Three years ago, MLB.com commemorated the 25th anniversary of Fantasy Baseball by identifying one player from each year since 1980 who was money in the bank for any lucky owner who drafted him.
Since then, the MLB.com fantasy staff has inducted one new player every year. As is the case with the National Baseball Hall of Fame, a player can be voted into the Fantasy Hall only once. That means there will be no induction ceremony for Alex Rodriguez (class of 2003), despite his titanic numbers last year.
Without further ado, here's the newest member of the esteemed Fantasy Hall of Fame, followed by the selections from the previous 27 years:
2007, Jimmy Rollins: As was the case with last year's National League Most Valuable Player balloting, this one was a close call and certainly open to debate. There's just no getting around the manner in which Rollins stuffed the stat sheet; he led the NL with 139 runs scored, set career highs with 30 homers and 94 RBIs, stole 41 bases and delivered a rock-solid .296 average. He played every game, provided outstanding production at a weak position and closed out the year with six jacks and 14 steals in September. That's an impressive resume, one certainly worthy of Hall induction.
2006, Ryan Howard: Howard made a run at 60 home runs, falling two short on the season's final day. A season after capturing National League Rookie of the Year honors, the left-handed-hitting slugger drove in 149 runs and scored 104 times in 2006. Making Howard's performance even more impressive in the fantasy world is the fact he wasn't picked in many drafts in the first couple of rounds, unlike the other top candidates for this year's honor -- Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano and David Ortiz.
2005, Mariano Rivera: Other pitchers considered were Johan Santana, Chris Carpenter and Dontrelle Willis, but the Yankees closer once again proved he was in a class by himself. Not only did Rivera finish with 43 saves, but he also gave owners seven wins. His 80 strikeouts were 23 fewer than Brad Lidge's total, but Rivera produced a microscopic 0.87 WHIP, and his 1.38 ERA topped all pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched.
2004, Albert Pujols: In the season before Pujols "got wheels" (16 steals in 2005), the Cardinals first baseman was the narrow pick over Carlos Beltran. Pujols batted .331 with 46 homers, 123 RBIs, 133 runs and five steals. Yes, Beltran had the jets -- maybe his 42 steals were crucial to your team -- but Pujols got our nod.
2003, Alex Rodriguez: As is the case now, it was hard to find anyone at this time who disputed A-Rod's reputation as the best overall player in the game. Even though his numbers dipped a good bit from their 2002 levels, A-Rod paced the Rangers offense with 47 homers, 117 RBIs, 124 runs and 17 steals.
2002, Randy Johnson: Never had the Big Unit been scarier, and never did he pay off so big for fantasy owners who drafted and held on to him. Johnson was 24-5 with the Diamondbacks, posting a 2.32 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP, 334 strikeouts and four shutouts. The D-backs -- and many fantasy owners -- would love to see those numbers again.
2001, Barry Bonds: The San Francisco super-slugger set the single-season home run record with 73. Along the way, he racked up other gaudy numbers: a .328 batting average, 137 RBIs, 129 runs and 13 steals for good measure.
2000, Todd Helton: Helton didn't win the Triple Crown, but Fantasy owners who had him on their rosters felt victorious nonetheless. The Rockies first baseman batted .372 with 42 homers, 147 RBIs, 138 runs and five steals.
1999, Manny Ramirez: Ramirez may wind up in the National Baseball Hall of Fame one day; for now, he's in the Fantasy Hall. Then with Cleveland, Ramirez rung up his biggest individual fantasy season in 1999, batting .333 with 44 dingers, 165 RBIs, 131 runs and a pair of swipes. His production gave him the narrow edge over Pedro Martinez, who went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP, 313 Ks and one shutout.
1998, Sammy Sosa: Sosa was an absolute monster this season, batting .308 with 134 runs, 66 homers, 158 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. His five-category production helped him earn the nomination over Mark McGwire, who set the single-season home run record with 70.
1997, Larry Walker: No one was upset about the Denver altitude if he had Walker on his fantasy roster that year. Walker batted .366 with 49 homers, 130 RBIs, 143 runs and 33 steals. Ken Griffey Jr. also put up nice numbers in '97 -- a .304 average with 56 homers, 147 RBIs, 125 runs and 15 steals.
1996, John Smoltz: Ellis Burks had a blockbuster season (.344 average, 40 homers, 128 RBIs, 142 runs, 32 steals) but Fantasy Player of the Year honors went to the Atlanta right-hander. Smoltzie went 24-8 with a 2.94 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, 276 strikeouts and two shutouts. He has been money for fantasy owners as a starter and as a closer, so he has unique FHOF credentials.
