*"Yes, tour group, please follow me as we wander down Kuiper Hall... excuse me Sonny, please don't kick the Cory Snyder statue, that is very valuable. Now, here in Buddy Bell wing, there behind the giant Frank White glove, you will see..."
Maybe your Hall of Fame has only the 25 best players in baseball history. Then it seems to me that your Hall of Fame -- assuming you bear no grudge against steroids or other human frailties -- might look something like this:
FIRST BASEMANLou Gehrig
SECOND BASEMENRogers HornsbyJoe Morgan
THIRD BASEMANMike Schmidt
RIGHT FIELDERSBabe RuthHank Aaron
CENTER FIELDERSTy CobbWillie MaysMickey MantleOscar CharlestonJoe DiMaggioTris Speaker
LEFT FIELDERSTed WilliamsBarry BondsStan Musial
CATCHERSJohnny BenchYogi BerraJosh Gibson
PITCHERSWalter JohnsonPete AlexanderLefty GroveCy YoungSatchel PaigeTom Seaver
Now, of course, this list does not include George Brett, Eddie Collins, Frank Robinson, Rickey Henderson, Mel Ott, Nap Lajoie, Jimmie Foxx, Pete Rose, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Carl Yastrzemski, Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson, Bob Gibson, Cal Ripken, Bob Feller, Buck Leonard and a bunch of other all-time greats. You could move some of them in I suppose -- you could replace Seaver with Mathewson, or put in Clemente in for Speaker, or put in Rickey for DiMaggio, Collins for Morgan, Brett for Bonds. Maybe you take more pitchers and cut down on all those center fielders. Maybe you want another shortstop and yank Bench out.
But if you keep it to 25, you are pretty limited with what you can do. If you move it out to 50, then you will have a little more freedom, but the arguments will only grow. Now you may find yourself leaving out slam dunk Hall of Famers like Reggie Jackson or Tony Gwynn or Hank Greenberg or Ozzie Smith or Kid Nichols. You might not have room in your Hall for a Steve Carlton or Three Finger Brown or Cool Papa Bell or Carl Hubbell. Every one person you add creates two or three similar players you leave out.*
*This was the Jim Rice issue -- by putting in Jim Rice, it seems strange to only lightly consider similar or superior players such as (partial list): Minnie Minoso, Dale Murphy, Jimmy Wynn, Keith Hernandez, Alan Trammell, Tim Raines, Ron Santo, Reggie Smith, Dave Parker, Andre Dawson, Bobby Grich, Will Clark, Dick Allen, Albert Belle, Dwight Evans, Lou Whitaker, Rusty Staub and on and on and on and on.
So you could go to 100 players in your Hall of Fame. Or 200. Or 500. You would not be right or wrong at any of these levels -- it is, after all, your Hall of Fame. You, and you alone, decide how big or small the Hall of Fame should be, how you measure peak value vs. career achievement, how you feel about steroid use or gambling, how much a player's character (as best we can judge it) should play a role. You think Roger Maris should be in the Hall for one remarkable achievement? He's in. You think Don Larsen should be in the Hall for one perfect game? He's in. You, and you alone, determine exactly what are the qualifications, and where the lines are drawn.
What I'm getting at is that when you determine in your own mind if a player is or is not a Hall of Famer, that really says more about you and how you view baseball as it does the player. Maybe you believe in a big old Hall of Fame that would have all of the players listed in the Jim Rice aside and plenty of others. Maybe you believe in a tiny Hall of Fame where no player below Seaver or DiMaggio belongs. The players stay the same. You make the difference.
The last week or so, I've been exploring this concept by comparing the players in the Baseball Hall of Fame with the best available counterweight, which is the Baseball Think FactoryHall of Merit. I'm a very big fan of the Hall of Merit, which was created -- and I quote from the site directly -- "to identify the best players in baseball history and thereby identify the omissions and errors that can be found in the other venerable institution."
I think the Hall of Merit does a magnificent job of this. The Hall of Fame was voted on by a mishmash of writers, Hall of Famers and a Veteran's Committee of various shapes and sizes. The Hall of Merit, meanwhile, was voted on by people who love baseball and take great care to study the history of the game. They both have great value, and I thought it would be interesting to compare their results.
