Hall of Fame Backlog: Have We Been Here Before?

It’s pretty obvious that there was a lot of talent at the top of the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot.  With Kenny Lofton, and to a lesser extent, David Wells, failing to garner the five percent needed to see another ballot, it was one of the deeper ballots in recent memory as well.  The 2014 ballot drops those two, but adds Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, and a handful of viable candidates for whom voters may struggle to find room in a year with so much talent on the bill.

The first Hall of Fame ballot, in 1936, was obviously top-heavy and deep as well, naming not only inductees Ruth, Cobb, Wagner, Johnson, and Mathewson, but snubs like Cy Young, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, and the still-active Lou Gehrig.  The interceding years cycled through ballots with several obvious Hall of Famers and those on which Bruce Sutter looked like the best choice, as various Veterans Committees were tasked with clearing out ballot backlogs and did so to various degrees.

Ignoring the Hall’s first decade, when nothing resembling a standard for induction had been established and elections weren’t even held every year, two ballots stand out as having great depth of solid candidates.  In 1953, the writers had become so stingy that newcomer Joe DiMaggio had missed election the prior year and Hank Greenberg was stuck around 30 percent support.  Three of the great infielders of the era- Arky Vaughan, Luke Appling, and Bobby Doerr- joined the ballot for the first time in ’53, and due in part to the ten-player cap on writers’ ballots, none even managed one percent of the vote.  Forty-two men on the 1953 ballot are now in the Hall of Fame- 37 as players and five as managers.

By 1982, that backlog had been cleared and many other strong candidates had languished on interim ballots, either getting the eventual call from the writers, waiting for a Veterans Committee, or being dropped from consideration.  Future inductees Richie Ashburn and Nellie Fox were sticking around near the end of their fifteen years of eligibility. Sure things Juan Marichal and Harmon Killebrew had missed the call the year before, and probably felt a little nervous with surer things Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson up for discussion in ’82.

Was one or both of these ballots as strong as next year’s will be?  Let’s take a look at the 1953, 1982, and 2014 ballots player-by-player and try to answer that question.  Each grouping will include one player from each ballot, with his Hall Rating from Adam’s Hall of Stats in parenthesis.  This exercise will be far from scientific, but I find it interesting how naturally players on the three ballots match up.  Hat tip to Graham Womack for pointing out the strength of the ’53 and ’82 ballots in a Twitter conversation.

1953: Joe DiMaggio (167); 1982: Hank Aaron (298); 2014: Barry Bonds (366)

We’ll start with one of the best baseball players of all time on each ballot.  Military service kept DiMaggio’s career numbers in check, and creative chemistry inflated Bonds’s, but each of these guys was the probably the best player in the world in his prime.  Amazingly, only Aaron went into the Hall on his first ballot.  DiMaggio went in on his fourth try in ’55.  Bonds can only hope for a similar fate.

Edge: 2014

1953: Dizzy Dean (94); 1982: Juan Marichal (114); 2014: Roger Clemens (293)

Dean was all peak, only excelling for six years and change, but it was one of the greatest peaks the game had seen as of 1953.  Like the Hall of Stats, the BBWAA wanted more longevity than Dean achieved, not electing him until his ninth ballot, in ’53.  Marichal and Clemens both show up for a second try here despite unquestionable credentials, and Clemens, like Marichal, is likely to fall short again.

Edge: 2014

1953: Dazzy Vance (128); 1982: Jim Bunning (119); 2014: Greg Maddux (220)

Vance never won a Major League Baseball game until he was 31, but he enjoyed one of the great old-player careers of all time.  That didn’t impress many of the writers, who didn’t elect him until his 16th ballot, in 1955.  Bunning took a more traditional route, pitching from 23 to 39 and dominating from 25 to 35.  Bunning was on his sixth ballot in ’82, would peak at 74.2% of the vote in 1988, and would have to wait for the Veterans Committee to elect him in 1996.  Neither, of course, was Maddux, who put up dead ball ERAs in the dawn of the steroid era and is all but guaranteed first-ballot induction.

Edge: 2014

1953: Ted Lyons (123); 1982: Don Drysdale (114); 2014: Curt Schilling (172)

If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m listing these players in descending order of the 2014 candidate’s Hall Rating, with matchups to ’53 and ’82 guys based on position and other similarities.  Here we have Lyons, who pitched into his forties and threw over 4,000 innings; Drysdale, who was done by 32 but won a Cy Young Award and three World Series games, and Schilling, who peaked in his mid thirties and may be the best postseason pitcher ever.  Lyons and Drysdale are in their eighth years on the ballot and stuck between 50 and 60 percent support, while Schilling would be lucky to get that many votes in his second year despite a better Hall case than either of his competitors here.

Edge: 2014

1953: Hank Greenberg (118); 1982: Frank Robinson (210); 2014: Jeff Bagwell (165)

If I took the fifth best player on each ballot, Bagwell would probably continue the clean sweep for 2014, but instead I’m looking at the second best hitter in each year, so Bagwell meets his match.  Greenberg (158 OPS+) was a better hitter than Robinson (154) or Bagwell (149), but lacked either’s speed, Bagwell’s defense, and Robinson’s longevity, as he missed more than four years to World War II. Robinson may not have been the best among this group at any one thing, but he was a superstar for 20 years, accumulating over 100 WAR, according to baseball-reference, and was the only first ballot Hall of Famer among the three.

