This naturally leads one to wonder who that first Rockie will be. Larry Walker is incredibly deserving, but he’s also in his eighth year (out of ten) on the ballot and struggling to get anywhere near the 75% he needs. Next year, life-long Rockie Todd Helton will join the ballot, but recent voting trends have me very skeptical he will see massive support; better direct comparisons in Walker and Jeff Bagwell have struggled as of late, and Helton isn’t quite their equal. But if it’s not one of those two who will be the first of the former purple-and-black making their way to upstate New York some July, who will it possibly be?
One the one hand, you could go with youth, pick some rising star like Nolan Arenado. But that will take time, and there’s still the chance that his career falls short. Maybe the Veterans Committee will wise up and induct Walker or Helton? Again, though, this will take some time; the VC is unpredictable at best, and we have no idea how they’ll react to them (not to mention Helton will still need ten more years before he’s even eligible). But are there any other options?
Actually, as it turns out, yes. We just…don’t have any idea who they are. You see, the first inductee from expansion teams are frequently not who you’d expect. Along the way, I decided to take a look at every team’s first inductee (including, for teams that moved, their first inductee in their new, current home). The results alternate between rather predictable and sort of surprising.
New teams represented: Boston Braves (Babe Ruth)
Boston Red Sox (Babe Ruth)
Cincinnati Reds (Christy Mathewson)
Detroit Tigers (Ty Cobb)
New York Giants (Christy Mathewson)
New York Yankees (Babe Ruth)
Philadelphia Athletics (Ty Cobb)
Pittsburgh Pirates (Honus Wagner)
Washington Senators (Walter Johnson)
The five players that made up the initial class of Hall of Famers had between them over half of the “original sixteen” teams covered. Each of these five has one team they’re clearly associated with, but all of them except Walter Johnson played with at least one other team (Wagner’s being the now-defunct Louisville Colonels). The Reds and Braves definitely got the short end of the stick, though; Babe Ruth spent just about two months of 1935 with the latter, while Christy Mathewson lasted a mere one game in Cincinnati.
New teams: Cleveland Indians (Cy Young, Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker)
Philadelphia Phillies (Nap LaJoie)
St. Louis Cardinals (Cy Young)
Cleveland came up in a big way in the second-ever Hall induction, between the three players inducted. Tris Speaker spent eleven years with the team, while Nap LaJoie spent two more years there than he did and proved influential enough to serve as the team’s namesake for a few years. Cy Young only spent two seasons with the Indians, but he did play nine years for an earlier National League team called the Cleveland Spiders, which went belly-up in 1899 after a season where they sold Young and went on to set the all-time mark for futility at 20-134.
More people definitely know LaJoie with the Indians, but he actually started his career with five years on the Phillies. Young, meanwhile, played two years for the Cardinals (at the time, the Browns) after the Spiders’ owners purchased the St. Louis team and raided their first club’s talent (hence, the 20-win season). In just two seasons, three-quarters of the “original sixteen” are accounted for.
New teams: Chicago Cubs (Pete Alexander)
Alexander was the lone player included in the Class of 1938. Also, had it not been for Cy Young’s two seasons in St. Louis, Alexander would have become the first player for both the Cubs and the Cardinals.
New teams: Brooklyn Dodgers (Willie Keeler)
Chicago White Sox (Eddie Collins)
St. Louis Browns (George Sisler)
And with that, all sixteen teams in existence at this point in time are accounted for, thanks to a rather large fourth induction class. And this isn’t too awful, for two of the three teams; Sisler and Collins are pretty unquestionably the best players for the teams they represented (as of 1939, at least).
