By Andrew Kahn
There are Hall of Famers you maybe never got to see in person for various reasons: Babe Ruth or Walter Johnson, because you weren’t born, Sandy Koufax or Kirby Puckett because you didn’t get tickets when they came to your city. But even if your baseball fandom is just beginning, you have a chance to see Hall of Famers—before they get to Cooperstown, of course.
On Sunday, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez will become the latest inductees. Perhaps you remember them. If not, and you want to be absolutely sure to see a future Hall of Famer, you’ve got five options, spread out all over the country.
These players are locks for first-ballot enshrinement:
Ichiro Suziki, Miami Marlins: He has more than 3,000 Major League hits, and every eligible player who has reached that mark is in the Hall.
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers: The 34-year-old and two-time MVP is having the worst season of his career, but he will almost certainly still get to 500 homers and 3,000 hits for his career.
Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers: He’ll get to 3,000 hits this season. Even if he doesn’t, he’s third among third basemen in career WAR (per Baseball Reference), behind Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews. The first nine players on that list are either in the Hall of Fame or, in the case of Chipper Jones, heading there. Beltre also owns five Gold Gloves.
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers: This is Kershaw’s 10th season in the bigs. Can you believe that? That makes him HOF eligible. He’s won three Cy Youngs and an MVP. Pitchers are hard to predict—they get injured more often than position players and the countable stats aren’t as important, so piling up a few more wins at the expense of your ERA isn’t a good look. But Kershaw, who doesn’t turn 30 until March, has the second-best adjusted ERA (which considers the league average and your home ballpark) of all-time, behind only Mariano Rivera, a reliever.
Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels: He reached 600 home runs with the Angels this season and is fewer than 90 hits away from 3,000. Like the other three hitters mentioned here, Pujols played in the Steroid Era but is not linked to PEDs in the same way Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, or Mark McGwire is.
There are a handful of other active players that should and probably will be memorialized in plaque form. They are, starting with the most likely to get in:
Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals: I nearly put Molina in the “lock” category, but if one has any doubts, it ain’t a lock. The stats are not off-the-charts (.284 batting average, 118 homers) but the 35-year-old catcher has eight Gold Gloves and two World Series. His reputation should get in him, deservedly so.
Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners: He needs just a few more homers to move into second place in that category among second basemen. The five players most similar to him, statistically, through their age 33 seasons are all in the Hall.*
Carlos Beltran: The “Hall of Fame Monitor” assigns a number value to every player’s chances of reaching Cooperstown.* A rating of 100 means the player has a good shot; 130 is a near lock. The aforementioned players represent all the active players above 130. Beltran is the next closest at 126. He’s been in the top 10 of MVP voting only twice, but he’s got plenty of nice countable stats to go along with three Gold Gloves in center field.
*Both of these metrics come via Baseball-Reference.com, which borrowed the idea from legendary statistician Bill James.
If you banked on telling your grandkids you saw one of those three guys play, only for your grandkids to look up the player—through a thought-activated, retinal-embedded search engine—and realize he’s not even a Hall of Famer, don’t come looking for me. Actually, please do, so we can commiserate about the injustice.
There are other guys around the league who warranted some research—research that determined they haven’t done enough. They are: Matt Holliday (being a career .300 hitter with plenty of power isn’t special enough for a corner outfielder who played five years in Colorado), Joe Mauer (the MVP and three-time batting champ needs to reverse his recent decline), Joey Votto (the on-base percentage for the one-time MVP is incredible, but the overall stat profile doesn’t hold up), and Max Scherzer (if his next five seasons are like his last five, he’s in). Keep in mind that a pair of battery mates in San Francisco, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, have only nine seasons of service.
It is estimated that at any time in baseball history, six percent or so of players will one day reach the Hall. For every Pujols or Ichiro there is a Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, phenoms who hit the ground running en route to (potentially) all-time great careers. There are also plenty of modern-day versions of Brooks Robinson, Roberto Clemente, and Sandy Koufax—players who have started slow but will eventually become superstars. The fun part is, we have no idea who they are.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about baseball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn