MLB Network, launched on Jan. 1, 2009, is celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2024. Through Jan. 19, MLB Network will count down the top 15 moments it has covered in its history, via weeknight segments on MLB Tonight (6 p.m. ET), as well as across its social platforms. And don’t forget to catch MLB Network’s 15th Anniversary retrospective show – “MLB Network Legendary Moments” presented by Budweiser, with Greg Amsinger, Sean Casey and Harold Reynolds -- scheduled for 7 p.m. ET on Monday, Jan. 22.
The No. 9 moment on the countdown: Mariano Rivera becoming the first player in Hall of Fame history to be elected unanimously by the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA), back in 2019.
Rivera's former teammate Derek Jeter came just one vote shy of joining him in 2020, but no one came close in the three years after that. The '24 ballot will be another one without a unanimous selection -- first-time candidate Adrián Beltré is trending toward being elected, but thanks to ballot tracking from Ryan Thibodaux and Co., we already know the former third baseman won’t be included on every ballot.
As we peer into the future, a few names do come to mind as successors in Club 100%, including one major name on the 2025 ballot.
THE NEXT GREAT HOPE
First year of HOF eligibility: 2025
Suzuki’s Japanese origin is perhaps the only -- and an unfortunate -- reason why someone wouldn’t check the box next to one of the most complete superstars of the 21st century. Despite beginning his American baseball career as a 27-year-old rookie, Ichiro still ranks among the Major Leagues’ top 100 players all time in hits (24th), plate appearances (48th), stolen bases (35th), runs (90th) and total bases (93rd) -- and then there are his 10 Gold Glove Awards in the outfield.
And those statistics don’t include Ichiro’s immense cultural impact. Beginning with his historic AL Rookie of the Year and AL MVP Award-winning season in 2001 and continuing through his emotional goodbye in Tokyo during the spring of '19, he proved how Japanese position players can succeed on American soil. Regardless of whether one believes that Ichiro’s NPB statistics should count toward his legacy, there’s really no logical argument against his inclusion on each and every one of the ballots cast in '25.
THE RECENTLY RETIRED LEGENDS
First year of HOF eligibility: 2028
Pujols slowed down in the latter half of his career after leaving the Cardinals as a free agent to sign with the Angels, but there’s no reason to forget one of the greatest first decades of any player in history. A quick look at where some of Pujols’ numbers sat after the first 10 years of any hitter’s career:
• 408 HRs (first, by 38 over Eddie Mathews)
• 1,900 hits (second, behind Al Simmons)
• 1,186 runs (second, behind Ted Williams)
• 1,230 RBIs (fourth)
• 1.050 OPS (fifth)
Pujols also ended his career on a high note after returning to St. Louis for one final season in 2022. The slugger homered 24 times in just 307 at-bats -- 18 of them coming in 158 at-bats after the All-Star break -- to join Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Ruth in the 700-homer club.
He ranks fourth all time in homers (703), second in RBIs (2,218), ninth in hits (3,384), 11th in runs (1,914), fifth in doubles (686) and second in total bases (6,211). And in steering clear of performance-enhancing drug suspicions throughout his career, it would appear that Pujols has built an unassailable case for unanimous election.
First year of HOF eligibility: 2029
Like Pujols, Miggy’s production tailed off as he dealt with injuries near the end of his career, but his legacy as one of the pre-eminent right-handed hitters of this era was already secure long before that.
The only Triple Crown in the past half-century? Check. Four batting titles? Check. Two AL MVP Awards? Check. World Series ring? Check.
On top of all that, Cabrera finished his career with 3,174 hits and 511 home runs, becoming the seventh player to notch both 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Among those seven, nobody posted a higher career batting average than Cabrera (.306). He has a great chance at unanimity.
Verlander might have already been a first-ballot candidate after his first 13 years in Detroit, but his performance with Houston could put him in position for more. Few pitchers have aged this gracefully (forcefully might be the better term for Verlander).
Verlander has collected all the hardware -- a Rookie of the Year, three Cy Youngs, an MVP, five World Series appearances and two rings -- and he earned his ticket to the 3,000-strikeout club in 2019. He's thrown three no-hitters. He also still has an outside chance at 300 wins, depending on how long he pitches. The 300-win club hasn’t added a new member since Randy Johnson in 2009, and with the way starting pitchers are used in this day and age, Verlander might be the last pitcher with a real shot to join. At this point, it’s hard to argue why he shouldn’t be unanimous.
Owning the lowest career ERA of any Live Ball Era (since 1920) starting pitcher is a pretty decent launching point for Kershaw, who also has the second-highest win percentage of any AL/NL pitcher in that span (minimum 150 starts).
All the regular-season accolades are there for the Dodgers’ ace, including five ERA titles, three strikeout crowns, three NL Cy Young Awards and the NL MVP Award in 2014. The 300-win club is unrealistic for Kershaw at this point, but a total of 210 wins (and counting) is still impressive for his era. Plus, he’s only 56 strikeouts away from joining the 3,000-K club.
The one thing that could keep him shy of 100%? His postseason struggles. Kershaw has posted a 4.49 ERA over 194 1/3 innings in the playoffs, though he did pitch well during the Dodgers’ run to a World Series title in 2020.
Scherzer may be slowing down, but he had a lengthy run as one of the best pitchers in all of baseball (arguably the very best at his peak). His rise coincided somewhat nicely with the beginning of the 2010s. With a look back, we can see that he racked up the most strikeouts, the most wins and the second-highest fWAR total (behind Kershaw) of the decade.
The right-hander has done it all in his career, winning three Cy Young Awards -- one in the AL and two in the NL -- and two World Series rings, making eight All-Star teams and throwing two no-hitters. He’s a member of the 3,000-K club, tied the record for K's in a nine-inning outing with 20 in 2015 and has a career 3.15 ERA with 214 wins.
Just like Kershaw began hearing the Hall of Fame chatter as soon as he completed the requisite 10th big league season, Trout would be a Cooperstown lock if he decided to hang up his spikes right now. Injuries have been a recurring issue in recent years, but Trout has already banked three MVP Awards, 11 All-Star selections, a Rookie of the Year Award and 368 home runs entering his age-32 season. He's a lifetime .301/.412/.582 hitter and has surpassed countless Hall of Famers in career WAR (85.1, per FanGraphs).
Postseason success is really the last frontier for Trout, who has played just three playoff games (none since 2014) in his career.
Betts still has a lot of work to do in the counting-stats arena to put himself in consideration for unanimous election into the Hall of Fame, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention him on the heels of his magnificent 2023 season. Betts posted the second-highest OPS (.987) of his career and led all MLB position players with 8.3 WAR, finishing second behind Ronald Acuña Jr. in the NL MVP Award race. It was a reminder that while Betts may be in his 30s now, he's not ready to relinquish his place among the best players in the game.
Betts already has an MVP Award as well as three second-place finishes, two World Series titles, seven All-Star selections, six Gold Glove Awards and a batting title over 10 years in the Majors, with plenty of time to pad his résumé as he moves into his age-31 season.