New teams: Los Angeles Dodgers (Sandy Koufax)
New York Mets (Yogi Berra)
Just over three decades later, we see our first expansion team and our first “golden age” relocation team. The LA Dodgers couldn’t have asked for a more-fitting first inductee in Sandy Koufax. Not only was he a career Dodger, but nine of his twelve seasons came out on the West Coast (including all of his best ones). Meanwhile, Yogi Berra for the Mets was…less than picturesque. His time as a player there consisted of four games, and two singles in nine plate appearances. At least he had his managing career there to make up for it, with one pennant in three and a half seasons. If it hadn’t been for Berra, the Mets would have made it the next year with Warren Spahn, who only spent half a season in Queens himself (but without the additional time as manager). All in all, the Mets went from expansion team to Hall representation in just 11 years
New teams: San Francisco Giants (Warren Spahn)
The Giants, meanwhile, weren’t as lucky. Spahn became the first player from the Giants’ enshrined following their 1958 move. 1965 ended up being Spahn’s last season in the majors (he’d try to hang on in the Mexican League and AAA over the next two years), and it looked a little like John Smoltz’s last year, with Spahn getting released after a miserable first half with the Mets then being picked up midseason by the Giants and turning things around. We also just missed some really interesting trivia: longtime-Giants-foe Duke Snider played his final season out in the Bay Area and retired before Spahn, but took ten tries to get inducted, meaning Spahn got in first.
New teams: Baltimore Orioles (Robin Roberts)
Houston Astros (Robin Roberts)
Robin Roberts became the first two-fer since Cy Young. The longtime Phillie spent his last five seasons wandering the league, signing with the Orioles in 1962, getting traded from there to the still-new Houston team (founded in 1962) in 1965, then splitting his last season between the Astros and the Cubs. It took him four tries to get in, meaning he was on the ballot with another ex-Astro, but that person in question retired a year later and took a year longer to get inducted, taking us to…
New teams: Atlanta Braves (Eddie Mathews)
It’s not quite as fitting as the Dodgers-Koufax match, as Mathews only played one season in Atlanta. But he was still unquestionably a Brave, and he occupies a rather unique place in the team’s history as the only person in to play on the team in Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta.
New teams: Los Angeles Angels (Frank Robinson)
Milwaukee Brewers (Hank Aaron)
Both of these inductees were only with the listed teams for two seasons (Robinson for 1973 and 1974, Aaron for 1975 and 1976), but Hank Aaron also played twelve seasons in Milwaukee back when the Braves were in town (with another 9 seasons in Atlanta after the move). Still, Frank Robinson isn’t a bad first inductee, even if he didn’t have the ties to his team that Aaron did.
New teams: Kansas City Royals (Harmon Killebrew)
Minnesota Twins (Harmon Killebrew)
If it weren’t for Killebrew’s one season at the end with the new Royals, they would have had to wait until 1991 (more on that player in a minute). The other two Royals inductees (George Brett and Orlando Cepeda) both went in in 1999. Meanwhile, the Twins get an inductee who followed them through their 1961 move from Washington, with parts of seven seasons before then and fourteen full seasons afterwards.
New teams: Oakland Athletics (Willie McCovey)
San Diego Padres (Willie McCovey)
Despite the fact that he went in to Cooperstown a Giant, Willie McCovey also served as the first player for both a divisional and a crosstown rival. After a decade and a half in San Francisco, he was traded to the Padres in 1974. After two decent seasons there, he got off to a bad start in 1976, at which point the A’s purchased his contract. He would only play 11 games there before returning to San Francisco the next year. The following year, Billy Williams (two years in Oakland) and Catfish Hunter (seven years in Oakland, ten with the Athletics counting his time in Kansas City) would both follow McCovey.
New teams: Seattle Mariners (Gaylord Perry)
Texas Rangers (Fergie Jenkins, Gaylord Perry)
Gaylord Perry played for eight different teams over twenty-two seasons. He was the first representative in the Hall for two of them, and the second one for two more (the Royals [see above] and Padres). You probably remember him best for his decade with the Giants, or maybe the next three-and-a-half years he played in Cleveland (which included two All-Star nods and his first Cy Young Award). Halfway through 1975, he was traded from there to Texas, at which point his career went:
Texas Rangers: 1975-1977
San Diego Padres: 1978-1979 (including his last All-Star appearance and Cy Young)
Texas Rangers: 1980
New York Yankees: 1980
Atlanta Braves: 1981
Seattle Mariners: 1982-1983
Kansas City Royals: 1983
Jenkins, meanwhile, played six seasons in Texas across two different stints. In his first season there, 1974, he finished runner-up in the Cy Young Award and fifth in Cy Young voting, spent one more season there before being traded to Boston, then got traded back two years later.
