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Steve Aschburner

David Robinson, who was named Rookie of the Year in 1990, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
Dick Raphael/NBAE/Getty Images

Rookie of Year good predictor for Hall of Fame chances

Posted Jul 27 2011 8:21AM

It was that parade of magnificence onto the stage at Cooperstown Sunday afternoon that, like a leadoff double down the first-base line, sparked some thoughts about early success translating into lifetime achievement.

And from there, a leap from MLB to NBA specialness.

There they were last weekend, some of the grandest names in major league baseball history, making the annual pilgrimage to the postcard village in upstate New York. It was Induction Sunday at the Baseball Hall of Fame and the game's living legends -- literally, 47 of the 65 living members -- were back to welcome the Class of 2011 into their elite circle, to re-tell old tales and to bask in their general Hall of Fame-ness.

Within that exclusive fraternity, though, there was a nifty clique. What did Johnny Bench, Frank Robinson, Andre Dawson, Billy Williams, Tom Seaver, Rod Carew, Eddie Murray, Luis Aparicio, Carlton Fisk and Orlando Cepeda have in common? All 10 were named Rookie of the Year at the end of their debut seasons.

As a predictor of eventual greatness, baseball's ROY is pretty good. Dating back to Jackie Robinson in 1947 -- the inaugural winner -- 14 of those top rookies have wound up with plaques in Cooperstown. Using 1990 as a cutoff for someone to have begun and completed a stellar MLB career, then waited five years for eligibility on the Hall ballot, there have been 86 ROY winners (the award was expanded to NL and AL versions in 1949).

So that's 16.3 percent of baseball's ROY recipients who went on to enjoy Hall of Fame careers. Or, if you want to count Pete Rose, 17.4 percent.

That is a fairly encouraging stat for young guys such as Ryan Howard, Justin Verlander, Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria and Buster Posey who have been honored as newbies in recent years.

But it pales next to basketball's rate of turning top rookies into legends.

Of the 49 Rookies of the Year in the NBA (39) and the ABA (10) from 1953 (Monk Meineke) through 1990 (David Robinson), 24 of them have made it to Springfield, Mass., as enshrinees in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. That includes Artis Gilmore, the 7-foot-2 ABA/NBA center who will be inducted with the Class of 2011 on Aug. 12.

ROY = HOFer?
Rookies of the Year in NBA and ABA from 1953-1990
1989-90 David Robinson +
1988-89 Mitch Richmond
1987-88 Mark Jackson
1986-87 Chuck Person
1985-86 Patrick Ewing +
1984-85 Michael Jordan +
1983-84 Ralph Sampson
1982-83 Terry Cummings
1981-82 Buck Williams
1980-81 Darrell Griffith
1979-80 Larry Bird +
1978-79 Phil Ford
1977-78 Walter Davis
1976-77 Adrian Dantley +
1975-76 Alvan Adams
1975-76 * David Thompson +
1974-75 Jamaal Wilkes
1974-75 * Marvin Barnes
1973-74 Ernie DiGregorio
1973-74 * Swen Nater
1972-73 Bob McAdoo +
1972-73 * Brian Taylor
1971-72 Sidney Wicks
1971-72 * Artis Gilmore +
1970-71 Geoff Petrie
1970-71 Dave Cowens +
1970-71 * Charlie Scott
1970-71 * Dan Issel +
1969-70 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar +
1969-70 * Spencer Haywood
1968-69 Wes Unseld +
1968-69 * Warren Jabali
1967-68 Earl Monroe +
1967-68 * Mel Daniels
1966-67 Dave Bing +
1965-66 Rick Barry +
1964-65 Willis Reed +
1963-64 Jerry Lucas +
1962-63 Terry Dischinger
1961-62 Walt Bellamy +
1960-61 Oscar Robertson +
1959-60 Wilt Chamberlain +
1958-59 Elgin Baylor +
1957-58 Woody Sauldsberry
1956-57 Tom Heinsohn +
1955-56 Maurice Stokes +
1954-55 Bob Pettit +
1953-54 Ray Felix
1952-53 Monk Meineke
+ Hall of Famer

That's a heady 49 percent, nearly three times baseball's rate and the biggest number among North America's four major team sports.

The NHL is next with 45.5 percent. Of the 55 men who have won the Calder Cup as the league's top rookie from its inception in 1937 through 1991 winner (and Class of 2011 inductee) Ed Belfour, 25 have made it to the hockey Hall in Toronto. That includes a remarkable run of 10 in 16 years, from Bobby Orr (ROY in 1966-67) through Dale Hawerchuk (1981-82).

Of course, the NBA's run of 16 ROYs in 19 years -- from Bob Pettit (1955) through Bob McAdoo (1973) -- that wound up as Hall of Famers dwarfs that. Some explanation is in order: A total of 27 players won rookie awards in those 18 years, counting seven ABA performers and Dave Cowens and Geoff Petrie as co-winners in the NBA in 1971. Factor in Gilmore and Dan Issel, ABAers turned HOFers, and the rate becomes 18 of 27 -- still the best run of the four sports.

Or to put it another way, with the exceptions of Woody Sauldsberry (1958), Terry Dischinger (1963), Sidney Wicks (1972) and Petrie, every NBA Rookie of the Year from 1955 through 1973 made it to the Naismith Hall.

Pro football's fleet of awards is funkier, with Most Valuable Player, Player of the Year and other trophies of note sponsored and presented by multiple organizations. Since 1967, though, the Associated Press has selected the NFL's top Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year. Using 2011 Hall member and 1994 Offensive Rookie Marshall Faulk as the cutoff, there have been 14 HOF players among the 56 top rookies. That's 25 percent, including eight on offense and six on defense.

Why would basketball have such a high rate of HOFers among its Rookies of the Year? Well, one factor could be the exclusivity of the sports' respective Halls of Fame compared to the number of participants. Football, after all, has many more players at any given time, with a roster limit of 53. The number of men enshrined at the Hall in Canton, Ohio, primarily as players is 227.

Hockey has 247 players among its members but many are in as pre-NHL international or female (two) selections. Baseball has admitted 205 players since its Hall was established in 1936.

The Naismith Hall, begun in 1959, has 303 enshrinees leading up to this year's ceremony but about two-thirds of those are coaches, referees, contributors, "team" entries or pre-NBA selections. Counting Gilmore, Dennis Rodman, Chris Mullin and Satch Sanders from the Class of 2011, only 92 members have gotten in primarily for their playing careers in the NBA or the ABA.

Another factor would seem to be the readiness of rookies in basketball. By the time most top draft picks reach the NBA (or before that, the ABA) -- and most ROY winners were drafted high -- they have been thoroughly poked and prodded by college and pro scouts and are more equipped to help their new teams. Historically, most NBA rookies logged two, three or four college seasons that served as basketball finishing school.

"By the time you get to the NBA, you are pretty much who you are," one head coach said this week. "Everybody talks about the No. 1 picks who were busts, but a lot of them turn out to be great players. Teams don't miss that much at the top of the draft."

Baseball, by comparison, can yo-yo players up and down through their minor leagues. Football, with its greater rate of serious injuries, can thin a rookie class pretty quickly.

The NBA's success rate seems likely to stay high going forward. Among ROY players since 1991, a group of 10 or 12 could find themselves in Springfield soon after they're done, starting with Shaquille O'Neal.

Then again, if you think about it, basketball's shooting percentages always have been better than baseball's batting averages.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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