When the great Roberto Clemente was posthumously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, shortly after his tragic death in a plane crash, he became the first Latino player to get a plaque in Cooperstown.
The Puerto Rico native opened the door, but it took a while for many to join him. Over the next 37 election cycles, only five more Latinos who had played in the Major Leagues made it into the Hall: Juan Marichal (Dominican Republic, 1983), Luis Aparicio (Venezuela, 1984), Rod Carew (Panama, 1991), Orlando Cepeda (Puerto Rico, 1999) and Tony Perez (Cuba, 2000).
(A few other players from Cuba, who had played in the Negro Leagues before integration -- Martín Dihigo, José Mendéz and Cristóbal Torriente -- also were inducted).
But since the beginning of the 2010s, that trickle of players has turned into a steady stream -- one that is set to continue running toward Cooperstown over the course of this new decade and beyond. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s take a deeper look.
The HOFers of the 2010s
Over the course of the previous decade, the number of Latino Major Leaguers in the Hall of Fame doubled from six to 12. And five of the new enshrinements came in the latter half of the 2010s. From 2017-19, these players accounted for four of the 11 selections made by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).
Roberto Alomar, Puerto Rico (2011, second ballot): The 12-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove Award-winning second baseman was carrying on the baseball legacy of his father, Sandy Alomar, who played 15 seasons in MLB. His brother, Sandy Jr., played 20 seasons and is now a coach with the Indians.
Pedro Martínez, Dominican Republic (2015, first ballot): Pedro joined Marichal as the second Dominican and second Latino MLB pitcher to make the Hall. He honored that connection during his emotional, bilingual induction speech, calling Marichal up to the stage.
Ivan Rodriguez, Puerto Rico (2017, first ballot): “Pudge” and his rocket arm earned the way to Cooperstown with 13 Gold Glove Awards as a catcher, 14 All-Star selections and an AL MVP Award in 1999.
Vladimir Guerrero, Dominican Republic (2018, second ballot): One of the most distinctive and dynamic players of his era, Guerrero raked his way to Cooperstown. Upon his induction, he was already thinking of those coming behind him, saying, “I know this could open the door for other players.”
Mariano Rivera, Panama (2019, first ballot): The all-time saves leader became the first player to be elected unanimously to the Hall, as he was named on all 425 submitted BBWAA ballots.
Edgar Martinez, Puerto Rico (2019, 10th ballot): Martinez, who was born in New York but grew up in Puerto Rico, finally made it in his last year of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot, completing a rise from only 27 percent support in 2015.
Coming up on the ballot
Over the next five years, the fraternity of Latino Hall of Famers will continue to expand, with at least two nearly certain candidates and a handful of other hopefuls. Here is a look at upcoming BBWAA ballots.
2021: Eleven-time Gold Glove-winning shortstop Omar Vizquel (Venezuela) will look to continue his climb toward the 75-percent threshold after polling at 52.6 percent in his third year on the ballot. While his chances for eventual election appear strong, fellow ballot holdovers Manny Ramírez (Dominican Republic), Andruw Jones (Curacao), Sammy Sosa (Dominican Republic) and Bobby Abreu (Venezuela) all came in below 30 percent last time around and have a long way to go.
2022: David Ortiz (Dominican Republic) seems primed to follow Edgar Martinez’s lead as a primary DH whose overwhelming offensive contributions demand entry. Not to mention, Big Papi is an October legend and three-time World Series champion. Another interesting storyline will be how Alex Rodriguez fares in the voting. A-Rod, the son of Dominican parents, has no-doubt Hall of Fame numbers but also baggage caused by performance-enhancing drug use and suspensions.
2023: Carlos Beltrán (Puerto Rico) has a stellar case due to his spectacular all-around play (435 homers, 312 steals, three Gold Glove Awards in center field). But his chances are more in doubt in the wake of the investigation into the Astros’ sign-stealing, which led to Beltrán stepping down as Mets manager soon after he was hired this past offseason.
2024: Several accomplished Latino players are expected to be on this ballot, but Adrián Beltré is the one likely Hall of Famer among them, having cemented his case by blowing past the 3,000-hit mark late in his 21-year career at third base.
Of course, the BBWAA ballot is not the only means of getting into the Hall, whose Era Committees (formerly known as the Veterans Committee) consider those who have previously fallen off that ballot. Candidates are divided into eras and considered on a rotating basis; five players have been elected via this method since 2018.
Among the many players who could be reconsidered by the Era Committees in the next several years are Minnie Miñoso and Luis Tiant (Cuba), Bernie Williams and Carlos Delgado (Puerto Rico) and Dave Concepcion and Johan Santana (Venezuela).
Still putting up numbers
Players must be retired for five years before becoming eligible for the Hall, so anyone still active in 2020 would have to wait until at least ‘26 to reach Cooperstown. But there are likely at least a few Latino Major Leaguers who have already punched their tickets whenever the time comes.
Albert Pujols (Dominican Republic): This is as slam-dunk of a case as there is. The 40-year-old Pujols hasn’t been a star-caliber player for a while now, but he continues to climb all-time leaderboards, ranking in the top six all-time in home runs, doubles, total bases and RBIs.
Miguel Cabrera (Venezuela): Miggy's numbers aren't quite as gaudy as Pujols’, but the two-time MVP and 2012 Triple Crown winner is approaching both 500 homers and 3,000 hits.
Yadier Molina (Puerto Rico): He won’t have many of the stats typically required for induction, but considering his status as an all-time defensive catcher and nearly two decades worth of winning baseball in St. Louis, Yadi appears to stand a good chance of garnering the necessary support.
Those certainly aren’t the only candidates among today’s veteran Latino players. Robinson Canó (Dominican Republic) will have compelling numbers but also a PED suspension in his past. Félix Hernández (Venezuela) had the peak dominance but might fall short when it comes to longevity. Nelson Cruz (Dominican Republic) has overcome a late start to launch more than 400 homers, and at 40, is showing no signs of stopping, though he was also suspended for PED use.
And there is no shortage of younger players with much work still to do, but plenty of time in which to do it. Just look at young stars such as 22-year-old Ronald Acuña Jr. (Venezuela), and 21-year-olds Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. (Dominican Republic), and you can easily imagine the next wave of Latino stars rolling toward Cooperstown.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.