The Baseball Writers’ Association of America released the Hall of Fame Class of 2019 on Tuesday with four new members getting bronze plaques in July: RHP Mariano Rivera, RHP Roy Halladay, RHP Mike Mussina and DH Edgar Martinez.
With the Curve ramping up towards the 21st season in Altoona, the franchise is still waiting on the first alumnus to get the call to Cooperstown.
This brings up an annual quandary among fans in Curve, Pa.: Who will be the first Curve alum to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame?
Before we go any further, let’s look closer at the requirements that are needed for Hall of Fame consideration. For a player to become Hall of Fame eligible:
- They must have played at least 10 seasons of Major League Baseball
- They must have been retired for at least five year
- They cannot be on the Commissioners exempt list
Additionally, each player must pass through a screening committee that approves a player’s worthiness to be added to the next ballot.
That’s the simple version. You can dive into the full list of requirements thanks to the Baseball Hall’s official website here.
For the sake of this article, we’ll focus on the nearly 160 Curve alumni that reached the big leagues for the first time after they were in Altoona. However, you’ll notice some exceptions.
We may have already answered our own question here when we explored which Curve alumni have had the best MLB career last summer. That article ranked the top dozen players by Baseball-Reference’s career WAR measurement, which is explained at nauseum here.
The average career WAR of all current Hall of Famers is 67.3. The percentage of players in Cooperstown with a career WAR between 50 and 70 is 38 percent. That’s a substantial amount. Just for fun, here are the all-time leaders in career WAR:
- Babe Ruth – 182.5
- Cy Young – 168.0
- Walter Johnson – 165.2
- Barry Bonds – 162.8
- Willie Mays – 156.4
The lowest career WAR of any Hall of Famer is Satchel Paige’s 9.1 but that only considers his MLB career rather than the entire scope of his famously long career.
The next lowest career WAR for a member of the Hall is 14.6 by Tommy McCarthy. McCarthy, a fine base stealer and .292 career hitter, was an Old Timers Committee induction in 1946 who played from 1884-1896 and has been given credit for establishing the hit-and-run while he played for the Boston Beaneaters.
McCarthy’s story proves that baseball, the ultimate numbers game, still does not use strictly numbers as a benchmark to get into the Hall of Fame. There is still the human element with the BBWAA electing those who have made significant impacts on the game (which is also why there are executives, managers and umpires in the Hall).
Now that we’ve established what makes a Hall of Famer, let’s look at three serious Curve contenders for the Hall of Fame.
Probably the knee-jerk response here for most people. He’s already completed 10 seasons in The Show and has a career WAR of 42.0, which is the highest by any Curve alumni at the major league level. He stands 17th in that category among active MLB players with just one player above him with less big league experience (Mike Trout, 64.3 in eight seasons).
McCutchen has been an all-star selection five times (half of his MLB career), a four-time Silver Slugger, one Gold Glove and the 2013 National League MVP as the Pirates snapped a 20-year playoff drought. If he stays healthy and plays, let’s say, five more seasons at the pace of an average starter, McCutchen’s career WAR would be over 50.0 and could be worthy for enshrinement.
But will Cutch be the first Curve alumni to get the call to Cooperstown? A lot of that depends on how long he plays and what happens in 2023.
Could it be Bronson Arroyo, who first becomes eligible for the ballot in 2023? Drafted by the Pirates in 1995, Arroyo has a special place in Curve history. He started the first game at Peoples Natural Gas Field on April 15, 1999 and went on to a 16-year career in the big leagues. Arroyo’s resume for induction might not be extremely flashy with one all-star selection, one Gold Glove and a World Series title with the Red Sox in 2004. However, he compiled a 148-137 record with a 4.28 ERA over his lengthy career. Arroyo’s career WAR sits at 23.7.
If not Arroyo and while we wait for McCutchen, it could be one player whose five-year clock may be the next to start. Jose Bautista could be one to watch out for, even though he doesn’t technically count towards the Curve’s 158 player total because he played in 68 MLB games before he spent most of the 2005 season with in Altoona. Originally a Pirates farmhand before being taken in the Rule 5 draft by Tampa Bay, Bautista hit the reset button once he returned to the Pirates organization and became a major league regular in 2005.
Bautista’s 35.6 career WAR during his 15 seasons is 28th among active major leaguers. The challenge for Bautista on improving that number was landing a regular job in 2018 and could be the case for the upcoming season. He played on three teams last season (Atlanta, New York Mets and Philadelphia) and is still a free agent at the time of this article. A six-time all-star and three-time Silver Slugger, Bautista was top five in MVP voting twice when he led the American League in homers (54) in 2010 and in 2011 (43) when he also paced the league in RBIs (132).
Only a handful of past Curve players have met the 10-year requirements. Jack Wilson was eligible for the first time in 2018 and Mike Gonzalez surpassed the five-year mark for the most recent ballot, but neither player got past the screening committee. In fact, the only Curve alumni to get on a Hall of Fame ballot was Terry Mulholland (who was a rehabbing Pirate with the Curve in 2001) and he did not receive a single vote during his only year on the ballot in 2012.
Here are a few players that have a chance to reach the ballot over the next few years:
- 2020 – Nate McLouth and Paul Maholm
- 2022 – Ryan Vogelsong (had only 19 big league outings before his 2002 season in Altoona and then went on to 10 more years in the majors)
- 2023 – Arroyo and Jason Grilli (rehabbed with the Curve as a member of the Pirates in 2013)
No matter who is first to go from wearing brick and bronze to being cast in bronze forever, it remains clear that fans in Altoona may have to wait awhile to plan a trip to Cooperstown for a July induction ceremony.