Jim Thome, Edgar Martinez, Jim Leyland, Sandy Alderson
Will Rivera become the first unanimous choice? I’ll say no. I foresee a few voters who won’t go for a reliever, even the indomitable Rivera. Martinez makes it with a final-ballot push, a la Tim Raines. Thome and his 612 home runs and 1,699 RBIs make it on his second ballot.
I also see the Today’s Game committee making two non-player selections, although neither is a slam dunk. Leyland’s career winning percentage is barely over .500, and he won just one World Series in three tries, but everyone seems to describe him as “Future Hall of Fame manager” Jim Leyland, so I’ll go along. Active executives become eligible when turning 70, which Alderson does this November. Mark Armour and Dan Levitt ranked Alderson the 12th greatest general manager of all time, and while Alderson won just one World Series with the A’s, the authors point out he deserves credit as the first modern GM to actively introduce analytics and as the first executive of the modern era to run a baseball operations department without coming from a baseball background.
New to the ballot: Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi
Elected: Derek Jeter, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens
If Rivera doesn’t break Ken Griffey Jr.’s record vote percentage of 99.3 (437 of 440 votes), then Jeter will. I can’t imagine anyone not voting for Jeter, but this is a group that failed to unanimously elect Griffey or Greg Maddux or Randy Johnson. Bonds and Clemens make it on their eighth ballots. The world won’t stop spinning.
New to the ballot: Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, Torii Hunter
Elected: Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Dick Allen
As ESPN Insider Dave Cameron pointed out in a recent column, the criteria for modern pitchers has been extremely tough, with just seven of the 72 Hall of Fame starting pitchers ending their careers after 1989. Mussina won 270 games and Schilling 216, although both have a career WAR better than many Hall of Fame starters. My view is the electorate will eventually come around and realize these two were among the very best of their era and actually raise the bar for the Hall of Fame.
Allen has been through 15 rounds of BBWAA balloting and numerous veterans committee discussions, so why would he finally get in? The last time he was up for vote, in December 2014, he, along with Tony Oliva, fell one vote short. Jim Kaat was two votes short. My general take is that we’ve exhausted the list of viable pre-1970 candidates, but Allen is a much stronger candidate than Oliva or Kaat, and if the committee wants to elect someone, Allen is the best choice. His adjusted OPS ranks ninth-best since 1947, on par with Frank Thomas, Willie Mays and Miguel Cabrera, albeit with a shorter career.
New to the ballot: Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira
Elected: David Ortiz, Roy Halladay, Bruce Bochy
I have Ortiz going in on the first ballot, although not overwhelmingly so. There will be those who won’t vote for him because of his positive PED test during the 2003 survey testing or because he’s a DH or even because his WAR isn’t all that impressive. If you’re telling the story of baseball from 2003 to 2016, however, Ortiz obviously rates as one of the most prominent figures, and that matters.
I might be overrating the chances of Halladay, who has only 203 wins, but one advantage he has over Mussina and Schilling is that he won two Cy Young Awards, with two runner-up finishes, plus an an extended run of dominance that Mussina never had. In Halladay’s six best seasons, 2002-03 and 2008-2011, he compiled 45.8 WAR. Sandy Koufax made the Hall of Fame on six great seasons in which he compiled 46.6 WAR.
Bochy is one of 10 managers to win three World Series. The other nine are all Hall of Famers.
Elected: Jeff Kent, Dwight Evans
Kent hasn’t received much support his first four years, but as the ballot logjam clears out, his percentage should start going up. The all-time leader in home runs for a second baseman topped 100 RBIs eight times (round numbers are pretty!). He'll get honored on his final ballot.
Dwight Evans? OK, let’s talk Dwight Evans. Criminally underrated. Better in his 30s than his 20s, he wasn’t viewed as a future Hall of Famer while active. Won eight Gold Gloves, with one of the strongest right-field arms you’ll ever see. More runs scored than Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn, Barry Larkin or Andre Dawson. More RBIs than Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, Duke Snider or Roberto Clemente. A higher career WAR than Dawson, Snider, Dave Winfield, Billy Williams, Willie Stargell or Jim Rice, just to name a few Hall of Fame outfielders who have been elected by the BBWAA. There’s a sound sabermetric case for him.
