You don’t reach the World Series with a bunch of scrubs. So an interesting game to play, at the start of each Fall Classic, is to look at the rosters (and front office and managers) involved and ask, “How many future Hall of Famers do we have here?”
Before you get your hopes up, we can tell you with relative certainty that this Series between the Astros and Phillies -- like every other one in the last 89 years -- will not be a record-setter. The most Hall of Famers on the field in a World Series was 13, way back in 1932, when Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Tony Lazzeri, Herb Pennock, Red Ruffing and Joe Sewell suited up for the Yankees and Kiki Cuyler, Burleigh Grimes, Gabby Hartnett and Billy Herman were with the Cubs.
Heck, both managers in that Series are in the Hall of Fame (the Yankees’ Joe McCarthy as a manager, the Cubs’ Rogers Hornsby as a player). And so is umpire Bill Klem!
The 1996 Series between the Yankees and Braves holds the more modern (Divisional Era) record, with eight players (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Wade Boggs and Tim Raines for the Yankees, and Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Chipper Jones for the Braves), plus managers Joe Torre and Bobby Cox.
We probably won’t be challenging that one, either.
But just for fun, let’s take a look at what we’ve got to work with:
START MAKING THE PLAQUE
As if Verlander weren’t already a Cooperstown lock, he is coming off a jaw-dropping 2022 season in which he came back from Tommy John surgery -- at age 39! -- and crossed the 3,000 career innings threshold, went to the All-Star Game for the ninth time and, in all likelihood, cemented his third Cy Young honor (with three second-place finishes).
All told right now, Verlander ranks 27th among pitchers in Baseball Reference’s wins above replacement, he’s got 244 wins and 3,198 strikeouts and is one of just six pitchers with three no-hitters (he was pulled from three no-hitters in progress just this year). With Verlander, it’s not a question of if but when, because he’s telling people he wants to pitch until he's 45 years old. So we might have to wait a while for that speech. That would give people time to debate whether he should go in as a Tiger or Astro.
One of the most respected executives in the game, Dombrowski might be in the Hall of Fame already if he didn’t keep joining new teams and taking them to the World Series. The Phillies are now the fourth franchise (joining the Marlins, Tigers and Red Sox) that Dombrowski has guided to a pennant, with five trips to the World Series overall. He assembled the Marlins’ first World Series winner in 1997 and captured his second crown with the 2018 Red Sox. If the Phillies get the job done in this Series, Dombrowski will have guided 10% of the 30 teams to glory.
Dombrowski has pulled off seismic swaps for the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer and Chris Sale and overseen the scouting squads that drafted future Hall of Famers Cabrera and Verlander, among many other All-Stars. While there is not an exact formula for executive entrance into the Hall (John Schuerholz is the most recent team-builder to get inducted, in 2017), we feel pretty comfortable predicting Dombrowski will have his day on the dais eventually.
DON’T MAKE THE PLAQUE YET, BUT HAVE THE ENGRAVER ON CALL
We would put Baker in the top tier if there weren’t some nagging concern that some small-committee voting body in the future would hold his lack of a World Series title (as a skipper) against him. Baker can obviously put that issue to rest by winning four more games this year. But if he doesn’t, could it be an issue? Yes.
Should it be an issue? No. Baker has not just had a Hall of Fame managerial career but a Hall of Fame baseball life. He’s one of just 12 managers with 2,000 wins (and the first Black manager to reach that milestone). The only other one of the 12 not in the Hall is Bruce Bochy, who just slowed his inevitable induction by taking the Rangers job. Baker is also the first manager to lead five franchises to the postseason. Again, many of us consider him a clear Hall of Famer already, but a ring here would probably cement that status.
EASY TO IMAGINE
As we discussed elsewhere recently, Harper has used this 2022 postseason to add to his legacy in a significant way. Amid amassing a 1.351 OPS in 46 plate appearances so far, he hit the home run that sent the Phillies to the World Series, further ensuring his place in Philadelphia sports lore.
