You probably don’t remember the 1932 World Series — and if you do, thank you for reading this column. If you know anything about that World Series between the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs, you probably know it as the year Babe Ruth called — or didn’t call — his home run off Cubs pitcher Charlie Root.
What you might not know is that 13 future Hall of Famers played in that World Series — the all-time record. It’s not surprising that the record would come from 1932; the 1920s and 1930s are the most over-represented decades in the Hall of Fame, with more marginal candidates than any other era. The 1932 Yankees had nine Hall of Famers of varying stature (Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Red Ruffing, Lefty Gomez, Tony Lazzeri, Joe Sewell, Earle Combs and Herb Pennock) and the Cubs had four (Gabby Hartnett, Billy Herman, Kiki Cuyler and Burleigh Grimes).
Since the introduction of league championship series play in 1969, the record (so far) for a World Series is seven Hall of Famers:
1996 Yankees-Braves — Wade Boggs, Mariano Rivera, Tim Raines, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones
Pete Rose also played in the 1983 World Series, so that one could conceivably get bumped up to eight. But 1996 will reach eight next year when Derek Jeter gets in, and Andy Pettitte could make it nine down the road. (David Cone, Bernie Williams and Andruw Jones are lesser candidates.)
The 1995 World Series between the Braves and Cleveland Indians has six Hall of Famers already in Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine, Murray, Chipper Jones and Jim Thome. In addition, Omar Vizquel and Manny Ramirez are still on the ballot, and Fred McGriff, Kenny Lofton and even Orel Hershiser are potential Veterans Committee candidates.
Justin Verlander (71.4 WAR)
Signed, sealed and delivered. He has had a huge peak with a Cy Young/MVP season and four other top-three Cy finishes (and he’ll finish first or second this year). He now has added longevity, with 225 career wins. He could get to 300. “I think I can get pretty darn close,” Verlander said the other day. “We’ll see. I feel good. … I think the changes I’ve made the last few years to my body and how I pay attention to things is going to allow me to pitch deeper than I would have otherwise. It’s definitely a goal of mine.”
Max Scherzer (58.7 WAR)
Scherzer has 170 wins, three Cy Young Awards and a lot of black ink on his Baseball-Reference page as a dominant starter over the past seven seasons. He didn’t fully blossom until his breakout season with the Detroit Tigers in 2013 at age 28, however, so he might need a couple of more good seasons to lock things up. Remember, Hall of Fame voters still traditionally favor longevity over peak value. Put it this way: Roy Halladay just made it with 203 career wins and 65.4 WAR with a run of peak seasons similar to Scherzer’s. Halladay’s 203 wins are the fewest for a starting pitcher to get elected since Sandy Koufax made it with 165. (Dennis Eckersley had 197 but also made it on the strength of his career as a closer.) If Scherzer gets to 200 wins, he’s in.
Zack Greinke (66.7 WAR)
Greinke is at 205 wins with a WAR higher than Scherzer’s and a lot of people already refer to him as a future Hall of Famer. And Greinke is still going strong, with 18 wins in 2019, so that win total should continue to climb. I’m not sure he is quite a lock just yet. He is a little different than Scherzer and Halladay, as he had two absolute monster seasons — 10.4 WAR in 2009 and 9.1 in 2015 — but not quite the run of seven or eight huge seasons like those two. Like Scherzer, however, Greinke has been injury-free and has the pitching moxie to last a long time and keep racking up wins.
ON THE PATH
Jose Altuve (38.5 WAR)
So, second base is an interesting position for Hall of Fame voters. Only four second basemen who made their mark since 1970 have been elected:
Joe Morgan: 100.6 WAR
Ryne Sandberg: 68.0 WAR
Roberto Alomar: 67.1 WAR
Craig Biggio: 65.5 WAR
Meanwhile, Lou Whitaker (75.1), Bobby Grich (71.1), Willie Randolph (65.9) and Jeff Kent (55.4) have been rejected. We’ll also have Robinson Cano (69.6) and Chase Utley (65.4) to discuss down the road. Where will Altuve eventually fit on the list?
The point here is that based on WAR — and WAR is not the only barometer, of course, just a starting point — Altuve has a long way to go to get to the Biggio/Alomar/Sandberg level. But he has time. He’ll be entering his age-30 season next year. Altuve already is at 1,568 career hits. He has an MVP and three batting titles. He carries a stature of fame and reputation — like Sandberg and Alomar — that Whitaker, Grich, Randolph and even Kent lacked during their playing days (although Kent did win an MVP and holds the record for most home runs by a second baseman).