Edge: 1982

1953: Red Faber (115); 1982: Lew Burdette (41); 2014: Mike Mussina (163)

Ok, we’re out of great pitchers on the 1982 ballot.  Faber only earned 3.4% of the votes in ’53 and was a Veterans Committee selection.  Burdette was on his tenth of fifteen ballots and never earned more than 25%.  Mussina is about to join the Circle of Greats, but will probably wait a few years for his Hall call.  Still, he’s head and shoulders above this group.

Edge: 2014

1953: Al Simmons (1930); 1982: Harmon Killebrew (111); 2014: Larry Walker (151)

Like Walker in Coors Field, Simmons put up some video game numbers courtesy of the Baker Bowl.  Killebrew was a classic power-and-patience guy, retiring with more homers (573) than anyone except Aaron, Ruth, and Mays.  Walker (141 OPS+) was Killebrew’s (143) equal with the bat, and could run (230 stolen bases) and play defense.  Simmons made the Hall in ’53, his ninth try, while Killebrew had to wait two more years for his fourth ballot in ’84.  After two years of very little support, Walker faces an uphill battle with the writers, which is a shame because:

Edge: 2014

1953: Eppa Rixey (99); 1982: Dave McNally (34); 2014: Tom Glavine (148)

I’m sur I’m not alone in having laughed at Rixey’s Hall plaque, which boasts of his 265-251 record, but he was a very good pitcher for a long time.  McNally, like Glavine, is famous for being part of one of the great rotations of all time (the early ’70s Orioles, in McNally’s case).  Neither was Tom Glavine.

Edge: 2014

1953: Bill Dickey (127): 1982: Thurman Munson (101); 2014: Mike Piazza (147)

If we didn’t have WAR and Hall Rating, I might take a deep dive into these three guys’ numbers, as they represent three of the great catchers in New York baseball history.  Dickey and Munson were both solid on both sides of the ball and won nine World Series between them, with Munson building Dickey-esque credentials at the time of his death at age 32.  Piazza’s defense was questionable, but he was quite simply the greatest hitting catcher in Major League history and WAR doesn’t knock him enough for his defense to make an argument out of this one.

Edge: 2014

1953: Arky Vaughan (151); 1982: Luis Aparicio (93); 2014: Alan Trammell (143)

Vaughan’s one vote placed him in a tie for 64th among candidates on the ’53 ballot.  His 151 Hall Rating places him second behind Joltin’ Joe.  Coincidentally, that’s also his rating among shortstops according to Bill James’s 1998 Historical Abstract.  Whether or not he was actually the second best shortstop ever, it’s criminal that Arky’s family had to wait until 1985 to see him inducted (he died in 1952).  Aparicio comes with much more acclaim than Vaughan, and sailed into this Hall on his sixth try in 1984, but he lacks the numbers to back up his case.  Trammell’s solid bat and great glove nearly made him Vaughan’s equal, but like Vaughan, it looks like he’ll waste away on the writers’ ballot for the full fifteen years.

Edge: 1953

1953: Bill Terry (107); 1982: Billy Williams (110); 2014: Frank Thomas (139)

Three great hitters, but the only one who’s an obvious Hall of Famer is the one who may get rejected due to the depth on next year’s ballot.

Edge: 2014

1953: Luke Appling (145); 1982: Tony Oliva (82); 2014: Edgar Martinez (134)

These guys get no respect.  Appling got two votes in 1953 and only got elected in 1964 because of a change in the rules.  No candidate on the ’64 ballot earned 75% of the vote, but the writers were voting every other year at the time and were required to induct someone, so a runoff election was held with the top 30 vote-getters up for consideration.  Appling was named on 94% of the second ballots and miraculously earned the writers’ approval despite having been a shortstop.  Oliva was up for the first time in ’82 and earned just 15.2%.  He’d peak at 47% and drop off the ballot after 15 years.  Edgar is stuck under 40% after four tries.

I’ve given the edge to the player with the highest Hall Rating in each case so far.  I’m tempted to change that here on the grounds that Martinez would likely have accumulated more value had he not played in an age in which the DH position was a viable option.  He was an average defensive third baseman in the early ’90s and would have stuck there had the pitcher batted in the AL at that time.  Alas, even as his offensive numbers shot through the roof in the mid-to-late ’90s (seven straight years of an OPS+ above 150), his WAR numbers stagnated (never topping 6.7 during that stretch) due to the positional adjustment.  In contrast, Appling was half the hitter (113 OPS+) and a decent defensive shortstop and third baseman who rode the positional adjustment to similar WAR (peaking at 7.0), accumulating more over his career because  he was in the league at 23, while Edgar never batted 200 times until age 27.  Reluctantly:

Edge: 1953

1953: Max Carey (95); 1982: Richie Ashburn (118); 2014: Tim Raines (129)

Speedy Hall of Famer, speedy Hall of Famer, speedy future Hall of Famer.

Edge: 2014

1953: Joe Cronin (125); 1982: Nellie Fox (89); 2014: Craig Biggio (128)

Biggio (68.2%) earned far more support in his second year on the ballot than future Hall of Famers Cronin (26.1%) and Fox (30.6%) received on their seventh and twelfth ballots, respectively.  This may be a case where the modern player is given extra credit for reaching a milestone (3,000 hits), but Biggio edges out Cronin and beats Fox handily in career value and in respect from the writers.

Edge: 2014

1953: Hack Wilson (76); 1982: Gil Hodges (74); 2014: Mark McGwire (124)

Three guys who probably get more credit than they’re due because of home runs and runs batted in.  Only Wilson is in the Hall of Fame.  Only McGwire should be.

