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Thursday, July 11, 2024

Baseball Hall of Fame 2024: The big names entering Cooperstown

Longtime Manager Jim Leyland and players Adrian Beltre, Todd Helton and Joe Mauer are the Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2024 

 

By CAROLYN (CARI) FENN — sports@theaggie.org

 

Cooperstown, New York. To some, Cooperstown may sound like just another small town on the East Coast, but to those who play baseball, it signifies the ultimate dream. 

For many, the ultimate dream is a two-step process. Step one, make it to the big leagues. Step two, make it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Yet, with the odds stacked against them, most baseball players don’t make it to the Major Leagues — even fewer make it into the Hall of Fame.

Out of all the players who have ever played in the MLB, only 1.5% make it into the Hall of Fame. Despite these near-impossible odds, every year a select few have the honor of being chosen to join the class of the best to ever play baseball. 

While there’s no set number of inductees a year, this year three players and one manager were able to get over 75% of ballot votes to be inducted. The three players are third basemen Adrian Beltre, first basemen Todd Helton and catcher Joe Mauer. The one manager inducted is longtime manager Jim Leyland. 

To fully understand how these players overcame the difficult challenge of obtaining 75% of the ballots cast, it is important to look at the careers of these amazing players and manager.

 

Adrian Beltre

After only his first year on the ballot, Adrian Beltre got elected into the Hall of Fame, with his name appearing on 95.1% of the ballots. Regarded as one of the best third basemen of all time, Beltre’s 21-season career is filled with plenty of major achievements.

Beltre was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, signing with the Dodgers before the age of 16. Even though signing someone under the age of 16 was against the rules, the Dodgers saw the potential that Beltre had of becoming a star and decided that they would rather be reprimanded than miss out on such great talent. Then at the age of 19, Beltre made his big league debut. 

From the young age of 19 to 39, Beltre played with a total of four teams: the Los Angeles Dodgers (1998 to 2004), Seattle Mariners (2005 to 2009), Boston Red Sox (2010) and the Texas Rangers (2011 to 2018). Despite a rocky start with the Dodgers, Beltre had his major breakout season in 2004, beginning the Hall of Fame-worthy career he’s known for today. 

Over 14 years, Adrian Beltre accumulated a long list of awards and accomplishments that helped put him on the Hall of Fame track. By the end of his career, Beltre had five Gold Glove Awards, two Platinum Glove Awards, four All-Star Game selections and four Silver Slugger Awards. 

Statistically, throughout his 20-year career, Beltre had 477 home runs, 3,166 hits and a baseball-reference wins above replacement (bWAR) of 93.5 that ranked him third among third-basemen in baseball history. He also became the third third-baseman to reach the 3,000-hit mark and has the second-most number of games at third base at 2,759 games. His statistics in hits (3,166), plate appearances (12,130) and runs batted in (RBI) (1,707) rank him at the top of several all-time lists among third-basemen and one of the greatest players of all time. 

 

Todd Helton

After six years on the Ballot, Todd Helton was able to score the 75% of ballots he needed to take his rightful place in Cooperstown. Helton got a total of 307 votes, at 79.7% of the ballots. While it took the voters a few years to fully recognize Helton’s talent, his 17-year career with the Rockies shows exactly why he is so deserving of joining some of the greatest of all time in Cooperstown. 

While in college at the University of Tennessee, it became clear that Helton was going to be a top prospect in the 1995 draft. During his time at Tennessee, Helton was named the winner of the Dick Howser Award by the American Baseball Coaches Association and was named Player of the Year by Baseball America after hitting 0.407 and securing 11 saves. The Rockies ended up drafting Helton No. 8 overall in the 1995 MLB draft, making it the second time Helton had been drafted, with the first being by the Padres in the second round of the 1992 draft when he was straight out of high school.

After debuting in the major leagues in 1997 and earning the starting first base job in 1998, Helton displayed nothing but impressive statistics over his long career with the Rockies. In 1998, Helton finished second in National League (NL) Rookie of the Year hitting 0.315 with 97 RBIs and 25 Homers

At the end of his career, he had a 0.316 batting average, 0.414 on-base percentage and a 0.539 slugging average with 592 doubles, 369 homers, 1,406 RBIs, 1,401 runs scored and more walks than strikeouts. His 0.953 on-base plus slugging (OPS) ranked him 18th among American League (AL)/NL players at the time of his retirements, his 592 doubles ranked him 16th among players, and he is one of only 11 retired players in history to have at least 0.300 batting average, 0.400 on-base percentage, 0.500 slugging percentage and 350 home runs.

