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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — To know what the moment meant to Jim Thome, all you had to do was look into his tear-filled eyes.

“It’s hard to explain the emotions that go through you,” Thome said Tuesday as he gazed around the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Plaque Gallery, the most hallowed corner of the shrine and where he’ll take his place in July. “How do you ever dream of this happening, walking through and having all those great players stare at you?”

Thome got the call in January when he was elected along with Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman. Also to be inducted July 29 are Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, who were selected in December by a veterans committee.

At 6 feet 4 and 250 pounds, the left-handed-hitting Thome was a pure slugger with the sweetest of swings. Drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 13th round in 1989 out of Illinois Central College, he hit 612 homers, eighth all time, and drove in 1,699 runs in a 22-year career with six teams. Thome, who hit 17 homers in the postseason, also had 13 walk-off home runs, still the major league standard.

There have been just more than 19,000 men to appear in a major league game, and the Hall of Fame has just 323 elected members, including 226 players. Of those, 128 have been voted in by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and only 54, including Thome, were picked in their first year of eligibility.

“How do you ever envision that?” Thome said. “As you’re playing, you don’t play to make it to the Hall of Fame. You play to win. You play to do well, to be a guy that helps your club win. Then this career happens and you look back, and then to have somebody say that you’re one of 54. There’s something special about it. You hold your chest out a little more.”

In his long career, Thome reached the World Series twice, in 1995 and 1997. The Indians lost to the Atlanta Braves in six games in the first one and were two outs from a title in the second before the Florida Marlins rallied in the bottom of the ninth and won Game 7 in 11 innings.

“Looking back, I think the championship always motivated me to every year prepare, but this is such a special thing, too,” Thome said.

The tour, which helps inductees prepare for their big day, takes them through every corner of the Hall of Fame — to the basement where most get to swing a bat Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig once wielded, to the library upstairs with its vast collection of newspaper clippings and photos — culminating in the Plaque Gallery.

There were too many plaques to read on this day, but Thome took his time and stopped at several — Ruth, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron and others — as his wife, Andrea, captured the moment.

The emotion was palpable after Erik Strohl of the Hall of Fame mentioned off the cuff that among American League sluggers, only Ruth had reached 500 homers faster than Thome.

“It’s a dream,” Thome said as he hugged his host, tears welling in his eyes. “To come through here and soon to be on the wall with them, it’s beyond special. You don’t ever envision an opportunity to walk down this hall and have all this staring at you. I just feel honored.”

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Predicting 40 active future Hall of Famers and their best Cooperstown comparisons

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It’s Baseball Hall of Fame election week, and with nobody likely to get voted into Cooperstown when ballots are revealed Tuesday night, it seems like a perfect time to look ahead by predicting 40 active Hall of Famers.

Why 40? After all, that feels like a lot of Hall of Famers. History suggests, however, that that is about the number of players in any given season who will eventually receive a plaque in Cooperstown. Here are the tallies for each year of a decade ending in 1 (not including 2011, since many players that year are still not eligible):

2001: 27
1991: 33
1981: 34
1971: 39
1961: 34
1951: 29
1941: 54
1931: 66
1921: 45
1911: 31
1901: 28

(Note: I included players elected for their play in the Negro Leagues, using their active years as listed on Seamheads.com. For Negro Leaguers who played in MLB, such as Satchel Paige and Monte Irvin, their MLB years are included as well.)

Yes, there are only 27 Hall of Famers from 2001, for example — so far. There are still players on the ballot who were active in 2001 who might get in (Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen, Todd Helton, etc.), players who have yet to hit the ballot (Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Carlos Beltran, etc.), plus the steroid guys who otherwise would already be in (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, etc.).