Edge: 2014

1953: Zack Wheat (107); 1982: Vada Pinson (90); 2014: Rafael Palmeiro (123)

Say what you will about how Palmeiro put up his numbers.  They outpace those of a Hall of Famer and a guy who might get in through the Veterans Committee before Raffy will.

Edge: 2014

1953: Kiki Cuyler (87); 1982: Orlando Cepeda (82); 2014: Sammy Sosa (116)

In his sixth year on the ballot in ’53, Cuyler got 6.8% of the vote.  In his third year, Cepeda got 10.1%.  In his first year, Sosa got 12.5%.  Cuyler and Cepeda are both in the Hall of Fame.  What does that mean for Sosa’s future?  I have no idea.

Edge: 2014

1953: Bobby Doerr (97); 1982: Red Schoendienst (65); 2014: Jeff Kent (106)

Two second basemen who fall short of Hall of Stats standards and never got much respect from the writers meet the guy with the most home runs ever by a second baseman.  Doerr and Schoendienst are in.  I’m interested to see if Kent gets enough support to see a second year on the ballot in this field.

Edge: 2014

1953: Jim Bottomley (60); 1982: Elston Howard (60); 2014: Fred McGriff (92)

I’m skipping Kenny Rogers here because 1982 is out of pitchers who got one percent of the vote and Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes has the exact same Hall Rating (93) as Rogers.  No edge awarded.  I’m not high on McGriff’s case, but he’s getting more support at this point in his post-career than an eventual Hall of Famer in Bottomley and a pretty good player in Howard.

Edge: 2014

1953: Ross Youngs (61); 1982: Rico Petrocelli (71); 2014: Luis Gonzalez (88)

Youngs had two good years in a ten-year career and is in the Hall of Fame.  Petrocelli had one great year, earned more career value than Youngs, and never got a second look from the writers (0.7% in his only year on the ballot).  Gonzalez had one great year and the best career of the three, and might not even get 0.7% in ’14.

Edge: 2014

1953: Tony Lazzeri (86); 1982: Roger Maris (73); 2014: Don Mattingly (77)

Three popular Yankees with short careers.  Lazzeri hit a little bit into his thirties and is in the Hall.  Maris fell off so fast that he couldn’t ride two MVPs and a 61-homer season to Cooperstown.  Mattingly will fall off the ballot in 2015 without ever coming close to induction.

Edge: 1953

1953: Red Ruffing (100); 1982: Don Larsen (26); 2013: Jack Morris (74)

Here are two players whose Hall cases are often compared to Morris’s.  Ruffing has the highest ERA (3.80) of any Hall of Fame pitcher, at least until Morris (3.90) gets in.  Larsen hangs his hat on one postseason moment, his perfect game, much like the case Morris built around his 10-inning Game Seven shutout in 1991.  Ruffing, who was also a postseason hero (7-2, 2.63 ERA in World Series games), is in the Hall of Fame thanks to a runoff election in ’67, and is clinging to a spot in the Hall of Stats.  Larsen is the answer to a once-simple trivia question that will stump more and more baseball fans in coming generations.  Whose path will Morris follow?

Edge: 1953

1953: Waite Hoyt (92); 1982: Hoyt Wilhelm (106); 2014: Lee Smith (62)

A starter who pitched more in relief than most great pitchers in his era, a reliever who threw more innings than any reliever does today, and the guy who owned the all-time saves record for over a decade.  The former two are in the Hall of Fame, while Smith looked like he was headed there until the ballot glut stalled his progress.  By the way, I skipped Edd Roush/Tommy Davis/Moises Alou because these are getting boring.  1953 would have won that round.

Edge: 1982

1953: Earle Combs (74); 1982: Bill Mazeroski (49); 2014: Ray Durham (54)

This seems like an appropriate place to stop, as it’s the last round with Hall of Famers on both the ’53 and ’82 ballots (though on the ’53 ballot, we haven’t talked about Hall of Famers Chief Bender, Rube Marquard, Jesse Haines, Lefty Gomez, Sam Rice, Rabbit Maranville, Dave Bancroft, Travis Jackson, or Ray Schalk, nor about Babe Adams, who’s in the Hall of Stats with a 110 Hall Rating).  Would you have guessed that Durham has a better Hall Rating than Mazeroski?  I wouldn’t advocate for Durham as a better candidate, since he has neither a strong case as the best defensive second baseman ever nor the happiest home run in World Series history, but there’s a lot of talent on next year’s ballot (and a lot of weak players in the Hall of Fame).

Edge: 1953

If I kept going, I would give fifteen more edges to the 1953 ballot (including Gabby Hartnett over Bill Freehan and Paul Lo Duca), as ’53 certainly the deepest in terms of having the most players who wouldn’t be utter embarrassments to the Hall of Fame.

So which is the strongest ballot?  At the top, it’s clearly 2014, with six players at or above a 163 Hall Rating and those six averaging a score of 230.  1982’s top six average 162 and all score 114 or higher, while 1953’s top six average just 141, but all score 127 or higher, and this group lost a lot of WAR to war.

As much as the voting rules have changed over time, the ten-player cap has remained in place (for better or worse). If a voter filled his ballot with the ten eligible players with the highest Hall Ratings, he would grab everyone through Alan Trammell (147) in 2014, leaving Thomas, Martinez, Raines, and Biggio off.  The same tactic in 1982 would tab everyone through Thurman Munson (101), with Aparicio and Freehan just outside.  1953’s cutoff would be Hank Greenberg at 118, with Faber, Adams, Terry, and Wheat on the outside.