OK, so, here we go. Best I can tell:
• There are 181 players in BOTH the Fame and the Merit.• There are roughly 50 players in the Fame who are not in the Merit.*• There are 56 players in the Merit who are not in the Fame.
*The Hall of Fame actually has 100 people who are not in the Hall of Merit, but about half of these are umpires, managers, executives or people of various other talents. I count about 50 players who are in the Hall but not in the Merit, but I may have missed some Negro Leaguers and hybrid player/manager talents.
First off, the vast majority of players involved are in the both the Fame and the Merit. And that tells you that there is much more agreement than disagreement. Babe Ruth is in both, Willie Mays is in both, Lefty Grove is in both. There are a million ways to judge players, but just about every way to judge players will come to the same conclusion that Ted Williams was pretty good at hitting a baseball, and Walter Johnson wasn't too bad at getting people out. The Hall of Fame in so many ways is less about the obviously great players and more about the players on the fringes.
So, let's talk about those players who are in one but not the other. Every player in the "Tinker to Evers to Chance" poem are in the Hall of Fame, but none are in the Hall of Merit. I think if there was no poem, there's a pretty good chance that none of the three would be in the Hall of Fame -- and this makes Franklin Pierce Adams one of the more influential baseball writers ever. He got THREE good-to-great players into the Hall of Fame. Man. And he wasn't even a baseball writer. I AM a baseball writer and I've been trying vainly for years to get people just to look at Dan Quisenberry. Maybe the problem is that I never tried a poem.
Here are the saddest of possible callsOut of the bullpen comes QuizA sinker that drops like Niagara FallsOut of the bullpen comes QuizThrows from underneath like he's in a knife fightOnce off the field he is always politeHis quips make him a sportswriter's delightA poet and scholar of medium heightImpeccable control night after nightCoaxes a hard smash right at Frank WhiteOut of the bullpen comes Quiz
Some of the weirder Hall of Fame choices are not in the Hall of Merit. These include: Earle Combs, Freddie Lindstrom, George Kelly, Chick Hafey, Lloyd Waner, Ross Youngs, Kiki Cuyler, Jesse Haines, Waite Hoyt, Vic Willis, oh man, we can go on and on like this for a while. This is one thing people fail to realize -- there are probably at least 100 people in the Hall of Fame that you have never heard of, unless you are a real baseball historian. I forget this, too. People may complain about Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter, but Candy Cummings is in the Hall for inventing the curveball and he probably did not invent the curveball.
There are a few people in the Hall who are not in the Merit who could inspire some controversy. These include: Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez, Red Schoendienst, Luis Aparicio, Lou Brock, Kirby Puckett, Hack Wilson, Dizzy Dean and Catfish Hunter.
But let's take a closer look at players who are in the Merit but not in the Hall. There are 56 of them, but we'll break them down. Eighteen of the 56 are from the 19th century. And while I'm sure there's a good discussion to have about the various merits of Joe Start, Jimmy Sheckard and Lip Pike, I'm thinking that this is probably not the place for that discussion.
So that leaves us with 38. Of those, five are Negro Leaguers. We'll put those aside, too. We'll save our Alejandro Oms talk for later. That leaves us with 33, but three of those -- Pete Rose, Joe Jackson and Mark McGwire -- are not in the Hall for reasons that have little to do with their baseball performance. We've had those discussions a million times already.
OK, so here are the remaining 30 players in the Hall of Merit who are not in Hall of Fame.
CATCHERS: Bill Freehan, Ted Simmons, Joe Torre
The Merit believes that 1960s and '70s catchers have been underrated by the Hall of Fame. Torre -- who will get in as a manager, anyway -- never got more than 22% of the vote.
Simmons got 3.7% of the vote his one time on the ballot. The knock on Simmons seemed to be that he was viewed as a lousy defensive catcher. But looking back on it, he probably was not a lousy defensive catcher. And he could really hit -- his 117 OPS+ was as good as Carlton Fisk's and better than Gary Carter's. I think the big problem for Simmons was that he had his best year in St. Louis when the Cardinals weren't very good, and he just didn't have a big support group working for him.
