Nick Markakis: Generic Brand Greatness – Romantic About Baseball
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Nick Markakis: Generic Brand Greatness

If you’re looking for Trout-like eye-popping stats, Griffey-style highlight reel plays, or Jeter-like defining moments, this player is not for you. If a million-watt smile, a lively interview, or a larger-than-life personality is more your speed, you may want to look elsewhere. But do you enjoy quiet, unremarkable consistency that compounds into historic greatness?

Then I’ve got just the guy for that.

Current Atlanta Braves outfielder Nick Markakis is known for his ultra-stoic demeanor, and not a whole lot else. He’s a mostly fine left-handed hitter who’s never totaled more than 23 home runs or 18 stolen bases in a season. He totaled two Gold Gloves and one silver slugger over 14 seasons, and he registered on the MVP ballot once.

His career stats don’t exactly jump out at you, either:

  • .288/.358/.424 “Triple Slash”
  • 188 Home Runs
  • 109 OPS +
  • Career +5 dRS

He has also never managed to string together 200 hits in a single year. Yet he has a pretty realistic shot at something only 32 players in the rich history of the game have ever achieved:

3,000 hits.

Currently sitting on 2,355 hits and entering his age 36 season, Markakis has a realistic shot at reaching this historic plateau and joining the likes of Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, and Ty Cobb. Should he accomplish this feat, he will eclipse Hall of Famers Chipper Jones, Frank Robinson, and even Babe Ruth (who had 2,873 for his career as a hitter).

Even as we open the 2020 season, he stands in some interesting company when it comes to hit totals:

  1. Lou Whitaker – 2,369
  2. Alan Trammell – 2,365
  3. Carlton Fisk – 2,356
  4. Nick Markakis – 2,355
  5. Joe Judge – 2,352
  6. Orlando Cepeda – 2,351

Oh, and yes, all those names above him are in the Hall of Fame. So is the name two spots below him. It stands to reason that by the end of the season, even as a part time player on a very good Atlanta team, he could get to 325 plate appearances (roughly 81 games), bat .289 (his career average is .288), and add 94 hits to his total. That would place him in this company:

  1. Jimmy Rollins – 2,455
  2. Torii Hunter – 2,452
  3. Jim Rice – 2,452
  4. Nick Markakis – 2,449

So that brings us to 2021, when the light-hitting Markakis will hit the free agent market and potentially be picked up by a rebuilding team, maybe even the team he broke into the majors with: the Baltimore Orioles. This would give him an opportunity to play full time (because, lets face it—who else do they have?) and try to collect the 551 hits needed to reach his ultimate goal. He will be entering his age 37 season in 2021, so it stands to reason that, should he still be able to hit at a reasonable clip, playing into his age 40 season is possible.

Let’s say he does it. He stands on first base after hit 3,000 drops in between second base and right field. He tips his helmet to the crowd, a half-hearted parade of teammates stroll out to first base to greet him, and we all take a moment to let it soak in: this off-brand, soft spoken, light-hitting outfielder just tied Roberto Clemente for hits in his career.

What now? Someone’s got to page Cooperstown, right? But with so little to offer in every other category, the case is shaky even if you lean hard into the 3,000 hits total. Of the 32 members of the exclusive club, only Pete Rose and Raffy Palmeiro are not on any sort of Hall of Fame track (Pujols, A-Rod, Ichiro, and Beltre all seem like sure inductions), but for reasons that go beyond the diamond. Markakis, should he hit his target, could be the only player in the club who could face denial from the hall for lack of baseball evidence, rather than off-field scandal.

When you think about it . . . it doesn’t feel good, does it? If you leave him out, you’re excluding a player who achieved something so few ever have, or ever will. If you put him in, you’re talking about a player who currently sits on 33 Wins Above Replacement, and will almost certainly fail to accrue as many WAR as Babe Herman (40.3), J.D. Drew (44.9), or David Justice (40.6). Not exactly company you’d like to make your hall case for you. Of course, Harold Baines (38.7) remains in reach . . . but that’s not what we’re here to discuss.

What Markakis does if he reaches this milestone is force us to really contemplate what makes a Hall of Famer, and force baseball to examine how it weighs a player’s accomplishments. He is a perfect test case: without this one defining achievement, he isn’t a Hall of Famer. With it, he could become one of the most debated players in recent memory.

The point is, Nick Markakis is on pace to put baseball in a very awkward position. Ya know . . . maybe. Eventually. If he can do it.

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