The march toward next summer's Hall of Fame induction began this week with the release of a fresh ballot. Derek Jeter headlines the field of newcomers and represents the only shoo-in among the candidates. The debates are sure to rage on about Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and their Steroid Era counterparts.
But a scenario was presented to SI's MLB staff this week: If you could pick one name on the ballot to automatically enshrine with no fuss and no debate, who would it be?
Take a look.
Jeff Kent. Because Fred McGriff is off the ballot and Curt Schilling (Don Drysdale with better postseason credentials) should be getting in this year or next, Kent is the most deserving candidate in need of help. I just don't get the paltry support. Kent has more home runs, more 100-RBI seasons and more games started in the cleanup position than any second baseman ever. His counting and rate stats blow away those of Ryne Sandberg. His slash line with RISP is better than his overall slash line. He has more top 10 MVP finishes than Sandberg or Craig Biggio.
People knock his defense, but to the people who counted–all the contending teams who were doing their best to win–they had no problem leaving him at second base. He made 88% of his career starts at second base, a determination of his defense by the people whose opinion matters most.
Enter Derek Jeter—not because there'd be any question otherwise about whether he'd be elected, but because if there's any opportunity to fast-forward past the discourse on his defense, his legacy, his relative overratedness or underratedness, (not to mention the gift basket jokes)... I'm taking it.
I'd like to see another shortstop take the stage in Cooperstown next summer with Derek Jeter. Omar Vizquel presents a complicated Hall of Fame case, best explained here by FanGraphs' Jay Jaffe, but was such a joy to watch. He played more games at shortstop than anyone else in baseball history, effortlessly snatching groundballs with his bare hand and twirling his body every which way to get off a throw with just enough heat on it. Omar Vizquel was baseball's best eye candy for 24 years. He also stole home as a 41-year-old. Get him in the Hall.
Scott Rolen is a top 10 player at the most underrepresented position in Cooperstown. The knock on Rolen is he was hurt a lot, but he posted 69.6 WAR—ninth best among primary third basemen—despite playing in at least 140 games just seven times in his 17 seasons. From 1996-2012, the length of his career, he ranked third in WAR— behind Alex Rodriguez, who spent the bulk of those years as a shortstop, and Chipper Jones.
It would be a real treat to see Andruw Jones enshrined in the Hall of Fame one year after former teammate Chipper Jones was inducted into Cooperstown. Andruw has a reasonable statistical case–434 homers, nearly 1,300 RBI–though that pales in comparison to his dominance in centerfield. No outfielder in his era glided to balls quite like Andruw Jones, covering ground with the grace of a gazelle. He robbed home runs like Torii Hunter and zoomed in to shallow center like Jim Edmonds. The 10 straight Gold Gloves don't lie. There were few more exciting players in baseball from the 1996 World Series to the end of his Braves tenure in 2007.