Baseball Hall of Fame: Who will be the next unanimous selection after Mariano Rivera?

There are four new members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Tuesday night it was announced Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, and the late Roy Halladay have been voted into Cooperstown. They'll be joined be Harold Baines and Lee Smith on induction weekend in July. Baines and Smith were voted in by the Today's Game committee earlier this winter.

Rivera's selection is historic. He became the first player ever voted into the Hall of Fame unanimously. All 425 voters named Rivera on their ballot. Here are the highest voting percentages in Hall of Fame history:

  1. Mariano Rivera: 100.0 percent
  2. Ken Griffey Jr.: 99.3 percent
  3. Tom Seaver: 98.8 percent
  4. Nolan Ryan: 98.8 percent
  5. Cal Ripken Jr.: 98.5 percent
  6. Ty Cobb: 98.2 percent
  7. George Brett: 98.2 percent

No other player appeared on at least 98 percent of Hall of Fame ballots. Not Hank Aaron (97.8 percent), not Babe Ruth (95.1 percent), not Willie Mays (94.7 percent), and not Ted Williams (93.4 percent). I can't imagine the mental gymnastics that went into not voting for those four inner-circle greats.

Now that there's been a breakthrough and we have our first unanimous Hall of Famer, I think it's only a matter of time until we see another one. It won't be an annual occurrence, of course, but the BBWAA voting body is getting younger and the idea that if so and so was not a unanimous Hall of Famer, no one should be a unanimous Hall of Famer, is fading away.

With Rivera gaining unanimous induction, this is as good a time as any to look ahead and figure out who could be the next unanimous Hall of Famer. I suspect it'll happen sooner than many baseball fans may think. Let's look at upcoming Hall of Fame classes and then active players.

2020 ballot

MLB: Houston Astros at New York Yankees
Could Mariano Rivera's former teammate be the next unanimous Hall of Famer? USATSI

Derek Jeter: There are several big name players set to join the Hall of Fame ballot next year. Jeter is by far the biggest and I think his chances of being unanimous are pretty darn good, relatively speaking. He is sixth on the all-time hits list (3,465) and sixth all-time in WAR among shortstops. Add in five World Series rings and the fact he is a legacy Yankee, and Jeter is a slam dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer. Detractors could point to his shoddy defense, I suppose, but it is awfully tough to argue Jeter does not belong in Cooperstown. A unanimous selection is possible. Maybe even likely.

2021 ballot

There are no clear cut Hall of Famers set to join the ballot in 2021, nevermind a candidate for unanimous induction. The best first-year eligible players in two years will be Tim Hudson and Mark Buehrle. Great players who had great careers, undoubtedly. Are they Hall of Famers though? Are they candidates for unanimous induction? With all due respect, I think the answer is no in both cases.

2022 ballot

David Ortiz: With Martinez and Frank Thomas (and Baines) going into Cooperstown in recent years, designated hitters are gaining momentum for the Hall of Fame. Ortiz is on the very, very short list of the best and most accomplished designated hitters in baseball history. He is the position's all-time leader in hits (by 501), home runs (by 216), extra-base hits (by 441), and RBI (by 566). Then there's the three World Series rings and his status as a Red Sox legend. Big Papi is getting into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, I do believe. The fact Martinez spent 10 years on the ballot leads me to believe Ortiz will not be unanimous, however. Chances are a few voters will hold the "he was only a designated hitter" thing against him, plus long-standing performance-enhancing drug suspicions figure to take a bite out of his voting percentage.

Alex Rodriguez: Take his career at face value and A-Rod is a slam dunk Hall of Famer worthy of unanimous induction. The same is true of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens though, and they are unlikely to get into Cooperstown at this point because of PED ties. They have three years remaining on the ballot and their support has plateaued. If Bonds and Clemens can't get into the Hall of Fame, I don't think A-Rod has much of a chance. And remember, unlike Bonds and Clemens, Rodriguez admitted to using PEDs and he served a suspension (for separate transgressions). A-Rod is fourth all-time in home runs (696) and 12th all-time in position player WAR (117.8). Even with the BBWAA voting body increasingly willing to overlook PED issues, Rodriguez is going to have a tough time getting into Cooperstown. Unanimous selection is a pipe dream.

Other players set to join the Hall of Fame ballot in 2022 include Carl Crawford, Prince Fielder, Tim Lincecum, Justin Morneau, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, Jimmy Rollins, and Mark Teixeira. I don't see any as serious candidates to be voted into the Hall of Fame unanimously. They are borderline Hall of Fame candidates in general.

2023 ballot

Carlos Beltran: I think Beltran is a Hall of Famer and I think he'll get into Cooperstown eventually. He was one of the top two-way threats of his generation and a postseason legend. Beltran ranks fifth among outfielders in WAR since the mound was lowered 50 years ago, trailing only Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Larry Walker. Walker hasn't come particular close to induction in his nine years on the Hall of Fame ballot but Beltran won't have to contend with the Coors Field stigma. Four years is a long way away and the voting body will change. I think Beltran is an all-time great who will eventually get into Cooperstown. Unanimous selection does seem unlikely to me though. Convincing 400-something voters to agree on something is damn near impossible and, as good as he was, I don't think Beltran can build that consensus.

Beltran is the only player due to join the ballot in 2023 who merits serious Hall of Fame consideration. John Lackey and Jered Weaver are the other top first-year eligible players joining the ballot in four years.

2024 ballot

Adrian Beltre: Players who retired following the 2018 season will be eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time in 2024. Beltre is an easy first-ballot selection -- he would instantly become a top-five third baseman in Cooperstown -- given his 3,166 hits, 477 home runs, and otherworldly defense at the hot corner. He is 25th all-time in position player WAR (95.7), just ahead of Wade Boggs (91.4) and just behind Cal Ripken Jr. (95.9). Hall of Famer? That's an easy yes. Unanimous selection? I don't think it's impossible.

