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Which NL players are Cooperstown-bound?

BY CHRISTOPHER YOUNG

Yep. That time of year again: the fourth annual "What current major-leaguers will end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame someday?" discussion. Today, the National League.

Arizona. As recently as two years ago, the D-Backs had two canít-miss entries in Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, but ownership subsequently went on the cheap for a few years, and now the team is primarily no-names and retreads. The only guy even close to being worthy of discussion is third baseman Troy Glaus, but heís a career .254 hitter with just 193 career homers. Heís only 28 but still unlikely to improve enough to reach ultra-elite status. Luis Gonzalez? Fifteen decent seasons (and 297 homers along with a career average of .287), but heís 37 and likely has seen his best days.

Atlanta. One prolific "maybe" on the squad is recently acquired hurler Tim Hudson, who, in six seasons with Oakland, garnered 92 victories. Heís off to a decent start (4-2) with his new team, but letís give the 29-year-old a little more time to show his stuff. Meanwhile, John Smoltz, who recently returned to the rotation after a three-year stint in the bullpen, is likely a lock for Cooperstown (166 career wins, 154 saves), although maybe not first-ballot. Chipper Jones still has a legitimate shot, too, with his .304 career average over 10-plus pro seasons, but Andruw Jonesís star seems to be dimming in recent years.

Chicago. Pitcher Greg Maddux is a shoo-in, as the crafty righty now has 307 career wins and is still going strong at age 38. Manager Dusty Baker also has a decent enough track record to merit consideration. The youngsters in his rotation have potential but are proving themselves to be injury-prone, and thereís nobody on the offensive side worth discussing in this context except for Nomar Garciaparra, and his recent stretch of significant injuries has put a temporary halt to his once-solid march to a permanent berth among the sport's greatest players.

Cincinnati. Thereís only one Redleg even remotely within range, and thatís oft-injured Ken Griffey Jr. Itís difficult for a lot of fans to remember back when Junior was a consistently electrifying performer, but heís got the stats to prove it (.292 career, 506 HRs); the dinger total alone should qualify him. No one else on the roster even remotely deserves consideration.

Colorado. Can you name a Rockie, much less a Rockie star? Todd Helton maybe, but his numbers (.338 BA, 256 HRs) could be considered enhanced by the thin air of his home park, Coors Field.

Florida. Some interesting names (Mike Lowell, Jeff Conine), but I think the only lock in a Marlins uniform is grizzled manager Jack McKeon. Carlos Delgado, newly signed from Toronto, is an intriguing possibility, with his 340 HRs and .283 career average, but the former Jayís chances depend on his transition to the NL and the stats the 32-year-old posts the rest of the way. Veteran pitcher Al Leiter also has a reasonable shot, but he's never been a 20-game winner despite 19 seasons in the majors (he topped out at 17 wins in 1998), and his overall record is only 156-124.

Houston. Roger Clemens is our generationís no-doubt-about-it Hall of Famer ó when and if he retires, that is. After that, itís a little dicey. Jeff Bagwell picked an inopportune time for possibly-career-ending shoulder surgery, but his career numbers (449 HRs, 1525 RBIs, .297 BA) are impressive. Heís still worthy, despite playing in a low-marquee market his entire career. Now in his 18th season for the Astros, Craig Biggio isnít a household name around here, but his numbers are also Hall-worthy. You can look them up. Ageless wonder John Franco (44 and still slinginí Ďem), with his 424 career saves, also most likely qualifies.

LA. Nobody really stands out except for closer Eric Gagne, who has already secured 152 saves in the last three seasons. Still, itís way too early, heís almost 30, and heís missed the first six weeks of this season due to an elbow injury. The other option, Jeff Kent, is on his sixth team and has proven to be an above-average player ó but not a special one, since heís hit over .300 just twice in his 14-year career.

Milwaukee. Ben Sheets has logged at least 11 wins each of his first four seasons, but that hardly gives him a free pass to Cooperstown (unless he does it for the next 15 years as well).

New York. Pedro Martinez? Check. Tom Glavine (264 wins, 3.47 ERA)? Yessir. Mike Piazza? Um-hmm. Carlos Beltran? Certainly on the right track. Still, with four potential Hall-of-Famers on the roster, youíd think the Mets would be better than 19-19.

Philadelphia. Jim Thomeís right on the cusp (424 HRs, .283 BA), and a couple more productive years out of the amiable 34-year-old and heíll be Hall-bound. Thomeís a guy whoís made each team heís played for better, and only his persistent achiní back could pose a roadblock to enshrinement.

Pittsburgh. Not since Barry Bonds fled for the West Coast has there been a player of Hall-of-Fame caliber playing in the Steel City. Thirteen long years and counting.

St. Louis. Lotsa guys on the fast track (Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Albert Pujols, Larry Walker), but only the latter is close to being a certainty right now. Pitching-wise, former Oakland hurler Mark Mulder has notched 86 wins in his five-plus years in the majors, but he's got a ways to go before any decisions are made regarding his chances. Skipper Tony La Russa, however, is a certainty despite only one world title in 27 (consecutive) seasons as a big-league manager.

San Diego. Trevor Hoffman (404 saves), probably; Brian Giles (.298 career BA), less likely.

San Francisco. Hold your nose and acknowledge the guaranteed (if not first-ballot) election of Mr. Bonds. Otherwise, Moises Alou is borderline (as is his pop, Giants manager Felipe Alou), and Omar Vizquel could generate some Ozzie Smith-type backing for his defensive wizardry.

Washington. Not as such, although they have a Hall-of-Fame manager in Frank Robinson.

Tune in Friday for the AL contendas for the Hallís call.

Sporting Eye runs Mondays and Fridays at BostonPhoenix.com, and Christopher Young can be reached at cyoung@phx.com


Issue Date: May 16, 2005
"Sporting Eye" archives: 2005 | 2004 | 2003 |2002
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