Almost two years after his election, Larry Walker will finally be inducted into the Hall of Fame today. Walker will be the first player to enter Cooperstown wearing a Colorado Rockies hat. That leaves just three teams without plaque representation: the Miami Marlins, the Washington Nationals, and the Tampa Bay Rays. Every other active team in the American or National League has at least one player wearing their logo in MLB’s most hallowed halls. The Diamondbacks have Randy Johnson, and they entered the league the same year as the Rays. Even the Padres have three, and their entire bit is not doing anything remarkable.
Our job now is to predict the first player to choose to wear these hats as they’re immortalized in bronze. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be easy. Let’s start with the least difficult one.
The Montreal Expos had three players enter the Hall wearing their cap, but no one has gone in wearing the curly W since the franchise relocated and rebranded in 2005. There are a few former and current Nationals on track for Cooperstown, though. Bryce Harper is well on his way with 38.4 bWAR through his age-28 season, but at this point, it seems unlikely Harper would choose to wear a Nationals hat on his plaque. Two injury-marred seasons have derailed Stephen Strasburg’s chances, but he still has time to correct course.
Neither is as likely as Max Scherzer, though. Scherzer has already amassed 66.8 bWAR, and he’ll more than likely reach 3,000 strikeouts in his next start. He has three Cy Young Awards, eight All-Star appearances, and a World Series ring. He also shares the record for most strikeouts in a single game. The question isn’t whether Scherzer is a Hall of Famer. He most certainly is. It’s whether he’ll choose Washington.
Most of Scherzer’s best moments came with the Nationals, but he’s been with three other teams. He won one of his Cy Youngs with Detroit, and he also helped them to an American League pennant in 2012. His career isn’t close to over either. We don’t know what he’ll do with the Dodgers or whichever team signs him this winter. Spreading his rings and his accolades around could cause him to not choose any team like Greg Maddux.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays aren’t exactly known for hanging onto their good players for a long time, but in 24 seasons, they’ve already had more players accrue 30+ bWAR while wearing their uniform than the Padres or Marlins. Their leader is Evan Longoria, who is their best bet to get their hat into Cooperstown. Through his age-35 season, Longoria has 57.4 bWAR, and he tallied up 51.2 of that with the Rays.
Longoria’s candidacy is the opposite of Scherzer’s in that it seems pretty likely he would choose Tampa Bay, but he might not make it into the Hall. If he does, it might not be for another 15 or 20 years.
Among third basemen, Longo currently ranks 18th in both bWAR and JAWS behind Dick Allen. This is Longoria’s age-35 season, so unless he goes on an absolute tear in the final years of his career, he’ll come up short of the 68.6 average bWAR put up by Hall of Famers at the hot corner.
Barring a late-career Renaissance, Scott Rolen has a better case than Longoria will, and it might take Rolen all 10 years of eligibility to make it in. Rolen ranks 10th in bWAR and JAWS at 70.1 and 56.9 respectively, but he only received 52.9 percent of the vote in his fourth year on the ballot. It’s not as if a crowded pool placed Rolen at a disadvantage, either. The BBWAA elected no one to the Hall of Fame last winter. If Rolen is having this much trouble, it’s hard to imagine Longoria having an easier go of it.
If Longoria isn’t the first Ray to wear a Rays cap to the Hall, it’s really anybody’s guess as to who it will be. David Price is a possibility, but it’s no guarantee he’ll be inducted. He also won his ring in Boston. Wander Franco is drawing comparisons to Mickey Mantle, but he isn’t old enough to buy a beer. The only certain thing is that Rays fans will be waiting a long time for their first inductee.
Fans of the Marlins might not have to wait much longer, but that’s only if Gary Sheffield gets in and chooses to wear a Florida hat on his plaque. Sheffield spent parts of six seasons with the Marlins, including 1997 when he helped Florida to their first World Series title.
Sheffield spent more time with the Marlins than any other team, but he only spent six years of his 22-year career in Florida. Sheffield only amassed 13.2 bWAR with the Marlins, which ranks him behind Mike Lowell and Dan Uggla on the all-time franchise list. He was a traveler, playing for the Dodgers, Brewers, Padres, Yankees, Tigers, Atlanta, and the Mets. If gets in, which isn’t a given considering he only received 40.6 percent of the vote in his seventh year of eligibility, it seems likely he wouldn’t choose a cap to wear on his plaque.
If it’s not Sheffield, then it could be anyone. Miguel Cabrera will almost certainly wear a Tigers hat when he goes in. Giancarlo Stanton doesn’t seem likely to wear a Marlins cap if he gets in nor does Christian Yelich. The first Marlin to enter the Plaque Gallery likely hasn’t even donned the uniform yet. Who knows? It could even be you.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.