The only real argument for the 1953 ballot is depth beyond the top ten candidates.  The 11th through 30th best Hall Ratings on the ’53 ballot average a 93 Hall Rating, including everyone through Earle Combs or Lefty Gomez (74).  2014’s 11th through 30th average a solid 89, but include one-and-dones like Armando Benitez and Esteban Loaiza (40).

The only argument for 1982 is that the voters made a reasonable choice, electing Aaron and Robinson, with Marichal getting in the next year and Killebrew, Aparicio, and Drysdale tabbed by the BBWAA in ’84. The writers in ’53 picked only Dean and Simmons, leaving the Veterans Committee to clear the backlog that would remain even after nine players from the ’53 ballot got in over the next three years.  As for 2014, we know Maddux will get in, but even Glavine and Thomas may have to wait a year, as at least one objective measure (Hall Rating) sees Glavine as the fifth best pitcher and Thomas as the eleventh best player up for election.

Despite all the eventual Hall of Famers on the 1953 ballot, it’s clear that the current glut is the most severe in the institution’s history.  Voters have disagreed for as long as there have been voters, but the steroid issue seems more polarizing, and more potentially damaging to the plaque room, than any past disagreement.  In time, Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame will find a way to clear the backlog, as they always have.  Let’s just hope the next Arky Vaughan or Ron Santo doesn’t die waiting for the call.


Hall of Fame Backlog: Have We Been Here Before? — 64 Comments

    • And if you’re looking for a guy with a home field advantage look no further than Bobby Doerr. At home his tOPS+ is 125 vs. 75 on the road

    • Good call, Richard. I saw that Simmons hit .381 and .390 in 1930 and 1931, respectively, and that he played for Philadelphia, and I jumped to the wrong conclusion. Interestingly, b-r gives Shibe Park in 1931 the same 106 pro-batter park factor that Baker Bowl gets. Over a longer stretch, Baker was more extreme, of course.

      More accurately, Walker’s 8-point OPS+ advantage over Simmons comes from the fact that his career OBP was 20 points higher and his career SLG was 30 points better. Walker got more of a boost from his parks and era.

      • DISAGREE –

        Joe Posnanski wrote a geat article on this very subject, shortly after the 2013 HOF results were announced. He pointed out that a grand total of _two_ players were elected by the BBWAA between 1958 and 1964, both in 1962 (J. Robinson, Feller). The 1958 ballot contained 38 future HOFers, so the logjam was eventually resolved (somewhat).

        The different was, at least the Veteran’s Committee was making selections some years:

        1958 – none
        1959 – 1
        1960 – none
        1961 – 2
        1962 – 2
        1963- 4
        1964 – 6
        1965- 1

        So at least there was _some_ HOF induction interest.

        • I’d like to think that if the answer to the titular questions was as simple as “yes” or “no”, I wouldn’t have bothered writing the post. Yes, we’ve seen backlogs. Yes, the writers have been too stingy in the past. No, there’s never been a backlog of this much talent/value/accomplishment. No, there’s never been an issue as divisive to Hall voters as PEDs.

          Thank you all for the opportunity to write “titular”.

  1. “each of these guys [including Aaron] was the probably the best player in the world in his prime.”

    Well, OK — but only ’cause Willie was on another planet. :)

    Nevertheless, a very enjoyable piece, Bryan.

    • Joe Dimmagio never lead the league in WAR. (He did lead in position player WAR 3 times.) Ted Williams lead the league in WAR 6 times. Walks are important.

      • I think it’s fair of Bryan to say that Dimaggio was “probably the best player in the world in his prime.” Dimaggio’s peak was ages 22-26 during which he accumulated 36.6 WAR. Mize was second with 33.3 and Feller third with 32.9. And I believe that only Dimaggio and Mize had 5+ WAR in all five of those seasons. So while he may not have matched Feller’s peak during those years he was more consistent. If I had to rank the “best player in the world” for 1937-1941, I’d go Dimaggio first, Feller second, and Mize third.

        • Thanks, Ed. That’s exactly what I meant. I wouldn’t rank DiMaggio’s peak ahead of Williams’s peak, but he certainly spent some time as the best in the game.

          I’m trying to make the same claim about Aaron, but I have to go out to ’67-’69 to find a time when he was better than Mays, and by then Yaz was probably on top. John, can we define Aaron’s peak as “a few weeks in 1959”?

      • So is defense.

        Yet Williams’ on-base skill were so excellent they were able to counter DiMaggio’s glove, at least depening on how much faith one puts in WAR, and WAR looking back.

        It’s interesting to wonder how the general public and media would view The Splinter, The Man and The Clipper if they all played today. Perhaps DiMaggio’s star burned brighter back in the 30s and 40s (or is that just our perception looking back on two now mythic figures?), but knowing how much OBP is valued today, I believe many if not most would place DiMaggio behind the other two. Yet the advanced stats community, even though they love the walk, might come to DiMaggio’s defense to some degree because of things such as defense and ballpark effect.

        Career road stats for Ted and Joe:

        Splendid: .328/.467/.615/1.082
        Clipper: .333/.405/.610/1.015

        Williams still is ahead because of OBP, but it’s much closer. Now add in DiMaggio’s defense, and the claim of best player in the AL is certainly worth a debate.

        Give me a ballplayer with Williams’ bat and DiMaggio’s glove. Yes, I want the Splendid Clipper!

