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Sports

INFIELD CHATTER: Pujols, Ichiro in one of MLB's most exclusive clubs

Shortly after Albert Pujols collected his 3,000th hit Friday, Christopher Kamka of NBC Sports Chicago tweeted a quirky fun fact:

“Beginning in 1949, both leagues have handed out a Rookie of the Year award. 2001 is the only year where both Rookies of the Year have 3,000+ hits, Ichiro & Albert Pujols. 2012 (Harper & Trout) is the next best bet.”

Pujols is just the 32nd player to reach 3,000 hits, but only the eighth former ROY winner to do so in the 68-year history of the honor. Along with Ichiro, the others in one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs are:

Willie Mays (1951 National League ROY)
Pete Rose (1963 NL)
Rod Carew (1967 (American League)
Eddie Murray (1977 AL)
Cal Ripken Jr. (1981 AL)
Derek Jeter (1995 AL)

They join eight men with at least 3,000 hits whose debuts preceded ROY voting:

Cap Anson (debuted in 1871)
Nap Lajoie (1896)
Honus Wagner (1897)
Ty Cobb (1905)
Eddie Collins (1906)
Tris Speaker (1907)
Paul Waner (1926)
Stan Musial (1941)

That leaves 16 members of the 3,000-hit club who didn’t win Rookie of the Year. Some of these can be explained away as factors of timing. Take Alex Rodriguez, who debuted a few weeks before his 19th birthday in 1994, but played only 17 games in that strike-shortened season and appeared in just 48 in 1995. That meant he wasn’t a rookie in his first full season, when he finished a razor-thin second in American League Most Valuable Player voting. (Looking back at the numbers, it’s shocking neither he nor Ken Griffey Jr. won that year.)

A few others in the group faced stiff competition in ROY voting, including some from within the same clubhouse. Yet many others simply weren’t as flashy from the start as their contemporaries. Here’s the list, in chronological order:

1954: Al Kaline and Hank Aaron. The AL ROY was Bob Grim, Wally Moon took NL honors. Aaron finished in fourth place, future Hall of Famer Ernie Banks placed second.
1955: Robert Clemente. The NL ROY was Bill Virdon.
1961: Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski. His teammate, pitcher Don Schwall, took ROY honors.
1962: Lou Brock; Cubs teammate Ken Hubbs was the NL’s top rookie.
1972: Dave Winfield; the AL ROY was Gary Matthews
1974: Both George Brett and Robin Yount. While Brett finished third in AL ROY balloting, Mike Hargrove won the trophy.
1987: Paul Molitor finished second to Lou Whitaker.
1979: Rickey Henderson; John Castino was AL ROY.
1982: Tony Gwynn debuted but Steve Sax was NL ROY. Another future HOF member, Ryne Sandberg, finished sixth. In the AL, Wade Boggs finished third behind Ripken and No. 2 Kent Hrbek.
1987: Rafael Palmeiro; catcher Benito Santiago was the top NL rookie.
1988: Craig Biggio; Chris Sabo won the NL trophy.
1995: A-Rod’s official rookie campaign apparently paled to Marty Cordova.
1998: Adrián Beltré; but Ben Grieve was the AL ROY.

This exercise recalls a November 2016 column looking at career success following ROY honors. At present, 140 players have been so designated. Only 26 players have later won a Most Valuable Player honor, only 16 have been named to the Hall of Fame (though a few others are locks).

The closest active players to 3,000 hits are Miguel Cabrera, with 2,666, but he finished fifth to Marlins teammate Dontrelle Willis in 2003 ROY balloting, and Robinson Cano who has 2,410, but finished second to Huston Street in 2005.

As for Harper and Trout? In his seventh season, Harper already has 813 hits. He’s averaged 164 hits for every 162 games played, which means he needs roughly 13 and a half seasons at the same pace to hit the milestone. Trout is in his eighth season — he didn’t play enough in 2011 to be eligible for Rookie of the Year honors — with 1,082 hits already and averaging 183 for each 162 games. He could reach 3,000 by the end of 2028.

The Rookie of the Year trophy isn’t meant to predict who will have the best career, and it’s important to remember that not every superstar was a can’t-miss prospect. Much has changed over the years, but raw talent has never been the only ingredient for baseball success.

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