July 27, 2011
Whenever I flip to an in-progress perfect game or no-hitter in the fifth or sixth innings, my default attitude is that I won't be watching history that night. It's just common sense, of course, a nod to odds and the amount of time still left.
When I tuned into CC Sabathia's(notes) bid on Tuesday, though, all that logic went out the window. I was sure the New York Yankees big man was going to get it done. All the conditions seemed perfect. The movement on Sabathia's pitches. A flailing Seattle Mariners lineup burdened with a lengthy losing streak. Even the first rain delay — a dramatic 30-minute interruption — seemed to set the stage. The weather dripped drama.
Of course, Sabathia did not get the job done. Brendan Ryan(notes) ruined history in the seventh and another short rain delay threw Sabathia off track. He walked the bases loaded in the eighth and had to settle for a career-high 14 strikeouts in a 4-1 victory.
Maybe history will come next time and it's that belief of anything being possible when they take the mound that makes me wonder if Sabathia has joined the ranks of players we believe to be locks for the Hall of Fame while they're still active. Greg Maddux and Ken Griffey Jr.(notes) used to occupy that territory before their Cooperstown clocks started, now we affix the "eventual Hall of Famer" label without qualification to guys like Roy Halladay(notes) and Albert Pujols(notes).
I asked Rob Iracane this question and he made the joke that he's deserved the label ever since signing with the Yankees before the 2009 season. There's no doubt that his location will shine a brighter spotlight on his bid, but the numbers he's piled up speak loudly enough for themselves. Through 11 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers and Yankees, Sabathia has won 172 games, recorded a 3.50 ERA and won a Cy Young award in 2007. Though Sabathia's ERA might not be eye-popping or put him in the upper echelon of Hall pitchers, he currently ranks 86th on Baseball-Ref's all-time pitching WAR list and fourth among active players behind Halladay, Mariano Rivera(notes) and Tim Hudson(notes). Meanwhile, his career-adjusted ERA of 125 ranks ahead current Hall members like Bert Blyleven (118) and Nolan Ryan (112).
Oh yeah, he's also only 30 years old with maybe another decade of pitching in the Bronx still to come.
Any number of things could still happen in Sabathia's career and I think that's an implied understanding when we make the "eventual Hall of Famer" statement with still-active players.
All that said, can we place Sabathia's name near the term without anyone blinking?
If not, what else does he need to do?