The Baseball Hall of Fame announced its 2020 ballot on Monday, and one name should be surrounded by neon lights: Derek Jeter, the former Yankees captain, who might follow Mariano Rivera as the second unanimous inductee when results are revealed in January.
The other 17 newcomers on the ballot might have to wait awhile, and some will get no votes at all from the hundreds of baseball writers who cast ballots. But all had significant influence in their own way, even if their paths do not lead to Cooperstown.
Though he spent most of his career with the Phillies — nine years with an on-base plus slugging percentage of .928, better than Mike Schmidt — Abreu pulled off a neat trick late in his career: he played for the Yankees, the Mets, the Dodgers and the Angels. Only three others have played for all four current teams in the New York and Los Angeles markets: pitcher John Candelaria, infielder/catcher Bill Sudakis and the Hall of Fame outfielder Rickey Henderson.
Since baseball expanded the playoff field in 1995, Josh Beckett is the only pitcher to throw a shutout in a division series, a league championship series and a World Series. Two of his gems came for the Marlins in 2003 — against the Cubs in the N.L.C.S. and the Yankees in the World Series — and the other for the Red Sox in the 2007 division series opener against the Angels. Beckett tossed only six shutouts in his 14 regular seasons, but the last was a no-hitter for the Dodgers in 2014.
The last time the Padres finished with a winning record, Heath Bell saved more than half of their victories. That was in 2010, the second of his three seasons as an All-Star. For his last appearance in the All-Star Game, the following summer in Phoenix, Bell did his customary sprint to the mound from the bullpen — but just before he got there, he slid on the grass. Breathing heavily, with a grass stain and a small tear on his pants, Bell retired Jhonny Peralta on a pop-up. “I got to do something at the All-Star Game that nobody’s ever done before,” Bell said later. “I really wanted to have a good time.”
The Yankees’ dynasty hung in the balance before the decisive game of their 2000 division series in Oakland. They had won three of the last four World Series, but the young A’s were ascending. “They’ve won enough times,” Eric Chavez said of the Yankees,in a news conference before Game 5. “It’s time for some other people to have some glory.” Chavez didn’t know it, but a live feed of his interview was playing on the Coliseum scoreboard while the Yankees took batting practice, and they noticed. The Yankees would score six times in the first inning and win, 7-5, with Chavez making the final out. “You can’t beat us with your mouth,” Derek Jeter said after the game. “You have to beat us on the field.” All was forgiven a decade later; the Yankees signed Chavez after the 2010 season, and he helped them win two division titles.
On Aug. 10, 2004, Adam Dunn swung a bat in Ohio and hit a ball to Kentucky. Dunn, a supersize slugger for the Reds, launched a 535-foot rocket over a center field deck at Great American Ball Park. It landed on a street, bounced for a while and settled onto a piece of driftwood in the Ohio River — which, technically, is part of Kentucky. “When you hit it out of the state, you’re a modern-day Paul Bunyan,” his teammate Sean Casey said years later. “That’s the stuff of legends.” Dunn belted 462 home runs in his career, and while he never appeared in the postseason, he did appear in an Oscar-nominated film, “Dallas Buyers Club,” in 2013. Dunn was an investor in the production company and played a bartender.
Chone Figgins and Juan Pierre were teammates in the Rockies’ farm system, and though they played for different teams in 2010, they were roommates in Arizona for spring training. That season, the duo completed a seven-year stretch in which they both tallied at least 300 stolen bases, a figure also reached in that span by Carl Crawford and Jose Reyes. In the past seven years, no player in the majors reached 300 steals, and baseball would be more fun if it still had a place for guys like Figgins.
The 2000 National League Rookie of the Year Award went to Rafael Furcal, then the Braves’ shortstop, with the Cardinals lefty Rick Ankiel finishing as the runner-up. In the third inning of the opening game of the playoffs in St. Louis that fall, Ankiel retired Furcal on a routine foul pop to first. It was the last batter Ankiel ever faced as that version of himself. He threw two wild pitches while facing the next hitter, Andruw Jones, and has traced the Jones at-bat to the moment his control abandoned him forever. Ankiel would reinvent himself as an outfielder, and Furcal would find himself at Busch Stadium again for the highlight of his career: a victory in Game 7 of the 2011 World Series, as the Cardinals’ starting shortstop.
As an Oakland Athletics farmhand in 1994, Jason Giambi reported to his spring training and found his locker next to Goose Gossage. It took weeks for Giambi to summon the courage to talk to Gossage, the salty veteran reliever, but soon they bonded over baseball history: 13 years earlier, when he was 10, Giambi had seen Gossage pitch for the Yankees in the World Series at Dodger Stadium. “He just thought it was kind of cool that a young kid knew about the game,” Giambi said. “With skateboarding and video games and everything, a lot of guys didn’t watch the game when they were kids. But back then, you lived the game.”