  2. Great job of putting into perspective quite how unprecedented next year’s ballot is. I’m also with you on the complete arbitrariness of the ten-man ballot.

  3. Some things said in passing got my hackles up. IMHO, the early-’70s Orioles did not have an all-time great rotation; Billy Williams is an obvious Hall of Famer; and these unnamed people who’ve mentioned Don Larsen as a HOF candidate have no idea what the HOF actually is.

    But I still loved the piece.

    • John, it’s true that the early ’70s Orioles get more credit than they’re due, but the analogy is apt given all the comparisons of the Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz/Avery Braves to the Palmer/Cuellar/McNally/Dobson Orioles during the Braves’ run. The greatness of those Oriole pitchers was embedded in my mind long before my bitter divorce from the pitcher win. And even if they don’t stand up to the best rotations ever, you have to admit that 1,081 innings with a 117 ERA+ from four starters in 1971 is pretty impressive.

      I have no intention of kicking Billy Williams out of the Hall of Fame, but (1) he has a lower Hall Rating than Kevin Appier, and (2) he got 23.4% of the vote on his first ballot and six years to get in. Of course there are flaws in both of those methods of player evaluation, but a there was mild resistance to his candidacy both in advanced metrics and in popular opinion. I don’t expect much resistance to Thomas’s candidacy other than the possibility that there’s no room for him on a voter’s ballot next year.

      These unnamed people who supported Don Larsen’s candidacy may be fools, but they’re some of the fools who keep the gate at the Hall. He spent all fifteen years on the ballot and peaked with 53 votes in 1979. In the post above, I wasn’t so much alluding to those fools as I was comparing one of the most commonly cited points of Morris’s candidacy, his greatest one-day achievement, to another less-than-Hallworthy pitcher with a similar one-day achievement.

      But I still loved your comment :)

      • Johnny Vander Meer, better than Larsen but like Larsen probably no one’s idea of a HOFer around here (losing record of 119-121/25.1 WAR),also received substantial HOF support – on the ballot from 1956-71, support as high as 29.3% and over 20% seven times.

        It’s obvious that a small but substantial number of BBWAA HOF voters gave him a LOT of credit for the two consecutive no-hitters in 1938, the same way they gave Larsen credit for the perfect game in the 1956 WS; certainly enough credit to give them those HOF votes.

        This, despite the instructions in the official voting rules NOT to give undue credit to any one specific game or season accomplishment:
        (from the official voting rules, caps are mine):

        6. Automatic Elections: No automatic elections based on performances such as a batting average of .400 or more for one (1) year, PITCHING A PERFECT GAME or similar outstanding achievement shall be permitted.

        As comedian Ron White says “You can’t fix stupid”.

        Jack Morris is a VASTLY better HOF candidate compared to Larsen, and while Billy Williams may not be an “obvious” HOFer, he’s still a fairly solid BBWAAA choice.

  4. The glut as most of us see it does seem to be a function largely, though not entirely, of the PEDs issue. If the entire past use of PEDs had somehow remained entirely secret, and the writers were simply looking at the current candidates’ records on the field, Bagwell, Piazza, Bonds and Clemens would all likely be in now, and the glut would be much less of an issue. The problem is not so much the ten-man ballot as the fact that many of the BBWAA voters are approaching the question of who deserves to be inducted very differently than many of us right now.

    • In fact, had the ten-man ballot been abolished this year, there’s evidence that it wouldn’t have made any difference. Not that many of the voters actually filled out ten names, but of the ones who did most of them voted for Craig Biggio (the top vote-getter) anyway. If all the voters who listed ten names but didn’t list Biggio were given an unlimited ballot and all of them DID list Biggio, he still wouldn’t have reached 75%.

      Sorry, I cannot find the link to the article that proved this. It’s somewhere on the archived Book Blog.

      • I agree with both of you that the cap hasn’t affected many historical elections, but in future years, it will become more and more restrictive. Frank Thomas has the 11th-highest Hall Rating on next year’s ballot. Biggio and Raines are behind him.

        I also think there’s something psychological about the cap. It may have the effect of defining the Hall of Fame standard as limited to no more than ten players from a given era (if you’ll allow me to define “era” as Dale Murphy to Bill Mueller, less those already in the Hall). Some of these writers haven’t covered baseball in a long time, if they ever covered it at all (which is a problem in itself), and may not appreciate the fact that this ballot includes more talent/value/accomplishment than the first ballot they filled out in 1979. Lifting the cap would essentially say many of these players might be worthy of the HoF. Consider them all on their merits.

          • It’s kind of strange, given all the other changes that have been made to the balloting process over the years, that the 10 man limit dates back to the very first ballot.

  5. Really good stuff, Bryan. Loved the format. Nice researching.

    quibble: Joe DiMaggio may have been considered the best player on the planet, but Ted Williams absolutely dwarfs his numbers. That other guy, the one who played in St. Louis, he may have had something to say regarding this matter in Joe D’s era as well.

  6. Good article, thanks.

    A couple of minor quibbles –

    1) It’s not really accurate to say Cy Young was “snubbed” in the 1936 election; rather, the writers weren’t sure whether to classify him as an old-timer or as one of the ‘moderns’, and votes for him ended up getting split between the main ballot and the Veteran’s Committee;

    2) Hank Greenberg didn’t miss “more than four years” because of WWII, but rather a little more than 3 1/3 seasons (’42, ’43, ’44, and just under 40% of ’45).

