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Vladimir Guerrero could be first Angel in the Hall

ON BASEBALL

The Angels have gone almost 50 years without anyone wearing the team's cap in Cooperstown. Guerrero may be the team's best shot at changing that.

September 13, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN

The Angels turn 50 next year.

No one wears an Angels cap in the Hall of Fame. No active team has waited longer to see its cap on a plaque in the Hall. No owner has marketed his team so relentlessly by the logo on its cap.

And yet, with Vladimir Guerrero needing one or two more years to secure a halo on his Hall of Fame plaque, Arte Moreno could be on the verge of bidding farewell to Guerrero.

He is almost an afterthought among the Angels' crop of pending free agents. Chone Figgins and John Lackey top the list, sure to strike it rich here or elsewhere.

Bobby Abreu would love to come back, and the Angels would love to have him back. Darren Oliver is the left-handed reliever imported by an organization that can't seem to develop its own.

Then comes Guerrero, whose two stints on the disabled list this season have obscured his status as one of baseball's elite hitters.

Not just in this generation, but in any generation.

There are six players who have 400 home runs and 2,000 hits, and a career batting average higher than .320. Five are Hall of Famers: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Jimmie Foxx. The sixth is Guerrero.

The invaluable website baseball-reference.com offers four statistical models that predict whether a player would be elected to Cooperstown. Three of those models say Guerrero already is in, even if he retires tomorrow.

"He's going to be in the Hall. That's for sure," said Angels Manager Mike Scioscia. "That's a no-brainer."

This is not: Would Guerrero be the last player inducted wearing a Montreal Expos cap, or the first player wearing an Angels cap?

"He could be World Series MVP this fall. That could weigh into it," said Brad Horn, a spokesman for the Hall of Fame. "In general terms, you could look at awards, championships, postseason appearances, recognition of the player with that team. Those are debates that can never be fully explored until a player's career is finished."

In the interest of historical accuracy, the Hall of Fame has the final say. Guerrero could sign with the New York Yankees this fall, win three World Series championships there and go into the Hall with "NY" on his cap.

Guerrero won his only Most Valuable Player award with the Angels in 2004. He has made his only playoff appearances with the Angels, with one home run in 75 at-bats, one run batted in his last playoff 63 at-bats and no trips to the World Series.

He has four All-Star appearances with the Expos, four with the Angels. He is the Expos' franchise leader in batting average and home runs. He played more years in Montreal, with more runs, hits, home runs and RBIs for the Expos than for the Angels.

Give him two more years in Anaheim, and he'll have more runs, hits and RBIs for the Angels. The Angels finally would have a cap in Cooperstown, the culmination of Moreno's drive to transform the halo into a symbol of baseball excellence.

Not that they necessarily see it that way.

"There are certain things that define achievement as an organization, championships in particular," Scioscia said. "When you win a World Series, that's what you strive for. That's what really defines you as an organization.

"Having someone go into the Hall of Fame is a great tribute to a player. It reflects on the organization, certainly. But, in my opinion, world championships are the crowning glory for an organization."

Moreno signed Guerrero after the 2003 season, and the Angels haven't had a losing season since then. They don't need Guerrero to sell tickets. The face of the franchise today is Torii Hunter, who loves the spotlight as much as Guerrero shies away from it.

Fred Claire has been there. He was the Dodgers' publicity man before he was the Dodgers' general manager.

He let the popular Orel Hershiser, who had virtually willed the Dodgers to a World Series championship in 1988, leave as a free agent after the 1994 season.

Hershiser was 36. Guerrero turns 35 in February.

"I don't think you can mix the Hall of Fame with how you're going to field the best team next year," Claire said. "That's not to say you don't think about it. But you still have to make decisions, and sometimes they're extremely difficult.

"If Vladimir were to move to another organization, it's not something that would be a major setback for the Angels. They've produced enough young players and had enough success that they would be able to respond to any fallout."

Give Guerrero two more years in Anaheim? The Angels probably wouldn't offer more than one year this winter, and even then they would need to be satisfied that Guerrero could play the field one or two days a week next year.

They don't believe he can play right field every day any more, but they want the option to use Mike Napoli at designated hitter for a few days in a row when he gets hot, to let Hunter and the other outfielders get off their feet and DH for a day.

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