HOUSTON — When it comes to the Hall of Fame, Dusty Baker has received the most attention at the 117th World Series.
I have long advocated for Baker as a Hall of Famer citing the entirety of his career — an above-average player and a manager with a golden touch for getting five teams to the playoffs. Even if he were never to win a championship as a manager, his more than half-a-century of accomplishment stands as a Cooperstown career.
But this is for someone else. Baker came and went from the player Hall ballot in 1992, which was before I was a voter. I only get to vote on players. Baker’s candidacy will be judged by the Today’s Game Era Committee, which cannot consider him this winter unless he is retired and then does not convene again until the winter of 2024.
So I am focused on players, and there is a chance that plenty of participants in this series will be serious candidates. But there are only three who at this moment combine a career that will garner significant consideration with having crossed the 10 years of service to make the ballot: Jose Altuve, Freddie Freeman and Zack Greinke (Michael Brantley and Charlie Morton will make the ballot, but not have enough bulk accomplishment to get a plaque).
So where do those three most serious candidates stand right now?
In stature and style — short second baseman with a big-man’s swing — Altuve is reminiscent of Dustin Pedroia, who will have an interesting Hall case himself that could provide insights to how Altuve will be viewed.
Will Altuve be hurt by his association with the sign-stealing scandal of the 2017 Astros? It doesn’t help. But it also isn’t going to be viewed like steroids. Plus, there is evidence that Altuve was not a major abuser of illegally knowing what pitches were coming. Then there is the conspiracy that he was wearing a buzzer to alert him what pitch was coming, including when he hit the ALCS Game 6 series-clinching homer versus Aroldis Chapman and the Yankees in 2019. Again, the evidence for it is hardly overwhelming.
That Altuve struggled last year in the first season after the revelation of the sign stealing was damaging — as if he could not thrive without assistance. He returned to excellence this year, but not his peak. That his lone MVP Award came in 2017 will probably lose some substance, especially since he currently has just one other top-nine finish. His 23 postseason homers (five this year) are the second most ever.
His hit total through age-31 (1,777) looks similar to George Brett (1,783), who excelled in his thirties and made the Hall. But it also looks like Carl Crawford (1,765) and Jose Reyes (1,772), who both crumbled in their thirties. Which way Altuve goes could determine his Fame fate.
He looks a lot through his age-31 season like Hall of Famer Eddie Murray did through his 10th. Freeman: 271 homers and a slash line of .295/.384/.509. Murray: 275 homers, .299/.375/.505. Murray had excellence and endurance, climbing to 500 homers and 3,000 hits. Both milestones are in play for Freeman, who has the MVP that escaped Murray and is likely looking this season at his sixth top-eight finish (Murray had eight).
Freeman has nine straight seasons with an OPS-plus of 130 or better. Murray had 10 in his career. Joey Votto, six years older than Freeman and a contemporary first baseman who will get lots of Hall attention, has nine, too.
Freeman is eight months older than Altuve and like him he probably has to have at least three more high-end years to solidify entry to Cooperstown — if not more.
Unlike Altuve and Freeman, Greinke’s case has pretty much played out. Through age-37, Greinke looks a lot like another cerebral, athletic righty — Mike Mussina — at the same age. Greinke: 3,110 innings, 123 ERA-plus. Mussina: 3,210 innings, 124 ERA-plus.
Mussina helped his candidacy with his lone 20-win season in his final year at 39. Mussina gained credit for pitching in exclusively the offensively lethal AL East his whole career. He also was known for being close but no cigar with achievements like perfect games, championships and Cy Youngs (he had nine top-six finishes without winning). Greinke won an AL Cy in 2009 and finished second in the NL in 2015, when he posted a 1.66 ERA for the Dodgers.
Greinke has been fine, but not great in the postseason and lacks a distinguishing moment. It is why I believe another pitcher with similar stats, Curt Schilling, is a better candidate than the current version of Greinke. Mussina is in the Hall. Schilling was on the borderline last year and faces his final year of the vote this year.
Greinke is a free agent and could still add on to a résumé that already makes him a legitimate candidate.
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