Harper is a two-time MVP and is at 42.5 career WAR through his age-29 season. Of the 62 other position players in the live ball era with that much WAR prior to their age-30 seasons, 46 are in the Hall of Fame (with the still-active Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Manny Machado and Evan Longoria among the exceptions). He’s not a lock, because injuries are, unfortunately, a part of his story (including this year). But he’s clearly on the right trajectory.
COMPLICATED ... BUT SHOULD IT BE?
Were we evaluating Altuve’s credentials purely from a statistical perspective, we’d put him alongside Harper in the “Easy to Imagine” category. Altuve’s 1,935 hits are the most of any player in MLB since his 2011 debut year, and his 279 steals rank fourth in that timeframe. He’s hit .307 in his career, in an era in MLB in which the league average has been just .251. He was the 2017 AL MVP and the 2019 ALCS MVP, and his 23 postseason homers are the second-most all-time. His impact on an Astros team that has now won four pennants and a World Series is unquestioned.
BUT (and you knew this was coming) there could be voters who hold the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal against Altuve. That several Astros have publicly denied that Altuve participated in the scheme (and, according to one report, MLB investigators had developed an understanding that Altuve was not interested in having the signs) might not matter to a certain segment of the voting body. With another fantastic offensive season in 2022, however, Altuve is compiling a case that might clear all such complication.
OFF TO A DECENT 'START'
Both of these teams have big-impact arms atop their rotation. But obviously Verlander is the only one on a clear Hall of Fame path. Framber Valdez has been terrific but has only pitched 514 1/3 innings through his age-28 season. Because of injuries, Zack Wheeler took some time to truly come into his own and turned 32 this year.
Nola is interesting, though, for this reason: Through his age-29 season, he has a 3.60 ERA, 117 ERA+ and 1,380 strikeouts in 1,228 1/3 innings. Those numbers are eerily similar to a guy who had a 3.58 ERA, 117 ERA+ and 1,321 strikeouts through 1,239 1/3 innings -- a guy by the name of Max Scherzer. Nola doesn’t have the first Cy Young that Scherzer had already acquired by that point (Nola finished third in the NL voting in 2018), but that statistical comp does at least provide some hope that Nola can reach yet another level in his 30s.
PROBABLY NOT, BUT LET’S TALK
With three All-Star selections, a .272/.339/.476 slash over the last five seasons and a reputation for great defense and game-calling, Realmuto stands a good chance of finishing his career with an argument as the best catcher of his particular time. To that point, his 29.7 WAR since his 2014 debut is the best among catchers in that span.
That standing at a demanding and important defensive position definitely matters. But at this point it’s safer to assume Realmuto is more likely to wind up in the (imaginary) Hall of Very Good.
Bregman is probably trending toward a similar fate, with the additional complication of the sign-stealing scandal hanging over him.
That said, he’s only 28, and his 137 OPS+ is tied (with José Ramírez) for the best among third basemen since his 2016 arrival. So as with Realmuto, there is positional significance here. Just not enough yet.
IT'S WAY TOO EARLY, BUT LET’S TALK
Four seasons into his career (with one of those seasons essentially lost to injury), the 25-year-old Alvarez has a 163 OPS+ in 1,537 plate appearances. Only 16 modern era players with at least 1,500 plate appearances prior to their age-26 season had a higher OPS+, and, of those 16, only four -- “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Dick Allen, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols -- are not in the Hall.
By that measure, Alvarez is off to a better offensive start than the likes of Joe DiMaggio (156 OPS+ through age 25), Eddie Mathews (154), Willie Mays (152) and Hank Aaron (151), just to name a few. So while it’s obviously waaaaay too early to be crafting a Cooperstown case for Alvarez, he’s allowed us to dream a little bit. (Teammate Kyle Tucker, by the way, is also off to a very strong start through his age-25 season, but his numbers are not as eye-popping as Alvarez’s.)
WE MIGHT AS WELL THROW THIS OUT THERE
This guy’s only been on the job four months, and he’s already got the same managerial winning percentage (.586) as the legendary John McGraw (OK, so it’s only in 111 games, but whatever) and has guided his team to a pennant.
Not a bad stat. If Thomson wins a World Series before he even manages an Opening Day, maybe he can at least get a spot in an exhibit.