Elected: Ichiro Suzuki, Omar Vizquel, Joe Maddon
I have Ichiro playing two more seasons and going in on his first ballot. Vizquel promises to be a heated debate, as his WAR suggests a player more like Dave Concepcion than Ozzie Smith, but his 11 Gold Gloves and Smith-like defensive reputation will be enough to overcome things like a lack of support in MVP voting (one 16th-place finish). I mean, the guy hung around until he was 45! Maddon turns 63 in February and is signed through 2019. Will he keep managing? He hasn’t had career length, so he needs to win at least one more title and probably two if he does retire at the end of this contract.
Elected: Adrian Beltre, Billy Wagner, Lee Smith
Beltre locked up first-ballot status with another big season in 2016. He’ll clear 3,000 hits this year, has 445 home runs and could finish in the top 10 all time in RBIs. He has had a remarkable, amazing career and has arguably turned into an inner-circle Hall of Famer. Wagner isn’t a lock, but he was more dominant than Hoffman and retired when he was still one of the best closers in the game. Smith, a well-traveled closer, should get in via the Modern Baseball committee, if only because he is sure to have a few ex-teammates on the committee vouching for him.
Elected: Scott Rolen, Minnie Minoso
Minoso should have been elected a long time ago, the one pre-1970s player I’m strongly in favor of electing. Rolen is a borderline case, and I wonder if he’s one of those players who will quickly fade from memory. He rates behind contemporaries such as Chipper and Beltre as a third baseman, and he had just one top-10 MVP finish, but his 70.0 WAR is a strong number and the excellent defensive metrics are supported by eight Gold Gloves.
Elected: Albert Pujols, Larry Walker, Terry Francona
Francona has two World Series rings, but so does Tom Kelly, Cito Gaston and Ralph Houk. He’s up to 30th on the all-time wins list, however, and at 57 seems to enjoy what he’s doing to keep going into his 60s. He’s one of the most colorful managers of his era, and that seems to matter.
Elected: Andy Pettitte, Dale Murphy
Pettitte will be an interesting case. He really only had what I’d call three Hall of Fame-type seasons — 1996, 1997 and 2005 — but he had a lot of good ones, won 256 games and spent more time on our TV screens in October than “Law & Order” episodes, pitching in eight World Series and winning five. His 19 wins are the most in postseason history, and although his reputation as a postseason stalwart is slightly exaggerated — he had a 3.81 ERA — he had some memorable performances.
Murphy had a short peak as one of the best players in the 1980s, but won two NL MVP Awards and was an enormously popular player when TBS broadcast Braves games across the nation. His Hall of Fame case never gained any momentum, and while the numbers are short of Hall standards, he could be a sentimental, anti-steroid choice for the Modern Baseball committee.
Beltran’s late-career surge, including All-Star appearances at ages 34, 35, 36 and 39, has cemented his legacy, and he’s one of just 37 players with 1,500 runs and 1,500 RBIs. Cano’s big 2016 also seemed to ensure his status as one of the 10 best second basemen of all time. He’s 14th in WAR but two solid years from the top seven and one of the most durable players of his generation. McGriff has been burned by the crowded ballot and explosive numbers of the steroids era that made his 30-100 seasons feel ordinary, but he feels like a classic veterans committee selection.
Lofton needs an explanation. He fell off the ballot after one year, but I think his case gets revitalized. In a sense, he’s Tim Raines’ 1990s doppelganger — maybe not quite as impactful at the plate, but just as deadly on the bases and a better defender. In fact, the second-most similar player to Lofton on his Baseball-Reference page is Raines:
Raines: .294/.385/.425, 118 HR, 808 SB, 1571 R, 980 RBI
Lofton: .299/.372/.423, 130 HR, 622 SB, 1528 R, 781 RBI
Raines made the Hall in large part because of a five-year run in which he totaled 32.2 WAR as one of the NL’s best players. Lofton had a five-year run of 31.0 WAR and an eight-year run of 47.4. Raines’ best eight-year run was 42.1. If you buy Lofton as an elite defender and give him credit for playing for 11 playoff teams, he starts to look pretty good.
Elected: Dustin Pedroia, George Steinbrenner
Our best hope for a brawl on induction day.
Elected: Miguel Cabrera, Bill Dahlen
Miggy, you know. Dahlen is an 1890s/1900s shortstop, and God knows we don’t need any more players from that era selected, but he almost made it a few years ago and really was an outstanding player. Plus, his nickname was Bad Bill, apparently because he was often ejected from games.