Freehan got a measly two votes, one less than Lindy McDaniel. You know, there's a myth out there -- or anyway, I think it's mostly a myth -- about some sort of East Coast bias when it comes to the Hall of Fame. But I do wonder: Is there some sort of DETROIT bias in the Hall of Fame.
Here's what I mean: From 1967 through '72, the Detroit Tigers won a World Series and a division championship. They won 90-plus games four times. They were obviously very good. But the only Hall of Fame semi-regular on those teams was the aging Al Kaline, who was obviously still great but never played more than 133 games in any season. And it's not like those teams did not have Hall of Fame candidates. Norm Cash punched up a 139 OPS+ in a 2,000-plus game career -- in fact, Cash has the highest OPS+ of any eligible non-Hall of Famer with 2,000 game (Edgar Martinez, though, will probably pass him this year). Cash got almost no Hall of Fame support -- six votes his one time on the ballot.
There was Freehan, too -- brilliant defensive catcher who could hit. Bill James ranked him the 12th best catcher all-time in the New Historical Abstract. No Hall of Fame support.
Mickey Lolich does not seem like a slam dunk Hall of Fame candidate, but he did win 217 games, he was legendary in the 1968 World Series, and in 1971 he threw an absurd 376 innings, which is more than any pitcher had thrown since the Deadball Era (the next year Wilbur Wood would throw 376 2/3 innings to top him). Lolich at least stayed on the ballot for a while, but after an early 25% peak he faded badly and got just 5.2% in his final year.
OK. Now, from 1983 through '88, the Tigers won a World Series and a division title, and won 87 or more games five times. They were obviously very good. There is not one player on those teams who is in the Hall of Fame or is likely to get there any time soon (unless the Jack Morris wave starts to crest).
And we all know that the Tigers had some excellent players, Hall of Fame-caliber players. We'll talk about a couple of them in a minute -- Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker are both in the Hall of Merit. I don't support Morris' Hall of Fame case, but he did win 250 games and pitch a phenomenal World Series Game 7 in 1991 after moving to Minnesota.
My point is: Do the voters have something against Detroit?
FIRST BASEMEN: Will Clark, Keith Hernandez
Clark punched up a 137 OPS+ in a 1,976-game career and he was known for being pretty slick with the glove. But he only managed to stay on the ballot for one year.
Hernandez did stay on the ballot for a few years, but never quite garnered 11% of the vote. I always thought Hernandez and Don Mattingly had similar Hall of Fame cases, but so far no Mattingly in the Hall of Merit.
SECOND BASEMEN: Bobby Grich, Willie Randolph, Lou Whitaker
Grich has been a cause celebre for the statistically inclined -- great glove at second base, an on-base machines and career 125 OPS+ in 2,000 games. He was on the ballot for just one year. The Hall of Fame voters have, traditionally, voted down those players with low batting averages, even if their on-base percentages (like Grich's) were quite high. Grich hit lousy in the postseason... maybe that hurt him.
Randolph got one year on the ballot -- he hit with no power at all, but he was a good defender and he walked a lot. Randolph is probably a good example to bring up whenever someone brings up New York bias in the Hall of Fame voting. He has been quite under-appreciated in his career despite being a key player one of the most overhyped teams in baseball history, those Bronx Zoo Yankees.
Whitaker is probably the biggest blunder the BBWAA has made in the last decade -- good fielder who got on base, hit with some power, scored runs. He got just 15 votes and fell off the ballot before the conversation could get started. This is part of that Detroit thing. As is his famed double play partner...
SHORTSTOP: Alan Trammell
Still on the ballot but gains no momentum despite a terrific career as both a hitter and a fielder. I've written this before -- Trammell at his best was about as good as Cal Ripken at his best. Ripken, of course, was sturdier -- good for 10 to 20 more games a year -- and that pushes things to Ripken. But as far as quality on the field, I'd put Trammell's 1987 season -- .343/.402/.551 with 109 runs, 105 RBIs, 28 homers, 21 stolen bases in 23 attempts -- up against Ripken's brilliant 1991 season. And Trammell had four or five other seasons that were almost as good.
