Hall of Famers, as a percentage of those eligible

We know how many players are in the Hall of Fame. But have you ever wondered what percentage of eligible players is represented by those inductees?

I did, so I decided to figure it out. Click through for my results.


As best I can tell, about 8% of eligible players have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Here’s how I arrived at that figure:

HOF Players: The easy part. To date, 208 have been inducted as players on the basis of their MLB careers (i.e., not by the Negro Leagues Committee):

  • 145 HOF Position Players
  • 63 HOF Pitchers

Eligibles: The only formal requirements for HOF eligibility are (a) playing in at least 10 seasons, (b) being retired for 5 years, and (c) staying off the ineligible list. How many have met these HOF requirements? Approximately 2,614 players. (Counts are necessarily inexact.*) The breakdown of eligibles:

  • 1,661 eligible Position Players
  • 973 eligible Pitchers
  • minus ~20 on the ineligible list

The HOF/eligible breakdown (without adjusting for ineligibles):

  • Position players: 145/1,661 = 8.7%
  • Pitchers: 63/973 = 6.5%

_____ Note * In order to target players who have already appeared on a HOF ballot, I searched for Active=No (didn’t play in 2012) and Years=1871-2006 (because of the 5-year waiting period, players on the latest ballot had to be inactive for 2007-11), and counted the number of players with 10+ seasons. Then I subtracted those who had 10+ years through 2006 but were still active in some year from 2007-11.

These results are inexact for a number of reasons. The main problem is limitations in the Play Index for the task of finding those with 10+ years played, which forced me to do separate searches for position players and for pitchers. And there’s just no satisfactory way to specify a position-player season; I settled on a standard of at least 20% of games as a non-pitcher position in a given season. Consequently, I’ve failed to count some two-way players with 10+ years in total but not 10+ years in either role (e.g., Hal Jeffcoat), while double-counting at least one (Babe Ruth) who both pitched in 10+ years and had 10+ years as mainly a position player.


Another kind of comparison: The fewest games for any HOF position player inducted for his MLB career is 1,215 by Roy Campanella; the fewest IP for a HOF starting pitcher is Dizzy Dean’s 1,967, and the fewest for a HOF reliever is Bruce Sutter’s 1,042. If we round those off as de facto minimums for the HOF — 1,200 games for a position player, 2,000 IP for a SP or 1,000 IP for a reliever — what percentage of those players is in the HOF?**

  • TOTAL: 14.0% (208 HOFers/1,484 meeting HOF minimums for G or IP)
  • Position players: 145/1,005 = 14.4%
  • Starting pitchers: 58/397 = 14.6%
  • Relief pitchers: 5/82 = 6.1%

_____ Note ** For this portion of the study, I used the unadjusted number of retired players who met the games or IP requirements through 2006. (Why? Because this wasn’t my main focus, and I’ve spent too much time on this post already.) Also, I defined relievers by the default P-I standard of 80% of games in relief (but still included Eckersley in the count of HOF RPs); I defined starters as anyone with 2,000+ IP who wasn’t a reliever.


Lastly, here’s a breakdown of HOF position players by primary position,*** compared to the number of HOF-eligible players who (a) played at least half their games at that position and met the Games/IP standard described above (again using unadjusted numbers; see note ** above):

  • C — 13/91 = 14.3%
  • 1B — 20/115 = 17.4%
  • 2B — 18/107 = 16.8%
  • SS — 21/116 = 18.1%
  • 3B — 11/101 = 10.9%
  • OF — 61/392 = 15.6%
  • DH — 1/6 = 16.7%

Totals: 145/928 = 15.6%.

(As spotted by marc in comment #1, this total and percentage is different from those of the previous section. The discrepancy is because those previous figures did not have the requirement of 50% of career games at any one position.)

_____ Note *** Primary position = the position they played most. All but six HOF position players had at least half their games at one position; the exceptions are Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew and Ernie Banks (primary is 1B), Buck Ewing (C), Monte Ward (SS), and Paul Molitor (DH — the only HOF “DH” doesn’t meet the 50% threshold).

P.S. All corrections are welcome, but please remember that complete precision is beyond the scope of this inquiry.


Hall of Famers, as a percentage of those eligible — 32 Comments

  1. I’m pretty tired, so I might be missing something here–but isn’t the breakdown short by 100 players? It says above that 1005 position players are eligible, but the primary position totals only add up to 905. And the primary position percentages seem high given that the total position percentage is only 14.4.

    • marc, thanks again. I’ve corrected the numbers and percentages; I think I had originally based them on 1,215 games (Campanella’s exact number), then later decided to round off the standard.

      They still add up to just 928, not 1,005, simply because the latter number is *all* players with 1,200 career games, regardless of whether they played at least half their games at any one position. Apparently, 77 of them did not.

  2. These numbers seemed high at first but a few moments thought put them into perspective.

    Almost everyone who manages a 10 year Major League career is a pretty decent player, with the possible exception of a few left handed relievers, in at least one aspect of the game. Yes there is no way anyone can justify Bill Bergen being what was essentially a full-time catcher for the era in which he played but he was still an outstanding defensive player. When you consider the number of players- some of them quite good for a few years- who never made it to that benchmark, it’s not surprising that 8% of those who managed to do so are in the Hall of Fame. And when you raise the criteria to being essentially a full time player for those 10 seasons it’s hardly surprising that the percentage almost doubles. There are virtually no players (well, except for maybe the aforementioned Bill Bergen and a handful of others) who managed to stay on as a starter for 10 years with out being better than just pretty good.