In one sense, I’d compare Altuve to a guy like Yadier Molina. Even if some of the numbers eventually fall a little short when compared to other Hall of Famers at their positions, they come with a lot of bonus karma.
Alex Bregman (20.8 WAR)
Bregman had two great seasons of 6.9 and 8.4 WAR at ages 24 and 25 — enough to establish himself as a strong Hall of Fame candidate. Here’s a little study. I looked up how many position players had at least two 6.5-WAR seasons through age 25 since 1947. There have been 36, including Bregman. Fourteen of them already are Hall of Famers. Three others will be: Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter. Two others are Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. Two others still are active with unknown futures: Mookie Betts and Jose Ramirez. Take out Bregman, Betts and Ramirez and we essentially have 19 of 33 either in the Hall of Fame or having Hall of Fame numbers. That gives Bregman about a 60% chance — by this very crude method — of becoming a Hall of Famer.
Stephen Strasburg (32.6)
One thing fans often forget: Strasburg absolutely was worth the hype as the greatest pitching prospect many scouts said they had ever seen. In his first major league start, he struck out 14 batters in seven innings. He allowed one run in each of his next three starts. Through his first nine starts, he was 5-2 with a 2.32 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 54⅓ innings. He was the next evolution in pitching. Then he got hurt. Then he came back, and then came the controversial decision to shut him down before the 2012 playoffs.
In this lens, some have viewed his career as a disappointment. He has made 30 starts in just two seasons. He has never won a Cy Young. But quietly, Strasburg always has pitched well when he does pitch, and his record through his age-30 season compares favorably to some of the guys above and some recent Hall of Fame picks:
Strasburg: 112-58, 3.17 ERA, 130 ERA+, 32.6 WAR
Justin Verlander: 137-77, 3.41 ERA, 127 ERA+, 40.7 WAR
Max Scherzer: 105-62, 3.46 ERA, 120 ERA+, 30.6 WAR
Zack Greinke: 123-90, 3.55 ERA, 117 ERA+, 39.9 WAR
Roy Halladay: 111-55, 3.63 ERA, 128 ERA+, 35.2 WAR
Mike Mussina: 136-66, 3.50 ERA, 130 ERA+, 42.0 WAR
John Smoltz: 129-102, 3.40 ERA, 118 ERA+, 35.5 WAR
Despite the various injuries, 200 wins isn’t out of the question. Scherzer has been great in his 30s. Halladay did a lot after turning 30. Don’t discount Strasburg’s ability to do the same and become an interesting Hall of Fame candidate.
BEHIND THE CURVE, BUT NOT IMPOSSIBLE
Anthony Rendon (27.3 WAR)
Before Game 1 of the World Series, Gerrit Cole described Rendon this way: “If it goes as expected, he’ll probably end up in the Hall of Fame. He’s so cool and calm and collected. And I think a lot of his players feed off that. And he takes care of the baseball on both sides of the ball, both defensively and offensively.”
Rendon has had some big years, and 2019 has been the biggest of all, but he is heading into his age-30 season, so that is an obstacle. He also doesn’t seem like the type that is going to play deep into his 30s. His comment during the National League Championship Series when asked what he’ll be at 36, like teammate Howie Kendrick: “Hopefully not playing baseball.”
Gerrit Cole (23.4 WAR)
Cole is a year younger than Rendon but has hit his stride over the past two seasons, maturing into a dominant ace — and the potential Cy Young winner. Heck, Cole is two years younger than Strasburg, so if he gets 12.0 WAR over the next two seasons (he was at 6.9 in 2019), then he will be up to 35.4 through age 30. Given his stuff, Cole certainly has the chance to excel well into his 30s, if he can stay healthy.
NO, THIS ISN’T A SILLY IDEA
Juan Soto (7.6 WAR)
Do we need to explain why this is possible? He turned 21 on Friday. He just hit .282/.401/.548 with 34 home runs — his second .400 OBP season. He compares to all-time greats such as Mel Ott and Ted Williams with such precocious plate discipline. It’s pretty clear that there is a strong possibility he becomes an inner-circle type of hitter.
NOT REALLY A SILLY IDEA, EITHER
Yordan Alvarez (3.7 WAR)
All his value will be in his bat, but what if he hits like David Ortiz for the next 15 years?