Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs wrote a terrific piece a couple of weeks ago where he tries to determine what exactly is the Hall of Fame’s historical standard. Where is that line drawn? He finds that the traditional standard is somewhere between 1% and 2% of all players.
It varies by era, of course. More than 2% of the players born before 1910 are in the Hall of Fame — and I suspect most people would say that there are a few too many of those players in the Hall. There are numerous reasons for this which we can go into another time — one being that these players have been considered several different times in several different ways, so they have had many chances to be chosen — but I think most people agree that the Hall could probably take out a Lloyd Waner, a Ray Schalk, a High Pockets Kelly, a Rube Marquard and so on and have a more consistent Hall of Fame.
I’m going to recap Dave’s work for a couple of minutes here and then get to the point. Between 1910 and 1960, there were 8,900 men born who played in the Major Leagues. Of these, 112 were elected to the Hall of Fame. That’s 1.26%. Now, it’s true that a few of those 112 are considered marginal Hall of Famers if not outright mistakes. But I suspect that at least as many — Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Tim Raines, Dwight Evans, Graig Nettles, Ken Boyer, Dick Allen, Luis Tiant, Tommy John, Jim Kaat, not to mention Pete Rose — are viable Hall candidates who have not yet been elected.
So, let’s say that the best 1.25% should be elected into the Hall of Fame. Of course, you could be a small Hall person and decide that less than 1% deserve election or you could be a big Hall person and say 2%. But for now, let’s stick with 1.25%.
Dave says that from 1961 to 1970, 2,656 Major League players were born. That’s a lot more than any previous decade because of expansion. If you take the top 1.25% of those players, that would make 33 players who deserve to be in the Hall of Famer. That doesn’t sound unreasonable. But, when you dig a little deeper into it, you find: That’s WAY more than the current momentum.
Here, as Dave says, are the players born in the decade who are in the Hall of Fame.
1. Barry Larkin
2. Roberto Alomar
OK, a couple of excellent middle infielders. OK. Now, here are the players who will unquestionably get elected … on the first ballot, I would think:
3. Greg Maddux
4. Tom Glavine
5. Frank Thomas
6. Randy Johnson
7. Ken Griffey
8. John Smoltz
9. Mariano Rivera
And here are players I think will get elected:
10. Craig Biggio (maybe even this year)
11. Jeff Bagwell
12. Mike Piazza
13. Jim Thome
14. Trevor Hoffman
Um, We are still not even halfway to the 33 players who, by the Hall’s historical standard, should be Hall of Famers. So, let’s list some players who could get elected, you know, with some momentum:
15. Curt Schilling
16. Mike Mussina
17. Omar Vizquel. It’s possible that Omar will have an easier time of it than this, I’m just projecting.
Wow, barely halfway. How about some players who will need some help, but have some strong supporters:
18. Edgar Martinez
19. Larry Walker
20. Fred McGriff
Whew, were still not even close to 33. Well, of course, you notice we haven’t yet included the players connected with PEDs. We won’t rehash the arguments here, but will just list them off — all six, I think, had Hall of Fame careers:
22. Barry Bonds
22. Roger Clemens
23. Mark McGwire
24. Gary Sheffield
25. Sammy Sosa
26. Rafael Palmeiro
And you know what? We’re STILL not especially close to the 1.25% that is the traditional standard for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Who else could we add here?
27. Jeff Kent
There are much bigger Kent fans than me out there, so I probably should have listed him earlier. He did hit 377 home runs, which is by far the most ever for a second baseman. And he won an MVP award. He also had eight seasons with 100-plus RBIs, which is another record for second basemen. On second thought, he’ll probably have a growing cadre of supporters — he might belong with the McGriff group.
28. Kevin Brown
Nobody particularly seemed to like Kevin Brown, so there wasn’t much fuss when he disappeared from the ballot. But he pitched more than 3,200 innings with a 127 ERA+. There were 20 players born before 1960 who threw at least 2,000 innings with an ERA+ of 125 or better. All but one — Tommy Bridges, who threw fewer innings than Brown and was not as effective — are in the Hall of Fame.
Um, OK, five more to go. Now what?
29. Kenny Lofton
He fell off the ballot after his first year, but Lofton was a Gold Glove centerfielder who just about hit .300, stole more than 600 bases and scored more than 1,500 runs. The only players born before 1960 to score 1,500 runs and not make the Hall of Fame are Pete Rose and Tim Raines. And Raines is pushing his way up the charts.
30. Jim Edmonds
His career was short, so he didn’t get 2,000 hits or 400 home runs, but he was an extraordinary center fielder who got on base, hit with power, Duke Snider is one of his Baseball Reference comps. I think he was one of the top 1.25% players of his time.
We’re STILL not there. Who else?
31. David Cone
What you find here, on the bottom end, are great players who had serious flaws. Cone’s flaw was the shortness of his career. His failure to win 200 games cut him off as a BBWAA Hall candidate, but he was a great pitcher. He he won a Cy Young Award and was a viable candidate three or four other times. He pitched in four World Series. His 121 ERA+ is certainly in Hall of Fame territory.
32. Don Mattingly
He still has many fans despite a very short career. There was a three or four year span when many people thought Mattingly was the best player in baseball. He probably was not — he never even finished Top 5 in WAR — but he was a high-average, Gold Glove first baseman who cranked doubles and homers and almost never struck out. He was a bleepin’ ballplayer.
Still one more spot? Well, you might consider John Olerud, Will Clark, Robin Ventura, Bernie Williams, Bret Saberhagen, You say: Oh come on, those guys weren’t Hall of Famers. But this is the point: Historically, they were — or they were right on the brink. If you go back to those players before 1910 — when more than 2% of the players were elected — you would still have to find TWENTY more players for the Hall. You would start talking about Kevin Appier and Chuck Finley, Matt Williams and Darryl Strawberry, Steve Finley and Jamie Moyer, Mark Langston, Jimmy Key and David Justice.
See, the arguments we’re having — about whether a guy like Curt Schilling or Edgar Martinez is a Hall of Famer — having nothing at all to do with the Hall of Fame as it stands. They are not on the line. They are way, way above it. This has something to do with a new, tougher standard that we are instituting on the fly. Maybe the new tougher standard is the right one for a variety of reasons. But make no mistake: It is newer, and it is tougher. I hear from people all the time who want to throw players out of the Hall of Fame. They’ll never be able to do that, of course. This, I guess, is the next best thing.