Brandon Crawford, Hall of Fame shortstop.
Had you heard this phrase a few weeks ago, you might not have believed it possible. Baseball’s Hall of Fame isn’t for the very good. It’s reserved exclusively for the very great. And while Crawford had maintained a nice 11-year career, he’d done nothing to suggest that he was Cooperstown-worthy.
Then he made his third National League All-Star team. Last week, he signed a two-year, $32 million contract extension that seems bound to keep him a Giant for life—unless he performs so well during the 2023 season that he’d be a fool not to flirt with other ballclubs as a free agent.
That new deal made it possible to utter Crawford’s name and the words “Hall of Fame” in the same sentence.
Hall of Fame voters value the combination of consistency and longevity when it comes time to fill out the ballot. Crawford’s Giants-only tenure would help his candidacy. The only other big leaguers to play at least 10 years for just the San Francisco Giants are right-hander Matt Cain (2005-17), second baseman Robby Thompson (1986-96), right-hander Scott Garrelts (1981-90) and infielder Jim Davenport (1958-70).
Obviously, productivity is a must for any Hall of Fame aspirant. Entering this weekend’s Interleague series against the A’s, Crawford was approaching career bests in virtually every major offensive category, including home runs (19, two shy of his personal-high 21 in 2015), batting average (.300, obliterating his 2016 standard of .275) and OPS+ (140, eclipsing 2015’s 113).
A Hall of Fame career must include Hall of Fame moments. Crawford has those, including his grand slam in the 2014 Wild Card game that snapped a scoreless tie and silenced a raucous Pittsburgh crowd, as well as his 7-for-8 effort at Florida on Aug. 8, 2016.
My personal favorite is a relatively obscure one: Crawford’s 10th-inning sacrifice bunt off Phil Coke at Detroit that advanced Ryan Theriot to second base and set up Marco Scutaro’s RBI single. That hit precipitated the Giants’ 4-3 win that sealed their four-game World Series sweep in 2012. It was an awful night for hitting—an annoying drizzle made the official gametime temperature of 41 degrees seem colder. And yet the left-handed-batting Crawford executed perfectly against Coke, a formidable left-hander who had previously struck out eight batters in three Series innings.
Granted, baseball’s actuarial tables don’t favor Crawford. To attract Hall of Fame consideration, he’d have to sustain this year’s offensive outburst through the length of his new contract. That would represent a considerable challenge, considering he’ll turn 35 on Jan. 21.
Crawford doesn’t merit consideration alongside recent Hall inductees such as Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken Jr. and Ozzie Smith. However, the statistical similarities between Crawford and the man whose franchise record he broke earlier this year for most games played by a shortstop, Travis Jackson, are intriguing. From 1922-36, Jackson recorded a .337/.433/.770 slash line, to go with 291 doubles, 135 homers and a 102 OPS+. Since 2011, Crawford has slashed .320/.403/.723, while accumulating 255 doubles, 125 homers and a 98 OPS+.
Jackson’s in the Hall of Fame. With all due respect to him, expectations for Hall of Fame-level shortstops have soared since he played.
Crawford’s closest counterpart from a fairly recent, ever-memorable era is Dave Concepcion. A nine-time All-Star in 19 seasons with Cincinnati, Concepcion slashed .322/.357/.679 with 101 homers and an 88 OPS+. Concepcion didn’t compile stunning offensive totals, yet many Big Red Machine enthusiasts still insist that he belonged in the Hall. Interestingly enough, Concepcion maintained enough backing to stay on the Hall ballot for all 15 years of his eligibility (1994-2008), under the rules of that time. But his highest vote total was 16.9 percent in 1998, well short of the 75 percent needed for election.
Maybe Crawford won’t benefit from Jackson’s luck or receive Concepcion’s dogged yet insufficient support when he lands on the Hall ballot years from now. But it’ll be fun to see how close he can come to earning induction.