Last week the Baseball Writers Association of America announced their Hall of Fame Class of 2017 election results, naming Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez Cooperstown’s latest inductees. All three are truly deserving candidates, and two of them even spent some time in pinstripes! Unfortunately, Raines’s veteran presence on the Yankees from 1996-98 is outweighed by his prime years as an Expo, and for some undisclosed reason, Pudge’s 33-game stint in the Bronx wasn’t enough to convince the board that his plaque should feature the interlocking N-Y.
In more bad news for Yankee fans, Jorge Posada became an unfortunate casualty of the five-percent rule, falling off of future ballots with just 3.8 percent of the vote in his debut. Posada’s case was marginal and probably comes up just short for even most ‘big-hall’ folks, but as one of the best offensive catchers in history, it’s a shame we won’t even be able to continue the debate.
In spite of the disappointment though, several more former Yankees are slated to make their ballot-debuts over the next few years. Some will be more obvious candidates than others, but it’s worth examining just how many future Yankee Hall of Famers may be lurking over the horizon.
On the ballot
- Roger Clemens (2013)
- Mike Mussina (2014)
Before fast-forwarding to 2018 and beyond, we should at least briefly make mention of the former Yankees already on the ballot. Both Clemens and Mussina cleared the 50 percent threshold for the first time this year, historically an excellent indicator of future-induction. Even if both do eventually find their way to the required 75 percent though, there’s some question as to what cap they’ll be immortalized under.
Clemens has made mention that, if inducted, he’d go in as a member of the Red Sox, and it’s hard to argue. His two championship rings in New York don’t come close to bridging the gap in production between the two teams.
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Mussina’s case, on the other hand, is slightly more interesting. His 58.8 WARP with the Orioles still trumps his mark of 46.6 with the Yankees, but it’s nowhere near as stark a contrast as Clemens. If you factor in that both his World Series appearances and lone 20-win season came in the Bronx, and it’s at least conceivable that he could enter as a Yankee.
Honorable Mention: Gary Sheffield (2015)
With the help of Baseball Reference, I’ve counted seven additional players (and a few honorable mentions) with reasonable Yankee credentials that will likely show up on the ballot between now and 2022. Instead of tackling them by year though, we’ll group them by strength of case.
Just happy to be here
- Hideki Matsui (2018)
- Jason Giambi, Alfonso Soriano (2020)
Some here will be more fondly remembered than others for their tenures in New York, but all have strong Yankee years on ballot-worthy résumés. It’s unlikely that any of them will get serious Hall consideration, but they are careers worthy of reflection regardless.
Soriano’s rise in New York was meteoric, beginning in the 2001 playoffs where his walk-off single cinched Game 5 of the World Series, and a go-ahead eighth-inning homer off Curt Schilling nearly made him a Game 7 hero as well. He became a star the following summer when he raced Vladimir Guerrero to the 40/40 club, though his Yankee career came to an abrupt end when he was dealt to Texas in the 2004 Alex Rodriguez blockbuster. Soriano was more pomp than substance throughout his career; lightning-quick wrists and athleticism on the basepaths made him a fantasy baseball dream while his lackluster defense and brutal plate discipline often tanked his real life value. Soriano doesn’t have much of a Cooperstown case, but he’ll be remembered fondly as a tremendously fun player who bookended his career in pinstripes.
Matsui and Giambi joined Soriano in New York during the team’s spend-crazy era following the 2001 World Series loss. Both arrived to massive fanfare, though only Matsui was ultimately able to win the crowd’s adoration. Initially billed as the Babe Ruth of Japan, Matsui’s bat instead quickly drew comparisons to that of previous fan-favorite Paul O’Neill. He posted an OPS of .850 or better in five of his seven years in the Bronx, and closed out his Yankee career with a 2009 World Series MVP award. With his rookie year not coming until age 29 however, Matsui’s Hall of Fame chances were likely cooked before he ever stepped foot in the States.
Giambi has arguably the strongest statistical case of this group with a .312 True Average and more than 50 career WARP, though his Yankee career was easily more turbulent than the others. After arriving as a free agent from Oakland, he posted back-to-back seasons worth five-plus wins before unraveling in a myriad of injuries and PED-revelations. Giambi was able to rebuild his image in his final few years before being lauded as a veteran mentor in places like Colorado and Cleveland, but his years in New York are still more often maligned for what could have been.