THIRD BASEMEN: Dick Allen, Darrell Evans, Heinie Groh, Stan Hack, Graig Nettles, Ken Boyer, Ron Santo
Clearly, the Hall of Merit voters believe that third base is the most undervalued position by the Hall of Famer voters. I'd probably agree with that. Allen is one of the great hitters of the second half of the 20th century, and he's one of the more controversial characters, and he has been the topic of a million arguments -- he was on the ballot for the full 15 years but never gained any momentum and never got even 20%.
Evans -- like Grich -- is a stat-head favorite. We like those unappreciated guys. Evans hit only .248 for his career, which might explain why he stayed on the ballot for only one year. But he walked 100 times in a season five times -- twice he led the league in walks -- and he is still one of only four third basemen to hit 400 homers.
Groh had his best year during the Deadball Era and he was supposed to be a dazzling defensive player -- yet he got very little Hall of Fame support, which is surprising because his time period is quite well represented in the Hall.
Hack might be even more surprising. He was something of a rarity -- a fast third baseman who led off. He scored 100 runs seven times, led the league in stolen bases twice and walked 80 or more times just about every year. There are two Hall of Fame third basemen who overlapped his career -- George Kell and Pie Traynor, but four if you count Joe Sewell and Travis Jackson, who played third late in their careers -- and you could argue convincingly that Hack was better than any of them.
Nettles is another guy whom the New York hype did not help. He played defense like Brooks Robinson and hit with ferocious power -- he banged 390 home runs. Only Reggie Jackson hit more American League homers in the 1970s than Nettles. He was on the ballot for four years.
The Santo exclusion from the Hall remains one of the most puzzling. Maybe people don't like him. I don't know. I have no idea how a third baseman who won five Gold Gloves and who ALWAYS hit 25-30 home runs, ALWAYS drove in 100, ALWAYS walked 90 times, could be left out of the Hall of Fame. Bill James called him the sixth best third baseman ever, and I think that's about right. Santo did have Wrigley Field to help him, and he probably wasn't that great a defensive third basemen despite the Gold Gloves. It still seems ridiculous that he's not in the Hall.
Boyer's case is sort of a poor-man's Santo -- I think he was a better glove, one of the great third base defenders ever (even if not quite as good defensively as his brother Clete). He wasn't quite good for 25-30 homers, but he'd hit you 22 to 28. He'd drive in 90 and score 95 year after year. And he won the '64 MVP, and was widely admired. His Hall of Fame case never quite took off -- those third basemen have tough times.
LEFT FIELD: Charlie "King Kong" Keller, Sherry Magee, Minnie Minoso, Tim Raines
Keller had a very short career -- only 1,170 games -- because of injury and because he had almost two full years taken away by World War II. But his 152 OPS+ is overpowering, as is his career .410 on-base percentage. Only Dick Allen, Mark McGwire and Joe Jackson among non-Hall of Famers have better career OPS+ (1,000 games). He was on the ballot for 11 years but never got more than 6% of the vote.
Magee, well, I have to be honest: I kind of thought he was in the Hall of Fame. I don't know why I thought that, but I did. Magee played during the Deadball Era and led the league in RBIs four times. Bill James writes that he was indirectly responsible for the sacrifice fly rule -- he hit so many run-scoring fly balls that his manager said there should be a rule for it. For most of Magee's career, sac flies and sac hits were collected under the same umbrella, which is why Magee had more than 260 sacrifices in his career, though he rarely bunted.
Minoso's age has been argued about for years now. For a long time it was thought that he was born in 1922. Later the official age was changed so that he was born in 1925 -- one of the few age changes in baseball history where a player got younger. This has made a difference -- originally it was thought that Minoso, because of the color line, did not make it to the big leagues until he was 28 years old.
Then, for the next 11 years, he hit .305/.395/.471 with a 134 OPS+. He won three Gold Gloves -- including the first year of Gold Gloves -- and led the league in hits, doubles, triples (three times), stolen bases (three times), total bases, hit by pitch (10 times) and sacrifice flies (twice). For a player denied his chance until he was 28, that seems a Hall of Fame slam dunk. There are only a handful of players who have been that good at an advanced age.
