The 2017 Hall of Fame ballot was released yesterday, and as noted here, there’s a decent chance Ivan Rodriguez could become the first ever permanent resident of Cooperstown to have played for the Nationals.
Rodriguez, of course, would not go into the Hall wearing a curly W cap on his head. He’d almost certainly be a Ranger, with only a passing mention of “Washington, N.L.” on his plaque.
Which raises the following question (kudos to reader Ed Frank for bringing it up): Who will be the first person to ever enter the Hall of Fame wearing a Nationals cap?
This is a tough one, but before we run through some potential candidates, an important point to make: It could be a long time before it happens, as several other franchises have learned over the years.
There are currently four major league franchises with zero Hall of Famers wearing their caps. The Rays (founded in 1998), the Marlins and Rockies (both founded in 1993) and the Angels (founded in 1961) all have been shut out over the years.
Mike Trout might end California/Anaheim/Los Angeles of Anaheim’s remarkably long drought, but that won’t be happening for at least another 15 years, maybe more. Larry Walker or Todd Helton could break through for Colorado at some point. Miami’s best hope is for Giancarlo Stanton to keep putting up huge numbers for many more years without getting traded or opting out of his long-term deal. As for Tampa Bay ... well, Evan Longoria might have a shot.
Officially, the Nationals franchise doesn’t make this list, because there are two Expos in the Hall of Fame in Gary Carter and Andre Dawson. And both Tim Raines and Vladimir Guerrero could join them soon.
But there won’t be a lot of celebrating in D.C. should either of those excellent players be enshrined in Cooperstown, because neither has any connection to this town’s baseball history.
So, if and when it happens, it’ll be someone who made his full impact on the game while playing for the Nationals. Who could that be?
There was a point early on when Ryan Zimmerman was laying the foundation for a possible Hall of Fame career, but that ship has long since sailed. Adam Dunn wasn’t a Hall of Famer, and even if he was, he’d go in as a Red. Alfonso Soriano’s greatest season may have come as a National, but it was only one season here in town.
Bryce Harper is headed down the right path, but he’s got a long, long way to go. And his induction as a National would probably require his staying in D.C. beyond the expiration of his contract after the 2018 season.
Stephen Strasburg, at his best, certainly looks like a Hall of Famer. And now that he’s signed long-term, there’s not much fear of him doing bigger and better things for a different franchise. But for Strasburg to get to Cooperstown, he’s going to have to get over the injuries that have disrupted him nearly every season of his career to date and left him something less than he could be.
So what about Max Scherzer? He has only pitched two seasons so far in D.C., but they’ve been Hall of Fame-caliber seasons. He’s signed to pitch here for another five seasons, which would give him seven seasons with the Nationals versus five with the Tigers and two with the Diamondbacks.
What would it take for Scherzer to merit serious consideration? Well, he has topped a 6.0 WAR in each of the last four seasons, which is a good start. He’d probably need to do that another four or five times, though, to put himself in the conversation. A third Cy Young Award wouldn’t hurt, either.
Whether Scherzer can do that in today’s game remains to be seen. It’s far from a sure thing, but neither is it out of the realm of possibility.
And if he can somehow pull it off, start booking your rooms in Cooperstown for the final weekend of July in, say, 2028 or so. It might just end up being the first time the village is awash in curly W caps.