I can read your mind: you read the title of this story and chuckled to yourself or even laughed hysterically aloud at the thought of a veteran who, despite only landing in his first All-Star Game last year, having a shot at being enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It was tough for even me to consider Markakis, who has been among the best defensive right fielders the past decade, a candidate for the Hall of Fame … that is, until I reviewed the all-time career hits leaders on Baseball-Reference.
Markakis, now in the midst of his age 35 campaign, has accumulated 2,341 career hits, which leave him only 659 hits shy of reaching the 3,000 benchmark.
That’s right. 659 bloopers, infield chops, or oppo-against-the-shift base hits away from baseball immortality. If you don’t think the 3,000 hits milestone merits induction, ponder this stat: the only Hall of Fame-eligible players to reach 3,000 hits that do not own plaques in the Hall of Fame are Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, and Rafael Palmeiro. If not for either MLB lifetime bans from the sport or ties to the PED scandals of the early 2000’s, these three would be in the Hall of Fame. Outside of controversies, the 3,000-hit plateau has always been a milestone that assured induction to Cooperstown. So, what if Nick Markakis reaches there 3,000 hit plateau with one All-Star appearance to his resume? Is he a Hall of Famer? If so, can he even realistically accomplish this goal?
Assuming his current wrist injury prevents him from getting many more hits this season, Markakis will need to average around 165 hits per season for four more seasons to reach the 3,000 hit milestone. On paper, that seems very realistic when you consider the type of hitter Markakis has been throughout his playing career and that he’s averaged 172 hits per season since debuting with Baltimore in 2006. There are, however, two clear obstacles that could stand between Markakis and the milestone.
First, the effect age will have on his performance as a hit for the next three to four years is unknown. Father Time has and will always be one of the biggest obstacles great hitters face in reaching the prized career baseball milestones. The factors that benefit Markakis in this area is the type of player he has been throughout his career. Much like a player of the likes of Ichiro and other 3,000-hit members, he has been valued throughout his career as being a good hitter with limited power and is a defensive asset in the field. He endures himself to his club’s fan base and clubhouse and that will only help him continue to find starting right field jobs.
That brings us to our second obstacle: opportunity.
Nick Markakis securing the opportunities for the starting jobs that will be required to provide him with the 500 plate appearances per season the next four to five seasons is another significant obstacle in his way. He seems destined at this point to rely on year-to-year contracts and, as we have seen in recent years, many hitters — especially veteran outfielders — can get lost in the offseason shuffle as free agents. This most recent offseason found veterans such as Jose Bautista and Denard Span sitting on their couches, rather than playing on the field for another major league season. Markakis will likely find that scoring the opportunity with clubs that have openings in their corner outfield positions without younger, less expensive team-controlled players to fill those spots could be difficult.
There have been recent examples of just how quick performance and opportunities can slip away from MLB veterans tracking toward Hall of Fame numbers. Garret Anderson just over ten years ago was sitting at 2,368 career hits following his age-36 season with the Angels and on a similar track to Markakis. Following that 2008 season, Anderson was averaging 169 hits per season through his first 14 full seasons in the big leagues. Comparably, Markakis was averaging 172 hits per season going into his 13th season in the majors this year. Anderson would end up playing only two more seasons and ended his career at 2,529 career hits. Markakis is ahead of Anderson at the age of 35, but performance and opportunity will continue to challenge him in the coming years.
Only time will tell if Markakis is provided the opportunity, and if his skills and health allow him to excel at the big league level for another four years and get him to the illustrious 3,000 hit plateau.
But does he really need to reach 3,000 hits to make the Hall? There could be a new precedent that’s been established in which he may not actually need to reach the 3,000 milestone to have a valid argument for Hall of Fame. With the 2019 induction of Harold Baines, now only four players (Omar Vizquel, Rose, Bonds, and Palmeiro) have hit 2,800 career hits or more and not been inducted into the Hall of Fame. The defensive wizard, Vizquel, has risen in votes and many believe he will eventually be inducted in the coming years. Markakis needs less than 500 hits to reach the 2,800-hit mark and, if he reaches that mark, he will either be considered for the Hall of Fame or likely be the lone player to reach that mark without a plaque within the hallowed walls of Cooperstown.
The next time you see Nick Markakis line a single to right field, you can know he’s another hit closer to 3,000 and a spot in the Hall.