Elected: Justin Verlander, Bernie Williams, Brian Sabean
Verlander appeared headed in the wrong direction with his poor 2014 and injury-shortened 2015, but he’s back on track for the Hall after striking out 254 in 227⅔ innings and finishing second in the Cy Young voting (although a second Cy would have helped). A few years ago, Verlander stated a desire to win 300 games. Bill James’ methodology gives him a 17 percent chance to do that.
Sabean gets rewarded for guiding the Giants to three championships, and Williams will undoubtedly thank Today’s Game committee members Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte in his acceptance speech.
Posey seems like a slam dunk at this point in his career, but so did Joe Mauer. He has to stay healthy and remain behind the plate. Molina will face the same battles as Vizquel in getting in, but like Vizquel, his defensive reputation is so superlative that it will overcome the offensive shortcomings.
Scherzer and Hernandez are among a group of pitchers at somewhat similar points in their potential Hall of Fame paths; Verlander, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Adam Wainwright and Jon Lester are in this group as well. Wainwright is the oldest and has had injuries. Hernandez is the youngest but in possible decline.
Scherzer’s advantages include two Cy Youngs; the 20-strikeout game; unblemished, healthy history; still overpowering. He should age well (Bill James gives him a 30 percent chance to win 300 games, the highest of active pitchers). All of these guys could make it, especially if the standards for starting pitchers so slowly evolve, or none could make it.
As I researched this piece, it occurred to me that Girardi is almost certainly a lock. He’s only 52, owns a .554 career winning percentage and has a title. If he matches the victory total of his first 10 seasons over the next 10, he’s top 15 in wins. A second title clinches election.
Every commissioner who wasn’t completely incompetent has been elected. Manfred isn’t incompetent and at 58 should have a long enough run.
Stay healthy, guys.
Altuve already has more than 1,000 hits through his age-26 season. I was surprised to see James’ formula giving him just a 22 percent chance at 3,000, considering he has three straight 200-hit seasons. Well, his hit total isn’t actually anything historic. Since 1950, Altuve ranks 31st in hits through age 26. Edgar Renteria ranked seventh. Starlin Castro and Elvis Andrus had more. Altuve is better than those guys, of course, and we’ll see if he can maintain this new level of MVP-caliber performance.
I have Utley going in via the Today’s Game committee, and that’s admittedly a reach, given his low career-counting totals. He did have an amazing peak from 2005 to 2010, when he was arguably the second-best player in the game behind Pujols, although it would have helped if he’d won an MVP award instead of teammates Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins.
Rizzo is probably a long shot. None of his top-10 comparable players — guys like Kent Hrbek, John Olerud, Paul Konerko, Derrek Lee and Will Clark — are Hall of Famers. Rizzo does, however, have a chance to drive in a ton of runs, and playing on a potential dynasty will help. I like his athleticism, so maybe he ages a little better than some of those other first basemen.
In a different era, Votto is probably underrated. In this era, he has finished first, third, sixth, sixth and seventh in MVP votes. I’m less optimistic about Stanton, given his injury history, but he does have 208 home runs through age 26 and could easily reel off a bunch of 40-homer seasons to get on pace for 500 or even 600.
If I like Rizzo, I have to like Freeman, given their similar career totals through the same age, and especially if Freeman’s second-half outburst is a new level of ability. Donaldson is a wild card, given his late-bloomer status. He has had four monster seasons and needs four or five more, plus he’ll need to remain active until he’s close to 40 to help pad the career totals.
OK, we’re just guessing at this point — but these two feel like good guesses.
Mauer is likely to get passed over by the BBWAA, but is a strong Today’s Game candidate with his eight-year peak as a catcher from 2006 to 2013, when he won three batting titles and an MVP and hit .327/.410/.473 during one of the highest peaks ever for a catcher.
Executives have to be retired for five years to be considered or 70 years old if they’re still active. This is the year Theo will turn 70. He could have 10 World Series titles by then, he could be commissioner of baseball, he could be president, or he could simply be retired and watching YouTube clips of cats clawing at dogs.
Maybe I’ve selected too many pitchers and not enough umpires. Will the Tampa Bay Rays even exist when Longoria makes it in? He’s not a sexy candidate, but he’s been durable, including four straight years of 160 games, and with 806 RBIs through age 30, he has a good shot at topping 1,500.
Elected: Francisco Lindor
So … who did I leave out?