    • Greenberg also missed about 90% of the 1941 season because of military service. So in effect he missed slightly over 4 years.

    • Ed Delahanty, Willie Keeler, and John McGraw also had substantial votes split between the modern/old-timer ballots. Even Honus Wagner got five votes from the Veteran’s Committee.

      This was not a well-designed system; not just that problem, but in the future, the waiting period (the five-year waiting period doesn’t seem to be enforced till 1956; no formal ballot listing who is actually eligible; then, no minimum 5% required to force a more manageable ballot year-to-year.)

  7. Am I the only one who sees a disturbing trend here, viz., that by recent statistical interpretation, recent players get higher ratings in almost every comparison? This perspective informs not just this post, but lurks beneath many others such as the Rick Reuschel one as well. It’s rather like saying that a man who died in 2010 at the age of 90 was obviously healthier than his father who died at 75 in 1980 who in turn was healthier than his father who died at 60 in 1940. The numbers are skewed forward with little attempt to delineate the different environments and challenges for success that diverse generations have or haven’t had to face.

    Or take a more personal example: One thing that is never mentioned, for some reason, in discussions of of Ron Santo’s underrated career, is that he played every game as a type 1 diabetic. Insulin, for him, was a PED, but in fact, if he hadn’t been a diabetic, where would his stats have landed him? Higher on the WAR totem pole because he could play every day in the range of his best ability without suffering the ups and downs of his blood sugar level and the anxiety and distraction that his condition must have caused him? Or lower, because his capabilities were intertwined inextricably with his ailment? I don’t know, but I believe Santo’s situation, while extreme, is a sample of the situation faced by every player, and there’s no mathematical shorthand that can even out the differences between the challenges faced and overcome or not overcome in competing playing careers, especially if those careers were in different eras.

    I also believe that it’s a mistake to rely solely on stats to judge ultimate worth. Maris hit 61 HRs, Ruth only 60. Player X has a WAR of 72, player Y has a WAR of only 49. Until you bring in more than the raw numbers, though, even of advanced stats, you can’t make an informed decision about which player was better, and certainly not about which one was more worthy.

    Rant ended.

    • I’m not sure I agree, nsb. For my first experiment with Adam’s “open source, open data” at HoS, I downloaded all the player information and found the number of players who retired in each decade from the 1870s to the 2010s. Then I limited the data to (1) members of the Hall of Stats, and (2) the top half of the Hall of Stats, by Hall Rating. Here are the percentages of all players who retired in a given decade who are in the HoS:

      1880s 0.27%
      1890s 1.58%
      1900s 1.08%
      1910s 1.19%
      1920s 0.91%
      1930s 1.44%
      1940s 1.40%
      1950s 0.97%
      1960s 1.47%
      1970s 1.59%
      1980s 2.07%
      1990s 1.33%
      2000s 1.30%

      And now the percent in the upper crust (Hall Rating 128 and up):
      1880s 0
      1980s 0.56%
      1900s 0.54%
      1910s 0.66%
      1920s 0.33%
      1930s 0.82%
      1940s 0.74%
      1950s 0.39%
      1960s 0.79%
      1970s 0.63%
      1980s 1.03%
      1990s 0.79%
      2000s 0.77%

      The 1870s and 1880s are bound to be underrepresented, as the game was in its infancy and very few players had established themselves as superstars, had long careers, and retired. From there, the numbers are somewhat steady through the 1970s, with dips in the ’20s (WWI) and ’50s (WWII). There’s a spike in the ’80s, which seems to coincide with prevalent amphetamine use giving older players a chance to boost their numbers, though the ’90s and 2000s return to prior levels despite the continued availability of greenies. The 1990s and 2000s actually lag the 1930s and 1940s in terms of percent of all players who make the Hall of Stats.

      I’m happy to entertain theories about expansion/the DH rule/ internationalization/ strike years to account for the bump in the ’80s and the subsequent tail-off. Aside from that spike, I don’t see much evidence that “by recent statistical interpretation, recent players get higher ratings”.

      The effect you refer to is evident in my post above because the Hall of Fame backlog problem is truly getting worse. With some voters picking the best candidates by the numbers and others playing moral arbiter, it’s hard to establish consensus, even about players far more qualified than those voted in in the past.

      Medical advancements have certainly made it easier for modern players to have longer careers, but for every Noodles Hahn or Nap Rucker, there’s a Brandon Webb or a Mark Prior. Just like 100 years ago, 98% of players still fall short of the Hall of Stats.

      • Here’s my hypothesis:

        -The spike in the ’80’s may be caused by the 1961/’69/’77 expansions. These expansions increased the number of Major League players at a rate faster than the talent pool was growing; thusly, the quality of the “replacement” and, consequently, “average” player decreased. This meant that a guy who would’ve been a Hall of Very Good player in decades past may now appear to be a Hall of Famer. Perhaps, then, we should examine players retiring in the ’80s with increased scrutiny.

        -The “correction” in subsequent decades may have something to do with free agency and rising salaries. With the increase in salaries beginning in the ’70s, top athletes in the baseball-playing world likely dedicated themselves more to shooting for the major leagues, thus replenishing the talent pool, increasing the level of the replacement player, and making it more difficult for the best baseball players to stand out. This, perhaps, makes the accomplishments of guys like Bonds and Clemens even more incredible, PEDs notwithstanding.