Joe Mauer: It seems to me Mauer is heading for a multi-year stint on the Hall of Fame ballot. My sense is most see him as a borderline candidate even though he was the game's best hitting catcher in the mid-2000s and is still the only American League backstop to win a batting title (he won three). Among players with at least 2,000 plate appearances at the position, Mauer has the highest batting average (.328) and second highest on-base percentage (.408) as a catcher all-time. That said, he caught fewer than 1,000 games and finished his career at first base, where the offensive bar is quite high. I think Mauer will have a difficult time getting into Cooperstown and has close to zero chance at being a unanimous selection.

Chase Utley: Utley doesn't have the impressive counting stat totals (1,885 hits and 259 home runs) and he somehow never finished higher than seventh in the MVP voting, but gosh, what a ballplayer he was. Tough-nosed and incredibly productive on both sides of the ball. Utley was no worse than the second-best second baseman of his generation alongside Robinson Cano, and I get the sense he will get a lot -- a lot -- of stathead support for the Hall of Fame when the time comes. A unanimous selection though? Don't bet on it.

David Wright: Ten years into his career, Wright was on the Hall of Fame track. Then his body started to betray him. He was done as an everyday player by age 31 and will have to settle for being the best position player in Mets history rather than a Hall of Famer. To me, Wright's case is similar to Andruw Jones. Jones was one of the best players in the game during his 20s but was more or less done as an everyday guy at age 31, and the last two years Jones has barely received enough votes to clear the five-percent threshold needed to remain on the ballot. I think Wright will get more Hall of Fame support than Jones, but not enough for induction and not nearly enough that unanimous selection will be a real possibility.

Active players

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners
The Angels might have two future unanimous Hall of Famers on their roster right now. USATSI

Miguel Cabrera: Cabrera could retire tomorrow and he would get voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. He's a slam dunk. The only question now is whether he can improve his case enough to be a unanimous selection. He could reach 500 home runs in 2019 (35 away) and 3,000 hits in 2020 (324 away), and he has a chance to become only the third player to retire with a 150 OPS+ or better in the last 50 years. Cabrera's a shoo-in who might only be a few counting stat milestones away from unanimous induction.

Robinson Cano: Realistically, last year's PED suspension sabotaged Cano's Hall of Fame chances. He's about three years away from 3,000 hits (530 away) and two years away from breaking Jeff Kent's record for home runs as a second baseman (55 away). There are still five years to go on Cano's contract, so he has plenty of time to keep building his Hall of Fame came. No matter what he does from here on out, the PED suspension ensures he won't be a unanimous Hall of Famer. Some voters are too dug in on the subject.

Clayton Kershaw: Although he is only 30, Kershaw has already done enough to earn induction into the Hall of Fame. He is the best pitcher of his generation and he'll be a first-ballot guy. Kershaw is three years away from 200 wins (47 away) and 3,000 strikeouts (725 away), and, at this point, all he's doing is strengthening his Hall of Fame case. He's getting into Cooperstown. Can he do enough to garner unanimous selection? I think so. A World Series ring and another half-decade of dominance would really help his case. 

Albert Pujols: To me, Pujols has the best shot at being a unanimous Hall of Famer among active players. He's an inner-circle great. He's over 3,000 hits and 600 homers already, and early this season he'll become the fifth player in history with 2,000 RBI (18 away). Pujols has the stats, he has the rings (two), he has the hardware (three MVPs). It's been tough to watch him limp to the finish the last few years, but that shouldn't take away from his greatness. Pujols was a devastating and historically great hitter. I believe he and Jeter have the best shot at being unanimous inductees in the coming years.

Max Scherzer: It seems it is just now coming into focus that Scherzer is a potential Hall of Famer. Like Kershaw, he is a few years away from 200 wins (41 away) and 3,000 strikeouts (551 away), and Scherzer has been the best right-handed pitcher in baseball the last five-six years now. A case can be made he is the best pitcher in baseball now that Kershaw's dealing with some injuries. Scherzer's still looking for a ring -- I don't consider that a requirement for the Hall of Fame but winning a title wouldn't hurt his case -- but he has three Cy Youngs. I think Scherzer will get into Cooperstown. I also think that, at age 34, there probably isn't enough time for him to make a case that warrants unanimous induction.

Ichiro Suzuki: Yes, Ichiro is still active. He recently signed a new contract with the Mariners and will be active for their season-opening series in Japan in March. Even ignoring what he did in Japan before coming over to MLB, Suzuki has first-ballot Hall of Fame credentials. Over 3,000 hits, a Rookie of the Year and an MVP award (in the same season), 10 All-Star Games and 10 Gold Gloves, and status as a global baseball icon. Ichiro is going to the Hall of Fame. I think his chances of being a unanimous selection are pretty good too. Better than 50/50, I'd say, which is much better that I would've said before Rivera broke through as the first unanimous Hall of Famer this year.

Mike Trout: Clearly, Trout is on the Hall of Fame track. Once he puts in the 10 years of MLB play required to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot -- Trout has played seven full seasons, so he is three years away from officially qualifying for the Hall of Fame ballot -- I think we'll be able to consider him a lock. Wright is a harsh reminder that you need to be great in your 30s, not just your 20s, to garner serious Hall of Fame consideration, but Trout is a special case because he's been so good. We are a long way away from Trout appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot -- even if he retires after putting in the minimum 10 years, Trout is still eight years away from joining the ballot -- and a lot can happen between now and then. Right now I'd say Trout is on track for unanimous induction. His case through age 27 is as good as anyone's.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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