Keep in mind that there are nearly double the teams (30) than existed for the first 60 years of the 20th century (16). That makes 40 Hall of Famers a reasonable estimate. A few quick notes:

  • A player can get elected via the baseball writers (Baseball Writers’ Association of America) or a veterans committee (currently made up of 16 members including Hall of Fame players, former executives and writers). In recent years, the BBWAA has started to recognize more players who had a peak value instead of just a long career with impressive counting stats — think Larry Walker or Edgar Martinez. The veterans committee in the past few years has recognized players with longevity even if their peak value wasn’t extraordinary (Harold Baines, Lee Smith, Jack Morris).

  • I reference Baseball-Reference WAR unless noted. As a general guide, 70 WAR or higher is a strong Hall of Fame candidate, 60 WAR is borderline and 50 WAR gets you in the discussion (relievers are in their own category). WAR is by no means the end of the debate, but the BBWAA is starting to put a heavy weight on it. There are other factors, of course: Dominant seasons (a 5-WAR, or five-win season, is an All-Star-type season, while 8 WAR is an MVP-type season), postseason play and the old “feel” factor all play a role (along with PEDs and off-the-field issues).

  • I did not include Robinson Cano, who won’t play in 2021. His PED suspensions probably put him in the Manny Ramirez category anyway: He would have gone in, but now he won’t.

OK, to the list. I’ve divided it into six tiers, with the players ranked within each tier.

Jump to a tier:

The locks | The Votto group | On the right path
Sky is the limit | Work to do | Next generation

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Brad Hand, Washington Nationals agree to 1-year, $10.5M deal

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Closer Brad Hand and the Washington Nationals are in agreement on a one-year, $10.5 million contract, sources familiar with the deal told ESPN’s Jeff Passan on Sunday.

Hand had another solid season as the closer for the Cleveland Indians, leading the major leagues with 16 saves, but he was a victim of the team’s salary purge heading into 2021. Cleveland declined his $10 million option in exchange for a $1 million buyout.

Cleveland tried to deal the 30-year-old left-hander after the season but was unable to find a trade partner.

Hand was acquired from the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline in 2018. In two-plus seasons with Cleveland, he had 58 saves in 65 chances and a 2.78 ERA and 154 strikeouts in 107 innings over 111 games.

Hand went 2-1 with a 2.06 ERA and was 16-for-16 in save chances during the pandemic-shortened 2020 60-game season. However, his blown save against the New York Yankees led to the Indians’ elimination in the American League Wild Card Series.

The Padres claimed Hand off waivers from Miami early in the 2016 season, and he developed into a two-time All-Star. Known for his slider, he has 105 saves in 128 chances, with a 3.65 ERA and 624 strikeouts in 608⅔ innings pitched.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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In Jameson Taillon, did New York Yankees trade for latest starter who will dominate after leaving Pittsburgh Pirates?

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The year 2018 wasn’t that long ago. It really wasn’t, despite how it seems. The Red Sox beat the Dodgers in the World Series that year and while it feels like an epoch has passed since that happened, the highlight reels of that matchup are in full color, not black and white.

I fixate on 2018 because after the New York Yankees agreed to acquire right-hander Jameson Taillon from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for a middling package of four prospects on Sunday, that year has a special relevance for Bronx denizens sketching out their team’s new-look rotation.

Let’s say Luis Severino returns from his Tommy John surgery rehabilitation sometime in June, Corey Kluber‘s shoulder holds up enough that he holds down a rotation spot, Gerrit Cole keeps being Gerrit Cole, Taillon is a full go and, just for the fun of it, that New York’s low-key minor league invite, righty Jhoulys Chacin, bounces back enough to win the No. 5 slot. The quintet would probably slot like this: Cole, Taillon, Kluber, Severino and Chacin.

In 2018, those five starters combined to go 83-38 (a .686 winning percentage) over 164 starts with a 3.16 ERA and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings. They put up 94 quality starts. Together, they compiled 22.3 WAR, per baseball-reference.com. The MLB-leading WAR total for any rotation in 2018 was 22.4, by the Astros, but of course that total was bolstered by the presence of Cole.

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