Among the 33 players (14 carry-overs and 19 first timers) on the ballot this week for enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame are Mark McGwire, Benito Santiago, Jeff Bagwell and Raul Mondesi. Aside from the honor of being considered for the sport's (arguably) highest honor, these four also share another accolade - all of them were winners of their league's Rookie of the Year Award.
With only Bagwell likely to approach the necessary 70 percent vote threshold needed for one's bust to be permanently on display in Cooperstown, this continues the trend of few Rookies of the Year (ROY) winners sustaining their early, brilliant promise and meriting inclusion in the Hall.
The Rookie of the Year Award was first given out in 1947 to Jackie Robinson and then the following year to Alvin Dark, the Boston Braves shortstop. In those first two years there was only one ROY for the entire league. Since 1949, there have been ROYs for both the National and American leagues. Currently there are a total of 14 ROY winners in the Hall of Fame (Robinson, Willie Mays, Luis Aparicio, Frank Robinson, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams, Tom Seaver, Rod Carew, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Eddie Murray, Andrew Dawson and Cal Ripken, Jr.).
So from 1947 through 1990 (since a player has to be retired for five years before their name can be considered for induction, a 20-year gap seems reasonable) there were 86 ROY honorees which comes out to 16 percent of ROY ending up in the Hall of Fame.
In the 20 years since 1990, out of 40 ROY winners, there are four that will be - barring some unforeseen circumstance - sure thing, first-ballot inductees: Mike Piazza, Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols. That comes out to 10 percent, but that number can go higher as we don't know just how great a career Buster Posey (though if I could wager on such a thing, I'd bet that he'll be giving a speech in Cooperstown one day) or Justin Verlander will end up with.
Then of course there are those ROY players who either did have Hall of Fame worthy careers or at least seemed destined early on but, for reasons both controversial or physical, never made the cut. Obviously Pete Rose is at the top of this list, followed by Mark McGwire. And after their stellar first few years it's likely that nearly everyone predicted that Darryl Strawberry and his teammate Dwight Gooden would surely be members of this most exclusive club.
Switching sports, in the NFL the numbers are eerily similar. Football has given out both an offensive and defensive Rookie of the Year award since 1967. Out of the 87 NFL ROY winners through the 2009 season (in 1980 there were co-winners of the defensive award when Buddy Curry and Al Richardson, both Falcons linebackers, shared the honor) only 13 have reached the Hall, for a 15 percent chance. An interesting bit of trivia - the 1969 offensive ROY was Dallas Cowboys running back Calvin Hill, whose son Grant Hill won the 1995 ROY in the NBA.
And speaking of the NBA rookie award, the numbers are far different, actually staggering. Out of the first 19 NBA Rookie of the Year recipients, no fewer than 15 found their way to Springfield. This is in part due to the fact that there were so few teams and far fewer players than in baseball or football. And the numbers have declined somewhat in the last several decades, as only one NBA ROY since 1986 has made the Hall - David Robinson, the 1990 ROY. But there will be a near-barrage of ROY making the NBA Hall of Fame in coming years with Shaquille O'Neal, Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan and LeBron James all pretty much locks for immortality.
Hall of Fame Note: I can't recall a year when there were so many almosts, what ifs, and could have beens on the ballot for Cooperstown induction. Usually there are a couple of clear-cut superior players, followed by the vast majority who would merit few votes. But this year's ballot offers up several players who were dominating forces when they played but will still have a difficult time garnering enough votes, for a variety of reasons; namely Dave Parker, Roberto Alomar, Don Mattingly, Bagwell, Barry Larkin and Edgar Martinez.
But out of all the 33 players the one that, to me, stands out the most is Larry Walker. In his first year of eligibility, the former Expo, Rocky and Cardinal great, Walker compiled incredible offensive stats and with his speed (unusual for a man of his size) and stellar throwing arm he may be the best all-around player in the group. But I fear that his numbers may fall a little short for most voters and he'll be, along with Don Mattingly, one of a handful of the greatest players of all time to never make the Hall.