1995, Albert Belle: Leading the Indians to a World Series appearance against the Braves, Belle opened the floodgates of eight consecutive years in which at least one Major Leaguer reached the 50-home run plateau. That's how many Belle smoked in '95, when he batted .317 with 126 RBIs, 121 runs and five steals.
1994, Jeff Bagwell: Having the Astros first baseman on your roster was fun while it lasted in a season shortened by labor strife. Bagwell hit .368 with 39 homers, 116 RBIs, 104 runs and 15 stolen bases -- in 110 games, no less -- on his way to the National League MVP Award.
1993, Ron Gant: Bonds was drafted higher by most owners that spring and finished with the better overall year. But imagine if you were the lucky person who picked up Gant with the draft already well under way, as the Braves outfielder hit .274 with 36 homers, 117 RBIs, 113 runs and 26 stolen bases.
1992, Greg Maddux: Then with the Cubs, Maddux picked up his first 20-win season early in his incredible string of 17 consecutive seasons with at least 15 victories. With Maddux, you always knew what you were getting on draft day; in '92, he gave fantasy owners a 2.18 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP, 199 strikeouts and four shutouts.
1991, Jose Canseco: Canseco had a stretch of seasons in which he was fantasy money. He became the inaugural member of the 40-40 club in 1988, and he earned the induction nod over Tom Glavine (20-11, 2.55 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 192 Ks, one shutout) for this season by hitting .266 with 44 homers, 122 RBIs, 115 runs and 26 steals.
1990, Cecil Fielder: The Tigers slugger hit 51 homers, marking the first time a Major Leaguer reached that plateau since George Foster in 1977. He stole 52 fewer bases than Bonds, who stole, well, 52. But Fielder batted .277 with 132 RBIs and 104 runs, crushing a lot of baseballs and racking up a lot of fantasy points.
1989, Bret Saberhagen: Remember his streak of spectacular odd-numbered years? One of those was '89, when the Royals ace went 23-6 with a 2.16 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP, 193 strikeouts and four shutouts.
1988, Orel Hershiser: If you had the Dodgers righty on your roster back then, you would have prospered like Tommy Lasorda. Hershiser went 23-8 with a 2.26 ERA, a 1.05 WHIP, 178 strikeouts and eight shutouts. To top it off, he finished the season with a record 59 consecutive scoreless innings.
1987, Eric Davis: Here's another Fantasy Hall of Famer who can't be overlooked, and with a little more durability, he might have been remembered as one of the best fantasy players in history. Coming off an 80-steal season, Davis led Cincinnati with 37 homers, 100 RBIs, 120 runs and 50 stolen bases -- in 129 games, no less -- in '87. Over his 17-year big-league career, Davis never played more than 135 games in a season.
1986, Roger Clemens: The Rocket led the Red Sox to the World Series that year by going 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP, 238 strikeouts and one shutout, earning the first of his record seven Cy Young Awards.
1985, Dwight Gooden: In his second season with the Mets, Dr. K broke out in a big way, going 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP, 268 strikeouts and eight shutouts. Is Gooden's awesome campaign comparable to Johnson's monster 2002 season? Close, but not quite; runs were much harder to come by in those days.
1984, Tony Armas: Juan Samuel had a 72-1 lead on Armas that year in stolen bases, posted a slightly better average and scored only two fewer runs. But Boston's All-Star outfielder/designated hitter was just too far ahead in the power categories, nearly doubling Samuel's RBI output and stroking 43 homers to Samuel's 15.
1983: Dale Murphy He's still waiting for the call from Cooperstown, but Murphy earned induction to the Fantasy Hall of Fame for his superb '83 season. Murphy batted .302 with 36 homers, 121 RBIs, 131 runs and 30 steals en route to his second consecutive NL MVP Award.
1982, Rickey Henderson: Henderson hadn't yet developed into a true power threat out of the leadoff spot, but he was a fantasy stud thanks to his single-season-record 130 stolen bases. The Oakland outfielder finished a spectacular season with 119 runs, 10 homers and 51 RBIs.
1981, Mike Schmidt: It was the year of Fernandomania, as the Dodgers and their NL Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award winner Fernando Valenzuela won it all, but look what the Phillies third baseman did in just 102 games: a .316 batting average with 31 homers, 91 RBIs, 78 runs and even 12 steals.
1980, Steve Carlton: Early that year, a group of guys got together in a New York restaurant called "La Rotisserie Francaise" to formulate the rules for what was termed "Rotisserie baseball." It is not known where Carlton's name came up in the original fantasy draft, but someone had to be happy. On the way to pitching the Phillies to their lone World Series championship, Lefty went 24-9 with a 2.34 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, 286 strikeouts and three shutouts.
Those who have played fantasy baseball for many summers no doubt have other picks near and dear to their hearts. But anyone who drafted these talented players in their best seasons can probably recall a season of fantasy success and some serious bragging rights.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.