It is a question for those many Nationals fans who are also baseball historians, philosophers and romantics: Who will don the first curly W to grace the walls of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY?
It is an interesting question to say the least. For sure Ivan Rodriguez is headed there, but he most certainly will not enter the Hall as a Nat. Several other players who may garner HOF votes have played here in Washington, like Vinny Castilla who received a handful of votes this year. Livan Hernandez may one day get some consideration, and given his fondness of the Nats organization, a Livo election could very well mean a Curly W on the wall.
In my mind, there are 3 real options for who will be the first Washington National to give a speech in Cooperstown, NY on a tepid July day: Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman. Stephen Strasburg is as an electrifying a figure as there is among MLB pitchers. He will strike out 20 in a game and throw multiple no-hitters. But given the violence of his delivery, and the general crap-shoot that is power pitching, it is 50/50 that he pitches more than 6 or 7 full seasons. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior come to mind when thinking about Strassy, which is depressing, but I'm a Nats fan, so I am used to it. But, if he defeats the odds and is a dominant power pitcher for 10+ years, he will be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Bryce Harper's chances seem, in comparison to Stephen Strasburg's, better. And circumstance is the only reason. Each are ultra-talented, each seem to have the winning instinct. The deciding factor is position and injury likelihood. Simply put, a dominant corner OF who manages to play for 15 years is more likely to get elected to the HOF than a SP who is dominant for a handful of years and totals 7 or 8 full seasons. Fair? No. Neither I nor my brother vote for the Hall of Fame. Rest assured Cooperstown would be drastically different if we did. (Edgar Martinez belongs in the HOF, 1st Ballot, best DH ever, best Mariner ever). Bryce will be tremendously successful. He has the skill set, the swagger and the stage set. He is not a player that will slump for extended periods, nor will he start slow because of a down spring training. He defines Crash Davis' quintessential baseball advice, "Play with fear and arrogance". Except maybe not so much fear.
Most likely, in my mind, to be the first National player to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame is Ryan Zimmerman. Are injuries a problem? Yes. But Ryan's attitude, baseball IQ, natural ability and the Nats' seeming rise to national relevancy, make Zimmerman the prime candidate to be the next Ryan Braun (minus the PEDs of course). They also make him the first National to be inducted in the the Baseball HOF. Zimmerman's career will not be perfect. He may be injured 2 or 3 more times. He may not win a World Series. He won't win a batting title or HR crown. But he will be, as time progresses, the best all-around third-baseman since Brooks Robinson. And as the reactionary baseball media grows further away from the steroid era, all around baseball play will (hopefully) become paramount in HOF discussions.
The first Nationals player inducted into Cooperstown will be a must attend event for any Nats fan, especially those of us here from the beginning (If you haven't been, don't wait that long. Go. As soon as possible). Is it at least 1% sentimental to hope that player is Ryan Zimmerman? I would admit to it being almost 50%. But given his skill set, his personality and the dearth of third-basemen who grace the walls of the Hall of Fame, I believe he is the most likely Nat to enter Cooperstown and break the curly W barrier.