New teams: Toronto Blue Jays (Phil Niekro)
In 1987, Phil Niekro’s final season, he was traded from Cleveland to Toronto, where he’d pitch 12 innings with 11 earned runs and 4 homers allowed. They’d release him, then he’d go back to Atlanta and pitch 3 more innings (5 runs allowed) before hanging it up. It wasn’t much, but it still counts, and he got into Cooperstown four years before Dave Winfield.
New teams: Montreal Expos (Tony Perez)
No expansion team has taken longer to see a player inducted than the Montreal Expos, 31 years from start to Tony Perez. That’s one year longer than it took the Rangers. Perez was coming off a pair of Big Red Machine titles and his last of seven All-Star selections when he was traded to Montreal in 1977. He’d play his final two good seasons there, as well as his first of eight mediocre ones. 2000 was Perez’s ninth year on the ballot.
Also, it’s worth noting that this could have been Gary Carter. A twelve-year veteran of the Expos, Carter was one of the four or five top catchers of all-time when he hit the ballot in 1998. However, the BBWAA wouldn’t induct him until his sixth try in 2003.
New teams: Tampa Bay Rays (Wade Boggs)
Wade Boggs is still the only person to ever play for Tampa Bay in the Hall, but he helped them set the record for quickest expansion team to make it in, just seven years after their start. Also, apocryphally, he almost wore a Rays cap on his plaque thanks to a kickback from the team before the Hall shot it down, which would have been interesting.
New Teams: Miami Marlins (Andre Dawson)
Five years later, the Marlins followed their Florida brethren with the induction of Andre Dawson. Dawson’s final two seasons (1995-96) came with the Marlins, and despite only 121 games there, he still ranks ahead of two of the other three Marlins honorees. Ivan Rodriguez tops him, with 144 games in his lone season in Miami (2003). Tim Raines’s final season, 2002, saw him play 98 games with the Marlins, and Mike Piazza famously spent 5 games in teal back in 1998 before they traded him to the Mets.
New teams: Arizona Diamondbacks (Roberto Alomar)
The Diamondbacks only have two inductees. The second one, 2015 selection Randy Johnson, went in wearing their cap after winning four Cy Young Awards and a World Series over eight seasons while there. The first was traded for a Player to be Named Later after 38 games, and only played 18 more games in the Majors.
New teams: Washington Nationals (Ivan Rodriguez)
Yep, even the Nationals have a Hall of Famer since their relocation, serving as the final team for Pudge before retiring in 2011. Sorry, Rockies.
For those who want to see just the expansion teams broken out, I have a handy chart:
|Team||First Season||First Induction||Years Apart||Total Inductees||First Inductee|
|Rangers||1961||1991||30||6||Gaylord Perry/Fergie Jenkins|
|Blue Jays||1977||1997||20||7||Phil Niekro|
At 25 years and counting, the Rockies still have a little longer before they match the Expos’ record of 31 years, and they’re already over the average of 17. There’s a good chance they beat it, though, unless Larry Walker or Todd Helton surprises (and since Walker will depend partly on the Veterans Committee, that’s really up in the air). However, if either of them does make it, they’ll be far and away the best representatives for an expansion team; both would go in as Rockies, when every other expansion team (outside than Texas) had someone who played three years or fewer as their first choice.
And, if Walker and Helton both get snubbed, all hope is not lost. If they get especially desperate to end their drought, they can always do what everyone else does and pick up another team’s aging star in their final seasons.