Along with his impressive statistics came some major awards and achievements. Helton won three Gold Glove Awards, four Silver Slugger Awards and was a five-time All-Star.

While Helton’s career was filled with plenty of accomplishments, the hitter-friendly offensive environment of the Rockies home field, Coors Field, kept Helton from Cooperstown. Yet, after six years, the voters finally realized that Helton’s accomplishments weren’t seen just at Coors Field, but at any field he plays and finally elected him into the Hall of Fame.

 

Joe Mauer

Similar to fellow Hall of Fame inductee Beltre, 2024 was Joe Mauer’s first time on the ballot. He ended up with 76.1% of the ballot votes, just getting over the 75% mark. While he didn’t have as overwhelming of a vote as fellow first-timer Beltre, Mauer is solidified as one of the best catchers of his generation with his 15 seasons in the Major Leagues.

In high school, Mauer made a name for himself as a star athlete, being the first student to be named USA Today’s High School player of the year in two sports: football and baseball. Mauer was then selected by the Minnesota Twins with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 MLB draft, straight out of high school while turning down offers to play college football. 

In 2004, Mauer was brought up to the big leagues, but his first full season in 2005 is when it became clear the impact Mauer was going to have on the Twins organization. Over the next 15 seasons with the Twins, Mauer ended up finishing his career with a 0.306 batting average, 0.388 on-base percentage, 428 doubles and 2,123 hits. As the only catcher in history with at least 2,000 hits, a 0.300 batting average, and a 0.380 on-base percentage Mauer also became a six-time All-Star, five-time Silver Slugger Award recipient, three-time batting champion and AL MVP in 2009. He is the only catcher to have three batting titles and his total bWAR of 44.6 during his 10 years as the Twins’ catcher was the best at the time among the catchers.

While Mauer is mainly known for his role as a catcher with the Twins, his road to the Hall of Fame became a little rocky when he was forced to switch to first base as a precaution against further concussion. Although Mauer didn’t have as great of success as a first-baseman his time as a catcher was enough to make him stand out as one of the greatest of all time, earning him his rightful spot in Cooperstown. 

 

Jim Leyland

When looking at Jim Leyland’s time as a manager in the MLB, it is clear why he is so deserving of being the 24th manager to be added to Cooperstown. Leyland started as a manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates as they came off a 104-loss season in 1985, and retired from his last job in the big leagues in 2013 with a plethora of huge achievements.

Leyland first joined the Major Leagues as a player, not a manager. He was drafted by the Tigers straight out of high school, but never made it past Double-A. After retiring from baseball as a player, he worked for the Tigers organization for a short period before becoming a manager in the minors. 

Leyland eventually worked his way up the management ladder, joining the staff of the White Sox in 1982 as their third-base coach before becoming the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. During his 11 seasons with the Pirates, Leyland transformed a losing franchise into a winning one, culminating in three straight National League East titles and being named the National League Manager of the Year twice. 

After leaving the Pirates in 1996, Leyland went on to manage the Florida Marlins from 1997 to 1998, leading them to a World Series title in 1997. After leaving the Marlins in 1998 due to the Marlin’s poor performance that season, Leyland managed the Colorado Rockies for the 1999 season before resigning after their poor performance as well.

Despite two prior less-than-stellar seasons, in 2006 Leyland came back to coach for the Detroit Tigers where he transformed a losing team into a winning one once again. As a result he eventually won his third Manager of the Year Award. In 2013, Leyland stepped away from the Tigers, only returning to baseball to manage Team USA in the World Baseball Classic in 2017.

  Leyland finished his career with a 1,769 to 1,728 record, three Manager of the Year Awards and three second-place finishes. His love of baseball and ability to transform losing franchises into winning ones is what helped solidify Leyland’s rightful spot in Cooperstown.

Beltre, Helton, Mauer and Leyland have all in their own ways made dramatic impacts on baseball. Thanks to their hard work, dedication and love of the game, they are all now forever solidified in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame, joining the ranks of the greatest to ever play the game of baseball.

 

Written by: Carolyn (Cari) Fenn — sports@theaggie.org

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