Honorable Mention: Johnny Damon (2018), A.J. Burnett, Nick Swisher (2021)
If you squint real hard…
- Andy Pettitte (2019)
Like his longtime batterymate Posada, Andy Pettitte’s Hall of Fame case will likely be viewed as borderline at best. Most of his value was accrued by means of longevity as opposed to peak, a product of being very good for very long but never really a member of the league’s elite. He accumulated enough raw Wins Above Replacement to rank among the top 30 pitchers in baseball since World War II. His peak though, measured by his seven best seasons, lags behind middling names like Roy Oswalt, Carlos Zambrano, Tim Hudson and Mark Buehrle.
Johan Santana, also eligible in 2019, will be an interesting point of comparison for Pettitte. In many ways Santana is the flip-side of the coin, a player whose peak burned bright but career fizzled quickly. Jay Jaffe’s Hall of Fame rating metric, JAWS, rates the two pitchers nearly identically (48.1 for Santana, 47.4 for Pettitte), though neither comes particularly close to the average score for already-enshrined pitchers (62.1). Those factors won’t make Pettitte a darling of the stat-friendly community, but there is some reason to believe he could find support with more traditional voters.
Consider first his 256 career wins. Excluding Clemens and Mussina, only four other pitchers with more than 250 wins are not in the Hall of Fame, and three of them (Tommy John, Jim Kaat and Jamie Moyer) pitched into their mid-to-late 40s, even truer compilers than Pettitte. The fourth is Jack Morris, who maxed out at 67.7 percent of the vote before falling off the ballot after his 15th year, but stands a reasonable chance at getting in anyway via the Eras Committee.
With the 300-win pitcher closer than ever to extinction, it’s possible Pettitte’s total will be observed a bit more favorably by the old guard…particularly if you add his 19 postseason wins to the ledger, not only the highest total in history but four more than the second-place John Smoltz. Pettitte’s postseason experience adds more than a full season to his résumé (he’s also the all-time leader with 276 and 2/3 postseason innings and second in strikeouts with 183), and his five championships in eight Fall Classic appearances will undoubtedly earn him support. Despite some truly excellent playoff starts however, none will likely carry enough clout to push him toward induction the way Game 7 of the 1991 World Series did for Morris.
Honorable Mention: Mark Teixeira (2022)
- Alex Rodriguez (2022)
There is little point in expounding on A-Rod’s statistical qualifications. With 696 home runs, a .309 career TAv and 106.6 career WARP, he is the very definition of an inner-circle Hall of Famer. The question, as it is for many these days, is how the voters will handle his history of PED usage. Rodriguez admitted to using during his years in Texas, a period before a testing policy had been implemented. That alone may have been enough to dissuade some voters, and then Alex was caught again after the Joint Drug Agreement was in place, implicated in the Biogenesis scandal that led to his year-long suspension in 2014.
Two other potential Hall of Famers that were caught doping post-JDA have appeared on the ballot, perhaps offering a glimpse of what’s to come for A-Rod. The first is Rafael Palmeiro, who maxed out at 12.6 percent of the vote before falling off in just his fourth year. The second is Manny Ramirez, who just received 23.8 percent in his ballot debut. Less than a quarter of the vote would seem to leave Manny’s future chances very much in doubt, though it will take time to know for sure. If Manny can gain some traction in the coming years, that will bode well for a much stronger statistical candidate in Rodriguez. If he fades the way Palmeiro did though, A-Rod’s prospects will likewise dim quite a bit.
Save the date
- Mariano Rivera (2019)
- Derek Jeter (2020)
Of course, if all else fails there’s these two. When it comes to Rivera and Jeter, respectively the greatest reliever of all-time and a candidate for one the five best shortstops in history, the question isn’t of if or when they’ll get in, but whether either has a shot at breaking Ken Griffey Jr.’s high-vote percentage mark of 99.3. Most have (probably rightfully) given up the notion that we might someday see a unanimous Hall of Fame selection, but the lifelong Yankees might be the last, best combination of statistical brilliance, team-loyalty, peer-respect and did-it-the-right-wayitude to at least make it interesting.
If they don’t, Yankee fans will simply have to settle for a pair of Cooperstown summer blowouts honoring two of the most beloved Yankees ever. Somehow I think that will be a fine consolation.
Lead photo: Adam Hunger / USA Today Sports