Now that he’s officially been retired for five years, Joe Mauer was nominated to his first Hall of Fame ballot last week. He joined the ballot for 2024 alongside fellow first timers David Wright, Adrian Beltre, and Chase Utley. Mauer’s Hall of Fame candidacy has been the subject of some debate since his retirement, with some people believing that he only belongs in the “Hall of Very Good.” I might be a bit biased, but in my mind there is no doubt that Mauer was a Hall of Fame level player. His list of accomplishments are far too long to leave him out. I think a better question would be: is he going to make it in as a first ballot selection? Let’s take a closer look.
One of the strongest arguments for Mauer’s HOF candidacy is his career Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Mauer’s career WAR of 55.3 ranks 7th all time among catchers. The six men that are ahead of him are all Hall of Famers. Mauer is also the only catcher to ever win an American League batting title, and he did it three times, in 2006, 2008, and 2009. In that 2009 season, he also won the AL MVP, a Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glove. Of course, in the last five years of his career, he moved to first base because of the physical toll being behind the plate put on his body. Despite this, he still ranks among the best catchers of all time even without spending his whole career at the position.
A key thing to consider when it comes to Mauer’s chances of getting into the Hall of Fame on the first try is the fact that a catcher going first ballot is incredibly rare. It’s only happened twice, with Johnny Bench’s induction in 1989 and Ivan Rodriguez’s induction in 2017. Mauer’s WAR numbers aren’t quite on the level of Bench and Rodriguez, but he’s not too far behind. Bench is the all time leader in catcher WAR, and Rodriguez is fifth. Remember, Mauer is seventh and the best catcher by WAR to not already be in the Hall. There might not be a lot of precedent for catchers to go first ballot, but Joe certainly has a case.
Now, do I think Joe Mauer will actually enter the HOF in 2024? Honestly, I’m not sure he will right away. As I said earlier, it’s rare for catchers to be inducted immediately, and there are some who doubt whether or not Mauer should be inducted at all. I think those people are wrong, but there might not be enough support for Mauer next year for him to get in. Eventually though, I think the voters will end up coming around, and I think this will happen sooner rather than later.