But then, when he got three years younger, suddenly he was 25 when he got to the big leagues and his career tailed off badly when he turned 36 (instead of 39). And it all seemed just slightly less impressive. Of course, it shouldn't make any difference. Minoso was a Negro Leagues star who was buried in the minor leagues for a couple of years before becoming the first black player to play in Chicago. He was a huge star for 10 years. And he was an iconic player. I often think that when you take everything into account, Minnie Minoso is the biggest void in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Raines -- well, we've written on this topic before and will have plenty more to say about Raines later.
CENTER FIELD: Andre Dawson, Jimmy Wynn
Dawson played more right field than center -- he played center for about six full seasons. Dawson's case has been hammered around for a while. He is one of only three players to hit 400 homers and steal 300 bases -- Dawson, Bonds, Mays. He won a bunch of Gold Gloves. He was the Hawk. The question has always been whether that overrode his excessively low .323 on-base percentage -- if those remarkable counting stats and honors made up for the fact that Andre Dawson wasn't very good at getting on base. The Merit people said yes. I think before too long the Hall of Fame voters will say yes, too.
Wynn is like Evans and Grich -- a low average player who walked a ton and hit for power. He was on the Hall of Fame ballot for one year and, unless I'm mistaken, he got exactly zero votes. Zero. Come on. That's just wrong. I'm not saying Jimmy Wynn belongs in the Hall of Fame, but zero votes? Stinking Tommy Helms got a vote that year. Dave Giusti got a vote. Felix Millan got a vote. But no votes for Jimmy Wynn, who punched up a lifetime 128 OPS+ (not that they knew what OPS+ was in 1983).* Ridiculous.
*My favorite Wynn year is probably 1965. That year Wynn hit .275/.371/.470 in the hitting absurdity of the Astrodome. To give you an idea, he hit .305/.394/.540 away from the Dome, with 15 homers. But what I love most about that year was that Wynn stole 43 bases in 47 attempts. It was to that point, perhaps, the most successful stolen base season ever. And do you know how many other people in baseball history, up to that point, had hit 20 homers and stolen 40 bases? One. Willie Mays in '56. It was a remarkable season. And it was at that point that Wynn more or less stopped trying to steal bases. Oh, he would steal 15 or 20 every year, just on pure speed, but he decided that he had proven his point with the stolen bases thing and that even though he was 5-foot-9 and 170 or so, he would hit home runs. He would hit 37 two years later -- even while playing in the cavernous Astrodome. And they called him the Toy Cannon.
RIGHT FIELD: Dwight Evans, Reggie Smith
I've often written about the mystery of Jim Rice's ever-growing support -- leading to his Hall of Fame induction -- while his teammate Dwight Evans, who I think was the better player, managed to cling to the ballot for only three measly years. Rice hit with slightly more power (though for a career, Evans hit 100 more doubles and three more home runs), but Dewey got on base more and was a superior defensive player. In the end, I guess I'm just surprised that all those Rice fans who fueled his Hall of Fame campaign did not get behind Evans.
Smith is an interesting choice. A career 137 OPS+ in about 2,000 games, he was a savage line drive hitter who got on base, banged a lot of doubles and was never appreciated enough in his time. He got only three votes in his one year on the Hall ballot -- and that same year Manny Mota got 16 votes. That tells you something right there. It is also intriguing that of the four great Red Sox outfielders of the 1970s -- Rice, Dewey, Fred Lynn and Smith -- that Rice is the only Hall of Famer.
PITCHERS: Bert Blyleven, Wes Ferrell, Billy Pierce, Bret Saberhagen, Dave Stieb
Well, this is probably the biggest difference in philosophy between the Hall of Fame and the Hall of Merit. We'll leave Blyleven alone for now; I'm sure people are sick of hearing my thoughts on Blyleven. The other choices were all very good for short periods of time.
Ferrell was very good for eight years -- he went 161-94 with a 128 ERA+ from 1929 through 1936 (though he had exactly the same number of walks as strikeouts -- and he was probably the best hitting pitcher post-Ruth. In 1935 he pitched 322 innings with a 134 ERA+, won 25 games and hit .347/.427/.533 in 179 plate appearances. Those eight years, though, make up pretty much his whole career, and he got very little Hall of Fame support.