Giambi had an eventful career, to put it mildly. At the very end, when he was playing for Cleveland at 43 years old with a grizzled gray beard, he switched to No. 72 — the same number he wore for the A’s in that first spring training.
The Seattle Mariners drafted 35 players in 1992 before taking Raul Ibanez from Miami-Dade College. He clawed his way to the majors — even playing catcher for a while — but was so lost in a crowd of sluggers that his manager at the time, Lou Piniella — though fluent in Spanish — called him “eye-BAN-ez” instead of “ee-BAHN-yez.” Three years in Kansas City established Ibanez as an everyday player, though, and he stayed in the majors through 2014. Ibanez now works in the Dodgers’ front office and would make an excellent manager if he ever wants that job; he is of the most-respected and genuine people in the game.
Paul Konerko hit a grand slam in the World Series and made the final putout to end a perfect game. He set the total bases record for the White Sox, who retired his No. 14 and built him a statue. Konerko was not fast and was not a great fielder, so baseball-reference.com credits him with just 27.7 wins above replacement, fewer than Von Hayes, Martin Prado and Rondell White. But never mind that: His was an extraordinary career that inspired the Mets’ Pete Alonso, himself a right-handed, slugging first baseman. “The way that he was clutch and was such a great leader and did everything the right way — that’s someone who I wanted to be like,” Alonso said this summer. “He had a fantastic career, and I think he’s a Hall of Famer.”
The same pitcher won the first regular-season and World Series games at Yankee Stadium — and it wasn’t even a Yankee. It was Cliff Lee, who beat C.C. Sabathia to open the park in April 2009 as a member of the Indians, then did it again that October as a member of the Phillies. Lee was a study in efficiency; he led the majors four times in fewest walks per nine innings, and on April 18, 2012, he issued no walks in 10 innings for the Phillies in a no-decision against the Giants. That is the only game since 2007 in which a pitcher has worked 10 innings, and Lee needed just 102 pitches to do it.
In Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, Carlos Pena saved baseball from a thorny problem. The Phillies were trying to close out Pena’s Tampa Bay Rays, and led by a run in the top of the sixth inning. The game was therefore official, but a driving rain had invaded Philadelphia and would not let up for days. At the time — in a monumental oversight — there was no rule that said postseason games must be played to their completion. Could the Phillies actually win the World Series in a rain-shortened clincher? Commissioner Bud Selig said he would not have allowed that, but, luckily, he never had to make the decision: With two outs, Pena singled him the tying run, and the game was mercifully suspended. The Phillies won two nights later in crisp, clear weather delivered to them by a rival.
The ring is nice, for sure, but Brad Penny also should have an M.V.P. trophy for his work in the 2003 World Series for the Marlins. Penny beat the Yankees in both of his starts, and the actual M.V.P., Josh Beckett, was 1-1. Penny even drove in two runs with a single in Game 5, providing the margin of victory to send the Marlins back to the Bronx with a three-games-to-two lead. Beckett twirled a shutout on short rest in Game 6, but Penny — a towering right-hander who would later start an All-Star Game for the Dodgers — deserved better.
How badly did the Mets want J.J. Putz at the 2008 winter meetings? They traded seven players for him (and two others) in a wild three-team deal with Seattle and Cleveland. None of the seven became superstars, but the group has combined to play 47 major league seasons since the trade, and pitchers Joe Smith and Jason Vargas are still active. Putz played just one season for the Mets, with a 5.22 earned run average, but had 40-save seasons before and after his time in New York.
Four players who started in the final game at the old Yankee Stadium appear on this ballot: Abreu, Giambi, Jeter and Roberts, who bounced Mariano Rivera’s pitch toward first baseman Cody Ransom for the last out at the old shrine. Roberts was a star then for the Baltimore Orioles, but injuries — notably a long struggle with concussions — derailed the latter part of his career. He finished up with the Yankees in 2014.
Few can match Alfonso Soriano for notable experiences. He played in Japan for the Hiroshima Carp when he was 21 years old. He hit a home run in Game 7 of the World Series for the Yankees, who eventually traded him to the Rangers for Alex Rodriguez. He was most valuable player of the All-Star Game for Texas, had a 40-homer/40-steal season for the Nationals and signed a nine-figure contract with the Cubs. He might not make it to Cooperstown, but Soriano was one of the best power/speed players ever. He hit 412 homers and stole 289 bases, and only five players exceed him in both categories: Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Rodriguez, Andre Dawson and Carlos Beltran.
Jose Valverde’s nickname was Papa Grande, which translates to Big Potato, matching his lumpy physique. In his five-year prime (2007-2011) Valverde had more saves than Mariano Rivera. While his career postseason earned run average was 9.82, Valverde came through for Detroit in the division series clincher in the Bronx in 2011. Called in to protect a one-run lead, he retired Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano on fly outs, then blew a 94 mile-an-hour fastball past Rodriguez to end the Yankees’ season.