By Joel Sherman New York Post June 18, 2016
Peyton Manning did not need that second Super Bowl victory to solidify his Hall of Fame credentials. What was provided was an upgrade for his plaque — two-time champion rather than one.
Ichiro Suzuki similarly has the bonus now to add all-time pro hit king and soon 3,000-hit man to his plaque. But Ichiro had long ago assured his Cooperstown credentials when he averaged 224 hits a season with a .331 average over his first 10 years as a Mariner.
What followed was familiar to most Hall of Famers — a decline in performance late in a career with overall averages falling while counting stats, such as total hits, kept climbing. Suzuki, as the oldest position player in the majors, has rebounded in 2016 to, so far, atypically produce an average akin to his prime.
Often 3,000 hits or 300 wins or other milestones are celebrated, but occur when the players are shells of who they were when they actually earned their Hall entrance. Derek Jeter, for example, moved from 11th to sixth on the all-time hit list his final season — which will look great on his plaque — but he did it as a .256 batter, not the hit maestro of his prime.
Obvious Hall of Famers can fade and not damage their electability. Miguel Cabrera, Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols — like Ichiro — were Hall of Famers before this season began, and poor results would not harm their candidacies. Those who needed more to push them over the borderline (think Jimmy Rollins) or needed a strong back nine to just get to the borderline (think Mark Teixeira) have faltered this season.
Conversely, there are guys on the tail ends of careers helping their candidacies this season. We are not talking about those with fewer than 10 years of experience in their prime, such as Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw. This is about thirty-somethings who should be more in the accumulating portion of their careers now who, to date in 2016, have upgraded their Hall status by acting like their younger selves:
1. Carlos Beltran, Yankees
Beltran already might have done enough to get 75 percent of the electorate, especially because his outstanding two-way career has been enhanced by his postseason brilliance. But going over 400 homers and 2,500 hits this year while having an offensive season that looks like his prime only helps his candidacy.
If he continues at his current pace, Beltran would produce his 11th season of qualifying for the batting title with an OPS-plus of 120 or better (20 percent or better than MLB average factoring in ballpark and league). Others who have the same amount include Joe DiMaggio, Ken Griffey Jr. and Tony Gwynn. This also would mark the 11th year for …
2. David Ortiz, Red Sox
Like Beltran, Ortiz already might have crossed the borderline. But his candidacy is plagued by two factors: 1) he has mainly been a DH and, more importantly, 2) he may have it held against him that he reportedly was among those who failed what was just survey PED testing in 2003. Ortiz always has denied use.I wonder if yet another brilliant season in his retirement campaign – he led the majors in OPS by 137 points – at a time when MLB is perceived as having tough testing might bring Ortiz more voters. Just in case 500 homers and a reputation as one of the clutch players in history is not enough. He remains the primary cleanup hitter on a contender, just like …
3. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
He also already might have done enough for Cooperstown. But if not, he is heading toward 3,000 hits (2,833) and perhaps 500 homers (423) as a still above-average all-around player. He was second on the first-place Rangers in homers and RBIs while still leading AL third basemen in defensive runs saved. You know who else would be second in the AL in a key category …
4. CC Sabathia, Yankees
The lefty symbolized the player who turned a borderline case south by going 23-27 with a 4.81 ERA the past three seasons. Except in 2016 Sabathia is a few innings away from qualifying for the ERA title, and if he did he would be second in the AL.
Sabathia finally has completed a transformation from power to Pettitte — relying heavily on a cutter and the ability to execute the 5-10 pitches a game in critical moments. If he can stay healthy and pitch in this way, Sabathia would deliver his ninth season with an ERA-plus of at least 120, which would be two more than Nolan Ryan, one more than Whitey Ford and the same as Fergie Jenkins.
He still would need more. But what if this is the beginning of Chapter 2 of his career and he has a few years like Andy Pettitte? Could he do enough to get into the Hall, especially factoring in a Cy Young, five other top-five finishes and being the key addition to get the Brewers to the playoffs for the first time in 26 years? He also was the ace of the 2009 champion Yankees (1.98 ERA in five starts that postseason) when he was teammates with …
5. Robinson Cano, Mariners
His terrible first half last season could have been seen as the beginning of his end. His strong second half as garbage time stats after his team was out of it. But he has rebounded in full this year for the contending Mariners.
He had five straight MVP top-six seasons from 2010-14 and might do so again. The last full-time second baseman to be elected to the Hall, Roberto Alomar, had five in his career (2015 inductee Craig Biggio also caught and played the outfield). His 151 OPS-plus going into Saturday would be the highest of his career and — if he can maintain that level — would mark the fifth time in his career he was at 140 or better, the same amount as Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan. His 247th career homer Friday tied Morgan and made him the record holder for most homers by an AL second baseman.
I think there is only one guy on the list who is worthy of the Hall. This is going to shock you. But I think Big Papi is the only one with the stats and the cred and the rings that entitle him to be in the Hall. (I hope that makes Lem happy. Even the biggest Yankee fan going agrees that Idi Amin Big Papi belongs in the Hall)
He just has to be careful. If a toddler falls into the dugout and he picks him up they might shoot him. So his best bet is to retire and stay out of trouble. Just sayn'