Rickey Henderson is the tip of the iceberg.
Henderson is the only sure-fire newcomer to this year's Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. It's a relatively weak class of newcomers that includes good-but-not-great (or even great-but-not-legendary) players like Jay Bell, David Cone, Jesse Orosco and Mo Vaughn -- and that's why many are convinced that Jim Rice, on the ballot for the 15th and final time, finally get enough support to get in.
A player like Don Mattingly, who made his debut on the ballot in 2001, can't count on the same sort of late support, though. By the time Mattingly gets to his 12th or 15th year on the ballot, it's going to be jam-packed with newcomers more deserving of Cooperstown consideration -- and the years of seeing only one player elected, as was the case as recently as 2006, are going to go by the wayside.
Don't forget, too, that Mark McGwire, who probably won't get elected this year, probably will see a swell of support over the next couple of years as fans and writers alike come to grips with the fact that we'll never know who was using steroids in that era and who wasn't.
Here's a selection of the players who will be eligible for election to Cooperstown for the first time in 2010:
* Roberto Alomar: Finished with 2,700 career hits and a .300 average, but his 12 straight All-Star nods tell you about all you need to know. In.
(Note: All-Star selections are not a good way to pick Hall of Famers. For one thing, they completely discount what players do in August and September. Still, though, if you make 12 in a row, you probably were the dominant player at your position for a long time.)
* Barry Larkin: A great player for a long time, but he might end up hurt by the way that Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez changed the shortstop position. His career numbers -- 2,340 hits, .295 batting average, 198 home runs -- just aren't real impressive for a shortstop anymore. Out, but he might get in anyway.
* Edgar Martinez: Whew. The first great designated hitter and considered one of the best right-handed hitters of the '90s. Except for 1993 and 1994, when he was injured, he hit .300 every year from 1990 until 2001. He'll be a fascinating, fascinating test case. Ultimately, though, what costs him might not be his position but the fact that his career got started too late for him to amass great numbers. (He had just 2,247 career hits and 309 career home runs.) He's my mom's favorite player of the modern era -- or favorite player who didn't play for the 1967 Boston Red Sox -- but it's hard to find a way to get him in. Out.
* Fred McGriff: Remember when 400 home runs meant something? Out.
And in 2011:
* Carlos Baerga: Everything fizzled after he left the Indians. Trouble is, he was still just 27 at that point. Out.
* Jeff Bagwell: So many power-hitting first basemen and outfielders are about to come down the pike. What's the difference between Bagwell and McGriff? One MVP and 47 career home runs. That's it. Out.
(Note: It's going to be really, really interesting to watch the issue of race as these ballots play out. McGriff and Bagwell have virtually the same credentials, but I'd bet money that Bagwell eventually gets into the Hall of Fame while McGriff forever remains on the outside.)
* John Franco: It's hard to see the Hall lowering its standards for relievers, what with the widespread belief that any half-decent starting pitcher could turn himself into a star middle reliever if that's what he wanted to do. Out.
* Juan Gonzalez: Things sure looked good after he'd won MVP awards in 1996 and 1998. He might have been a candidate for Steroid Era forgiveness -- the theory already developing is that if everyone was using, you just compare them to their own period -- if he hasn't fallen off the map so abruptly. He hit 40 home runs five times, but he's going to suffer the same fate on the ballot as fellow Steroid Era masher Albert Belle -- one (or two) and done. Out.
* Rafael Palmeiro: This is when five years of perspective can be a great thing; the finger wag in front of Congress might not seem so ridiculous by 2011. Then again, it shouldn't matter: Palmeiro has 569 home runs and 3,020 hits, but was he ever considered one of the best players at his position in his era? If teams had held a dispersal draft in 1995, where would Palmeiro have ranked among first basemen? Behind Frank Thomas and Mark McGwire, certainly, and probably behind Bagwell and Mo Vaughn, too. What differentiated Palmeiro from John Olerud in 1993, at what should have been the height of his career? Not much. Out.
* Larry Walker: His career slugging percentage at Coors Field was .710. That's insane. And he still didn't get to 400 home runs. Out.
* Bernie Williams: Four World Series rings and, um, a jazz CD?
* OK, this ballot of newcomers is a little weak. Jeff Fassero ain't exactly Sandy Koufax.
But in 2013, assuming the players who appear to be retired remain retired:
* Craig Biggio: His election was assured when he reached 3,000 hits, it appears, but it still feels like he should fall under the Rafael Palmeiro corrolary -- if at any point in his career the entire sport held a dispersal draft, would he ever have been taken in the first round? Not once in his career did he receive a first-place vote from MVP voters. Out, but he'll get in.
* Barry Bonds: Especially if he stays out of prison, odds are high that he'll have been forgiven by 2013. He was the best player of the 1990s, after all -- and you can't keep both the sport's all-time leader in hits and its all-time leader in home runs out of the Hall of Fame, can you? In.
* Roger Clemens: He'll be forgiven by 2013, too. In.
* Kenny Lofton: H did play in the postseason in 11 of the final 13 seasons of his career. That has to count for something, doesn't it? Or not. Out.
* Mike Piazza: Probably the best-hitting catcher of all-time. In.
* Curt Schilling: Phew. Here's another tough one. He gets extra credit for the bloody sock, of course, but how much extra credit does he need? He spent his entire career in the tier below Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson, and whether you vote for him might depend on whether you favor a fairly loose Hall of Fame (say, one that includes Jim Rice) or a fairly strict Hall of Fame. Out.
* Sammy Sosa: Even more than Mark McGwire, who already was a great player by the time the word "androstenedione" entered our vocabulary, Sosa is the poster child for the Steroid Era. He hit for next to no power at ages 22 and 23 and made something of a leap at 24 when he hit 33 home runs -- and then made another leap at age 29 when he hit 66 home runs. He wasn't the only one doing whatever it was he had to have been doing, though, so he should get in. If McGwire gets in and Sosa doesn't, it would be a travesty. In.
* David Wells: Did you know he had 14 starts and two saves for the 1992 champion Toronto Blue Jays? Out.
And if the offseason continues to be as cruel to veterans as it has been so far, here's what we're looking at so far for 2014 -- and keep in mind that there'll be inevitable holdover from earlier years:
* Ken Griffey, Jr.: In.
* Tom Glavine: In.
* Trevor Hoffman: In.
* Jeff Kent: In.
* Greg Maddux: In.
* Pedro Martinez: In.
* Mike Mussina: Out.
* Ivan Rodriguez: In.
* John Smoltz: In.
* Frank Thomas: In.
* Omar Vizquel: Out.
That would be by far the largest class in Hall of Fame history. Wouldn't that be an unbelievable weekend?
The cycle of the economy and the crackdown on performance-enhancing anything -- anything stronger than a good cup of coffee, anyway -- has led to a glut of stars facing abrupt retirement. It'll make for a few spectacular afternoons of acceptance speeches at Cooperstown in just a few years.