      • Bryan:

        I wouldn’t have made the argument if i thought you agreed. The point is that I disagreed, and more statistics out of the same box don’t convince me of anything one way or another. To state my point of view in a nutshell, according to Adam’s post on Rick Reuschel, Rick was a top 100 player on the basis of his WAR and position in the hall of stats. He was better than any number of players from the past who are overvalued, in other words, such as mopes like oh, let’s say Waite Hoyt and Bob Lemon. I find it impossible to accept such an argument. His interpreted stats are better, but that doesn’t mean he was a better pitcher in his era than they were in theirs, when the challenges were different. You disagree, and the guy with the figures to back him up wins the argument. Winning an argument doesn’t mean being right, however.

        And I understand the point of your post about the backlog of hall-worthy players. but as I stated in Andy’s One and Done discussion:

        “Until now I’ve stayed away from commenting on the HOF ballot, mainly because I’m starting to feel as if the HOF is dead as far as the future is concerned. We’ve reached a point at which the process, the criteria, the numbers of players, the voters, the steroid issue, the bloviating of know-nothings and experts alike, the hang-ups some people have about these players or those either belonging or not belonging, the position of the higher statistical ground claimed by those to whom WAR is the only measure—the thing reminds me of a tired old red giant star turning everything left into gas and just about set to implode, leaving a black hole.

        And does it really matter? Will Lofton or Bonds or Ruth or LLoyd Waner or anybody else become a better or worse player if the HOF goes crashing down? I hate to sound the note of gloomy eternity, brethren, but truly, it’s time to get a little perspective.”

        I think it is unfortunate but true that the Hall is dead but not buried, and the way to revive it can’t be through interpretive stats or weeding out the dead wood. Rather a set of criteria needs to be developed that takes in the nature of the variety of performance factors and situations players find themselves in, so that there is room for, say, Lou Whittaker(good and steady for many years) and Sandy Koufax( outstanding for a short time), Bill Mazerowski(all fielding) and Edgar Martinez(all batting), without trying to filter them through a numerical sieve that pretends to make variety into oneness. A Hall with tiers or categories would do much to break the logjam we all know exists. I wouldn’t personally count on a veterans committee to do the dirty work.

        • NSB,I’m especially interested in the part of your argument suggesting that it’s impossible for you to accept that Reuschel was a more valuable pitcher than Waite Hoyt. You may be right, but I’m trying to figure out what standard you are using to put Hoyt ahead. I assume it is some sort of statistical evidence, but if not what sort of evidence would it be? And if so, what stats are you looking at? Even the most traditional stats like W-L and ERA don’t seem to obviously favor Hoyt over Reuschel. Hoyt had more wins than Rick, but not that many, and Reuschel had the better ERA.

    • Echoing what Bryan wrote, I’d add that if anything recent statistical interpretation levels the field so that very early players are not over represented.

      The game continues to improve on the margins. This not meant as a knock on old-time players. I have no problem believing Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb would be great players today, although they would be different because their skills and approach would need to adapt to the game now. BTW, the same would be said if you were to try and transport Bryce Harper years back. The catcher was closer to the plate, so a hitter’s swing would have to be more compact. The balls were mush by today’s standards. The bats were much larger with thicker handles, all of which prevented players from whipping the bat through the zone to drive it as they do today. A pitcher today would have to adapt to thowing the ball from those times. He could overpower those hitters, well for a short time, until he had go and pitch nine innings every time out, or ten, or eleven or twelve innings, and pitch reguarly with only a day or two or so off between. His arm would fall off if he didn’t adapt to the game of those times.

      It’s the same game in some ways, but very different in others. So in some ways the high innings of pitchers, or the dominance by some hitters, could lead to an over representation of those early players. They were great in their own right, but as the game becomes more specialized, the scouting better, the training better, it’s just harder to dominate.

  8. “The interceding years cycled through ballots … on which Bruce Sutter looked like the best choice, …”

    I’m wondering at what point in the COG elections that we reach such years. Particularly if, as Birtelcom has implied (correct me if I’m wrong), we also have extra or special elections at interval to clear our COG backlog. Hopefully, with electing just one player per year and liberal rules for keeping unelected players on a ballot, we will avoid the fate of having to choose a player “who’s not like the other guys”.

    • The structure of the COG voting may at least theoretically make the election of a lesser candidate who happens to the best available more likely than it is under the BBWAA voting system. That’s because the COG rules require that the top candidate is inducted, while the BBWAA allows for no one to be elected, as happened this year. However, that will be offset, I hope, by the fact that the COG also limits the induction to one per ballot, in contrast to the BBWAA which in theory allows all deserving candidates to be elected at once, thus leaving potential fallow years going forward. I’m also hoping that periodic “redemption ballots” that bring back guys who have previously fallen off the ballot ensure that strong candidates left over from especially rich talent eras will be available for voters to support in years that are especially thin in new candidates.

      I’d also note that some of the BBWAA’s tendency to appear to have a glut of candidates arises from the illusion that the BBWAA is generally looking for guys who fit in with the larger Hall defined by both the BBWAA and the Veterans Committee electeds. I think the standard for many BBWAA voters is really the smaller Hall defined by previous BBWAA-electeds only. Of course, many voters also define that small Hall in a relatively primitive way (RBIs, MVPs, Wins….), giving us odd choices such as Jim Rice. But I don’t think that takes away from the fact that many BBWAA voters have a small Hall in their heads as the standard they are applying.

      • “But I don’t think that takes away from the fact that many BBWAA voters have a small Hall in their heads as the standard they are applying.”

        I think you’re right about that and that’s what makes their decisions doubly frustrating.

