Their names are going to be popping up like the earth over mole tunnels . . . John Bench, Rod Carew, Steve Carlton, Dave Kingman, Graig Nettles, Phil Niekro, Jim Palmer, Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Carl Yastrzemski.
They have one thing in common. They will be appearing on the baseball Hall of Fame ballot at various times in the next decade.
"There are some great players coming up," Detroit manager Sparky Anderson said recently while the merits and demerits of future candidates Nettles and Sutton were being debated.
"It's going to be almost impossible to make it," Anderson said. "There are some great players--and they're going to be going head-to-head."
There's only one way for a recently retired player to make the Hall of Fame--to be voted in by 75% of the eligible members of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America casting ballots in a particular year.
There is a five-year wait following retirement before a player's name appears on the ballot. Those deemed to have no chance never get on the ballot. After 20 years on the BBWAA ballot without getting voted in, a player becomes eligible for consideration by the Veteran's Committee.
Anderson ripped off some more names of players still active who will likely be on the ballot:
Don Baylor, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Steve Garvey, Eddie Murray, Jim Rice, Dave Winfield . . . and that left off a lot of names.
"Guys like Nettles and Kingman," Baltimore manager Earl Weaver says, "someone ought to argue their case for them. Their numbers aren't that good."
Which, Weaver freely suggests, absolutely does not mean they will never make the Hall of Fame.
"Sandy Koufax's numbers aren't that good," Weaver said. "One hundred sixty five wins doesn't qualify. A lot of pitchers have 165 wins. But those ERA titles and no-hitters do (put him in)," Weaver said.
While Koufax did win only 165 games, he lost only 87 for a .655 winning pace that is among the best of all-time. He retired in 1966--to avoid possible permanent damage to his arthritic elbow--having won five straight earned-run average titles and at a time he still was highly capable of pitching a sixth career no-hitter.
Koufax was elected at the age of 36 in 1971, his first year of eligibility, and is the youngest player ever named to the Hall of Fame. "Certainly Koufax belongs," Anderson said. "Nobody would argue that--but he doesn't have enough (figures)."
"Look at Harmon Killebrew," said Weaver, who also noted the 407 home runs Kingman took into this season make him a threat to reach 500. "He wasn't an all-around ballplayer, but those (573) home runs put him in."
Some folks feel players like Sutton and Nettles don't deserve baseball's highest honor.
Their biggest accomplishment, a synopsis of that argument runs, is remaining in the major leagues for 20 seasons.
Sutton, critics point out, won 300 games but reached 20 in only one season. Which denigrates his feat of striking out 100 or more batters every year and overlooks the fact he was always there to take the ball.
Nettles was not one of the game's high-average hitters, nor did he have premier power or run-batted in numbers. He entered the season with a .251 career average, 368 home runs, 1,212 RBI--and superlative defensive skills.
"The numbers have to be there," Anderson said. "Longevity doesn't give you the right to go into the Hall of Fame. But longevity will get you the numbers."
"Look at the numbers," Weaver agrees. "Three hundred wins historically has gotten pitchers into the Hall of Fame. I'd say 300 wins, 3,000 hits and 500 home runs are automatic qualifiers right now."
That may change. The five-man rotation has cut pitchers down to 30-35 starts and made it more difficult to win 20 games, which you have to do for 15 years to reach 300.
It may be 10-15 years or more before the next group challenges the 300-victory barrier because none of those remaining with less than 300 but more than 200 figure to have enough good seasons left in them.
Which suits Sparky Anderson just fine.
"I don't like to see more than two a year make the Hall of Fame, anyway," said Anderson, who has Hall of Fame ambitions himself. "It's the highest honor, don't cheapen it."