Pierce was very good for nine years -- he went 141-106 with a 131 ERA+ from 1950 through '58. He was especially dazzling in 1955, when he had a 1.97 ERA; nobody was even close. He only went 15-10, but that's what happens when you lose four games giving up just one run. Pierce was a slightly better than average pitcher for the next five or six years, and ended up with 211 victories -- he never got 2% of the vote.
Saberhagen was very good for six years or so -- with some sporadic brilliance after that. From 1984 through '89 he went 92-61 with a 128 ERA+. He won two Cy Young Awards and led the league in just about everything in 1989 (wins, win percentage, ERA, complete games, innings, WHIP, strikeout-to-walk ratio...). It was an injury-plagued career, though, and in the end he made only 371 starts, the same number as Danny Darwin but fewer than Bill Lee. He got 1.3% of the vote in his one year on the ballot.
Stieb was very good -- mostly -- for an 11-year period from 1980 through 1990. He went 158-115 with a 128 ERA+. He led the league in ERA once, in complete games once, in innings twice, in ERA+ twice and in hits per nine twice. He never came particularly close to winning a Cy Young -- in his best year he finished tied for seventh because, despite leading the league in ERA, he finished only 14-13 for a good Blue Jays team that scored three runs or less for him 16 times. He got 1.4% of the vote in 2004, his only year on the Hall of Fame ballot.
The point is -- all of these pitchers were dazzling for relatively short periods of time. This was good enough to get them into the Hall of Merit. And yet, Dizzy Dean -- who was 140-76 with a 133 ERA+ in his six- or seven-year peak -- is not in the Merit. Addie Joss, who was 160-97 with a 142 ERA+ in his nine-year career, is not in the Hall of Merit. Lefty Gomez, who was 151-76 with a 134 ERA+ in his eight-year peak, is not in the Hall of Merit.
And this brings me back to my point. I think the Hall of Merit is absolutely terrific, the best collection of great players available, but I don't agree with everything in it. I CANNOT agree with everything in it because I have my own idea about what constitutes the Hall of Fame. We all do. Take the very name of the place -- the Hall of Fame. About 50 or 100 times a year, someone will send me an email reminding me (as if I may have forgotten) that the place is called the Hall of FAME, not the Hall of Statistical Excellence or whatever, and that Bert Blyleven or Tim Raines or Ron Santo or Dan Quisenberry or whoever else I was pitching was not FAMOUS or not FAMOUS ENOUGH.
Of course, I don't see it that way at all. I feel quite certain that the place is called the Hall of Fame because it BESTOWS fame on its inductees, and not because it's around to simply collect players who were once famous. Why would I care at all about a place for people who were once famous? I wouldn't go to a museum that featured Foster Brooks, Twiggy, Tiny Tim, Coco Chanel, Molly Brown, Fabio, Fabian, Maharishi Mahesh, Leon Czolgoz and Lottie Collins because they were once famous. Who cares?
But again -- that doesn't matter. If someone else thinks that a qualification for the Hall of Fame is fame, then that is what they think. If someone else thinks that a Hall of Famer comes with a gut feeling, or that longevity matters, or that peak value matters, or that it should be a really big Hall of Fame, or that it should be a really small Hall of Fame -- well, none of that is wrong. The Baseball Hall of Fame matters to so many of us because it isn't about right or wrong. It's about how we view the game.
My father's favorite baseball player was probably Frank Howard. He doesn't know if Frank Howard is in the Hall of Fame (he is not) and he would not be especially interested in the arguments for him (career 142 OPS+, hit more homers than anyone from 1967 through '71 despite playing in awful hitting RFK Stadium) or against him (relatively short career, famously subpar defensively). All he knows is that Frank Howard was a bigger-than-life character who crushed comically long home runs. Frank Howard would be in HIS Hall of Fame.
That's the beauty of it. We all can have our own Baseball Hall of Fame. And when one of our players gets into the real Hall, we can cheer. When one of the players not in our own Hall gets into the real Hall, we can boo. That's the fun of it.