        By my quick count the BBWAA have elected 46 players to the HOF in the past 20 years. I would argue that 25% of those chosen probably fail to meet the “at least as good as the average HOF player at that position” standard (Wilhelm, Drysdale, Aparicio, Brock, Hunter, Fingers, Sutton, Perez, Sutter, Gossage, Rice) and arguably as many as 1/3rd do not (Williams, Eckersly, Dawson, Puckett, Winfield).

        To be fair there are only about 5 guys listed that I wouldn’t have voted for myself but it’s still incredibly frustrating watching guys who CLEARLY meet the “average HOFer” standard either fail to get in after years on the ballot (Trammell/Raines) or fall off the ballot entirely (Santo) or worst of all fall off the ballot in their first year (Whitaker, Brown and others).

        There’s lots of blame to go around as to why that keeps happening but it makes it really difficult to tolerated the idea that the writers are somehow trying to maintain high standards for getting into the HOF while they themselves both continue to elect clunkers while virtually mandating that an avenue of second recourse remain open to fix their obvious oversights as well.

        • Hartvig – Not sure why you list Wilhelm and Gossage as not “as least as good as the average HOF player at that position”. Sure, if you’re comparing them to starters. But in my opinion that’s a bit unfair. Wilhelm and Gossage are #2 and #3 in career WAR among relievers, behind only Rivera.

          BTW, Gossage once led the AL in WAR (1975). Not just pitchers but position players as well. His 8.1 WAR that year is the highest ever for a reliever. Only John Hiller (7.9 in 1973) comes close.

          • And it’s also true that Goose’s 39.9 career WAR puts him behind Schoolboy Rowe and Mel Stottlemyre and just ahead of SABR punchline Jack Morris. I’m willing to cut “relievers” some slack but if a DH can’t get in to the HOF (when Frank Thomas gets in it will only be because in the eyes of the voters that he played “enough” at first base no matter how poorly he played there) I’m going to hold them to at least the same standards that the HOF voters do the DH, at least for purposes of this argument.

            Edgar Martinez is a perfect example. Using JAWS his numbers are almost an exact match for the average HOF third baseman- even including the WAR penalty for DHing and the fact that there are fewer third basemen in the HOF than any other position. Yet his chances of getting elected are close to nil unless there’s a big change in attitude among HOF voters in the next decade and he continues to get out-voted by a substantial margin by Lee Smith and his 27.9 career WAR and JAWS ranking just below Turk Farrell and Stu Miller.

    • We’ve currently got Schilling, Walker, Larkin, Glavine, Smoltz, Martinez, Alomar, and Biggio stuck on the ballot, with Gwynn likely to be added to that list after this round. All of them are probably among the 112 best players born before 1969, as are Kevin Brown and Kenny Lofton, who may rejoin the ballot as well. It will be a long time before we have to induct a Bruce Sutter.

  9. One comment that jumped out was that DiMaggio was “probably the best player in the world in his prime.” If so it wasn’t during the 10 years he and Williams crossed paths. At least not according to WAR, Williams 81.7 to Joe D’s 57.2, or oWAR 80.9 to 54.0, (dWAR was a different story, for sure, 2.0 for Joe D and -6.3 for Ted, but practicing your swing in left field comes with a penalty, I suppose). Also, he beat Williams only 3 of those years, Williams’ rookie year, second year (and those were close) and in ’50 when Williams only played in 89 games. Otherwise Williams beats him up pretty badly.

  10. I know this isn’t relevant and also a supremely silly question, but…

    Anyone know who has the most HOF votes of all time? I’d think it’s got to be someone who was on for a quite a few years before finally being voted in. And being the ‘leader’ here means nothing…

    • At a glance I’d say it’s between Jim Rice and Bert Blyleven at least partly because there are more HOF voters now than there were in the past. Between those 2 I would say that it’s Rice because he started out with vote totals in the 30%’s while it took Blyleven a few years to get to that point. Prior to that Nellie Fox was one name that sprung to mind that was on the ballot for 15 years and reached vote totals as high as 74.7%. Another possibility might be Red Ruffing who was on the ballot for centuries especially if you count the votes he got in the runoff elections a few of those years.

    • You’d have to normalize by the number of people voting. Do it like MVP or Cy shares where you get the cumulative percentage. My bet? Jim Rice

    • Doing this logically (answer at end):

      1) It’s probably someone from the last 20-25 years, since the number of HOF voters has gone up gradually over time:

      1956 – 193
      1976 – 388
      1996 – 470
      2013 – 569

      2) they were on 13/14/all 15 ballots, and received very high vote totals their last three/four years on the ballot.

      Based on the above- it’s probably JIM RICE, with Bert Blyleven 2nd and Nellie Foxx, Jim Bunning and Bruce Sutter in the running. And yes- I’m too lazy to add up all those vote totals…

  11. Have we been here before? Nothing like we’re about to face. In the past, there was a path to clearing the glut, which ultimately provided greater focus on a dwindling number of deserved players.

    The PED situation will prevent clearance. BBWAA writers who believe Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, Sosa, Sheffield, McGwire, Ivan Rodriquez, Bagwell etc. all should be elected vs. those who think anyone who even walked by a clinic that may have had PEDs should be locked out. (I’m aware I’m mixing know PED users, suspected PED users, and rumored PED users together, but that’s on purpose since many voters don’t draw a line.) The list of great players who never get cleared will continue to grow, creating more fragmentation.

    So, no, we haven’t been here before. Nothing like this.

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