- - Sunday, July 29, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

On Sunday, thousands of people gathered in the small, picturesque town of Cooperstown, New York, to watch the induction of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s class of 2018. These were the ballplayers of who brought moments of joy and happiness to countless lives. Larger-than-life figures most fans likely never met personally, but with whom they connected on a level of distant adoration and admiration.

San Diego Padres fans made the trip to see Trevor Hoffman, the relief pitcher they cheered so many times as he made his way to the pitching mound to save 552 games (his career total is a record 601).

Braves fans — spoiled by now in their third trip to Cooperstown in five years (Bobby Cox, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine in 2014, John Smoltz in 2015) celebrated as Chipper Jones, likely the last piece of that Braves dynasty, took his place with his teammates.

Detroit Tigers fans remembered Alan Trammell and workhorse Jack Morris and Cleveland fans gathered to honor the good guy of those great Tribes teams of the 1990s — slugger Jim Thome — as he offered at least some validation of the greatness of those teams that came up short for a World Series championship.

And both Angels fans and Expos fan shared in the glory of Vladimir Guerrero, who, even though he went in officially as a Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim, will always be perhaps the symbol of the last hurrah of Major League Baseball in Montreal.

The day of induction is obviously a special day for the players who take their place among the greats of the game like Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Cal Ripken and others. But it is also a very special day for fans — a baseball pilgrimage, years removed from the playing days of the inductee, to remember a franchise’s glory days.

It is a pilgrimage that Washington baseball fans haven’t made since 1963 when Senators outfielder Sam Rice was inducted after being elected by the Veterans Committee — 30 years after he retired — and I’m guessing the town wasn’t overflowing with Senators fans then. It was a different age then, before the Hall of Fame induction ceremony had taken on some of the significance of today.

When will Washington baseball fans invade Cooperstown to celebrate?

You might want to keep your calendar open for the end of July starting in 2027, and maybe a few years beyond, just to be safe.

That is likely when the first real Washington National — pitcher Max Scherzer — is on the stage in Cooperstown, talking about what it meant to help rebuild the foundation for baseball in the nation’s capital.

Scherzer appears to be pitching his way to Cooperstown. On his 34th birthday Friday night, he notched his 14th win, a 9-1 victory over the Miami Marlins, pitching eight shutout innings and striking out 11. He appears on his way to his third straight National League Cy Young Award (fourth overall, having won in 2013 in the American League) — an achievement that should make him a lock for the Hall of Fame, even if his win total winds up falling short of many of the pitchers he will join.

Ivan Rodriguez was the first player elected to the Hall of Fame with the Nationals on his playing resume, but he only spent the last two seasons of his 21-year career in Washington, and was inducted, of course, as a Texas Ranger, where he had his prime years over 13 seasons. It’s doubtful that many, if any, in Washington felt a pride of fandom when Rodriguez was inducted last year, despite the fact that he is, somewhat ridiculously, a member of the Nationals Ring of Honor.

Scherzer’s career, though, will likely be defined primarily by his time in Washington. After being drafted and breaking in with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009, Scherzer spent his next five seasons with the Detroit Tigers, going 82-35 in 161 starts with his one Cy Young Award. He has been a National since signing a seven-year, $210 million free agent contract in 2015. To date, in 120 starts for Washington over four seasons,

Scherzer is 64-30 with his two Cy Youngs and counting. Next year, he will match the time he spent in Detroit, with two years remaining on his contract.

He has a career won-loss mark of 155-80. He will probably reach at least 160 wins this year. That leaves him three years on his current contract, which ends when Scherzer is 37. He may have a chance at 200 wins, but more likely will fall short.

But judging statistics for candidates in Cooperstown is obviously an evolving process. Wins are harder to come by for starting pitchers than in the past, given the proliferation of bullpen use in these times. So if Scherzer finishes with, let’s say 195 wins, it will be viewed through a different lens. And there are the three, soon to be four, Cy Young Awards that define dominance in his era.

It may not happen in the first ballot, or maybe the second. But someday Max Scherzer will be on that stage in Cooperstown. Start making your plans.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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