    I still feel pretty justified in believing that while there are certainly a fair number of players in the Hall of Fame who don’t belong that there’s a still larger number of players who do belong but are not.

    Starting with Alan Trammell & Lou Whitaker, of course.

    • Hartvig — The 8% figure was higher than I’d expected; I had initially guessed 5%.

      I don’t really have a gut feeling for what percentage is “right.”

      • Being in the top ten percent of players who have played for ten years certainly doesn’t feel wrong. Seems to suggest for a loosening of the standards slightly so that any player recognized as being in the top 10% of all time, having played at least ten years, is a HOFer. Then again, I suppose some will argue for 5%!

      • JA:

        This probably isn’t a new idea in general terms and it will never fly for countless reasons (rather like my solution to the fiscal cliff problem—raise everyone’s taxes some including mine and yours, cut military spending by 50%, and be ready to stand the gaff) but:

        When I look at Adam’s Hall of Stats listing, going from the top down, what I see is pretty much what I remember seeing when we had the top 50 Hall of Fame vote a few months ago, namely, that there are around 25-35 guys who belong in a different class altogether from the rest, then a second group of X number who either didn’t play at a high level for as long or played for a slightly lesser level from group one during most of their careers, then a third group who shadow the second group in a slightly lower range or had fewer years of high excellence, etc.

        Having a tiered HOF based on a tiered voting system is impossible, naturally, but it would eliminate some of the need to be as restrictive as the voting is now getting to be, it would create both a small hall and a larger one, and it would allow a little wiggle room for players whose careers are worthy but hard to pin down. The very lowest tier might be called the Friends of Frisch.

        A variant to this approach would involve defining types of career performance: Long careers at a generally high level—Babe Ruth, Greg Maddox, etc.; thriving careers turned ordinary or halted by illness or injury—George Sisler, Sandy Koufax, etc.: careers based on some batting but mainly great defense— Ozzie Smith or pick your favorite. Other categories I leave to anyone’s imagination, especially since anyone’s imagination is as close as they will get to realization.

        The (to me) bizarre system of election now in place, coupled with the frustration it has caused most baseball fans over the years, ought to be reason enough to look for a different approach, even if amnesty for the Rick Ferrells in the hall is the price. And, no, going strictly to stats isn’t an option, not to me.

  3. Interesting. It’s a higher percentage than I would have expected. Presumably playing in ten seasons means you meet a minimum standard. One question and one hypothetical. What’s the rough average of ops+ and era+ of the qualifiers. And second, with the rise of salaries and arbitration, tenders, etc. will there be fewer ten year players in the future?

    • Good question, Mike L. Alas, a direct answer would be too time-consuming — it’s a pity the P-I doesn’t have a search criteria for “Years played” as it does for “Games”.

      But here’s an approximation, based on setting the Games threshold to a level that will capture about the same number of players as are formally qualified by years played.

      OPS+ for retired players with 850+ games — The median is 103.

      (The equivalent estimate for pitchers is a 104 ERA+ with a threshold of 1,100 IP. However, since I didn’t break out the formal qualifiers by SPs and RPs, that ERA+ figure is likely to be unrepresentative of what we’d see if they were broken out.)

      • Thanks, John A. Interesting-less than ten percent of the players in the searchable data base make the criteria, and of that grouping they are marginally above 100 OPS+ and ERA+. Exactly what you would expect. A career of very slightly above average productivity makes for a long one. I’m going to bet the trend line over the next twenty years will be downward. There will be fewer long average careers, because average players are fungible and ultimately will be valued at cost instead of experience.

  4. Aaaaaaaand here’s where someone asks an annoying (and incredibly time-consuming-to-answer) question. How much has this changed over time? Like, since 1939? My guess is that this is the most exclusive the Hall has been since the first or second class.

    • Bingo. I’m glad you asked it first!

      My gut also says that it’s more difficult now to make the HOF, yet it’s not just an easy percentage question since players from fifty, sixty, seventy etc. years ago are still being inducted all these years later, as we saw recently with Joe Gordon. That means the percentage of old-time players will keep rising. So we should expect a lower percentage of more recent players in the Hall, yet by how much I don’t know.

  5. 208 players is a very small percentage when you consider over 15,000 men have played Major League Baseball. The 6th edition of the “The Baseball Encyclopedia” (1985) lists 13,000. I have not seen one in years. I guess they put out a 7th,8th,and 9th edition. First edition was 1969.

  6. Since I just pulled all this data for the Hall of Stats, I suppose I can share some numbers I have… :)

    17.939 have played major league baseball.
    208 in the Hall of Fame.
    1.16% of all players.

    2,575 players have had either 3000 PAs or 1000 IP and are eligible for the Hall of Fame (by years retired, not counting lifetime bans)
    208 in the Hall of Fame.
    8.1% of this subset of players.

  7. In his HoF book, Bill James gave historical figures for % of ABs by inductees. Noting that for a lot of the time it was about 10%, but rose to over 20% in the era most dominated by the Veterans Committee, 1924-34, with a peak of 24% in 1929.

      • Adam, on your graph of “Pct. of PAs/IP Performed by a HOFer,” I’d like to see a third line combining hitters and pitchers (using pitchers’ BF instead of IP).

      • I agree that PA is better than AB. Did the relevant edition of the Baseball Encyclopedia not have PA info when James was writing? I generally prefer PA=BFP numbers, and here it would give a better way to ask if we have too many pitchers compared to batters. However, I think IP is a better way to compare pitchers to other pitchers, as the fewer batters faced per IP by better pitchers gets hidden if we use BFP.

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