September 23, 2023

The Hall of Famers: The 5 Levels of Greatness – Part 1

September 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Consider the following statement: One third of the players in Baseball’s Hall of Fame do not have the credentials to be there.

Or, to be more precise, 35% of the 20th century major league Hall of Famers do not belong in Cooperstown according to their performance records (on the field in the regular season).

This is the conclusion of the CAWS Career Gauge.  In other words, more than one-third of all the 20th century Hall of Fame major leaguers do not have the career numbers to justify their being in baseball’s shrine.

Who does belong in Baseball’s Hall of Fame?  I believe that ONLY THE BEST should be enshrined in Cooperstown.  Of course, that is probably what the creators of the Hall of Fame originally intended.  Unfortunately, that is not the case at the present moment.  And I am referring here only to the major league players who have been inducted

After the 2011 election, by my count, there were one hundred seventy-eight (178) 20th century major league players in the Hall of Fame – those whose careers were primarily from 1901 to the present.  Of these, one hundred twenty-four (124) were position players and fifty-four (54) were pitchers. The CAWS Career Gauge suggests that sixty-three (63) of these players do NOT have the career numbers to justify their being in the Hall (47 position players and 16 pitchers).

I will attempt to explain the thinking behind this conclusion.

I should note that I am not advocating that anything should or could be done about this situation.  Realistically, I do not believe that anything anyone writes is going to have a serious impact on how the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is operated (at least not in relation to how someone is elected).  Keep in mind that the institution in Cooperstown is a MUSEUM as well as a “shrine.”  So, it is appropriate for non-major leaguer players (as well as others) who have contributed significantly to baseball to be remembered there.

The “problem” (as I see it) is that a more careful distinction should be made between these individuals and the TRUE HALL OF FAMERS – that is, those major league players who have been honored through an election as the greatest performers on the major league field of play.   Let’s face it, when the average fan thinks of “Hall of Famers” he/she does not think of executives or managers or umpires.  Fans almost always associate the term with those great major league players who played the game in an outstanding fashion.

That is why I think it is a worthwhile exercise to try to give appropriate recognition to those players who really did distinguish themselves by their outstanding performance on the playing field in the major leagues.

At the heart of this research is Bill James’ Win Shares system – since it is the most comprehensive tool available to understand how good a season a player had.  It includes offensive and defensive contributions and adjusts for all relevant factors.  The CAWS Career Gauge (Career Assessment/Win Shares) uses win shares to measure how good a career a player had.

According to the guidelines set forth for the BBWAA election process, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”  This statement clearly says that the player’s record and playing ability are the primary considerations for election to the Hall.  It then mentions “integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team” as additional points to be considered.

I think it is very important to remember that the player’s record on the field should be the primary consideration.  Only after it has been determined that the player’s career numbers are “Hall-worthy” would the other points come into play.  So, using Pete Rose as an example, I would say that there is no question that he has Hall of Fame numbers based on his playing career.  Unfortunately, his gambling habits called into question his integrity and sportsmanship – and he has been banned from consideration for this reason.  And, of course, this could be considered appropriate given the guidelines.

Similarly, the “steroids issue” has called into question the candidacy of Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro (so far) on the grounds of integrity and sportsmanship.  And this too could be considered appropriate.

The point, of course, is that integrity and sportsmanship do have a role to play – but only after it has been determined that the player has Hall of Fame career numbers.

This series of articles has only one goal.  It is meant to serve as a handy resource for any fan who wishes to address the question: Does John Doe belong in baseball’s Hall of Fame?  That is, does a certain major league player (either a position player or a pitcher) have the credentials to deserve induction into the sport’s ultimate shrine in Cooperstown, NY?

It is my belief that (with very few exceptions) no major league player should be in the Hall unless his performance on the field has earned him the right to be there.  In other words, the fact that he may have been a great “sportsman” or an “outstanding role model” may be important in some other context.  But if he does not have the career numbers to justify his induction into the Hall, then he should not be there.  The numbers should be the “sine qua non” for induction – that is, the essential element.

Of course, as with all rules, there may be some exceptions.  I will mention one name here that I will use as an example of what I see as an exception to the rule.  Roy Campanella is in the Hall of Fame.  His years as a major league catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers demonstrated his remarkable skills.  However, as we will see, he does not meet the CAWS benchmark for obvious HOF numbers for a catcher because he had a relatively brief career.  But he does belong in the Hall.  Why?  Because it is obvious from his performance on the major league playing field that if he had not been prevented from playing earlier (by the “color barrier”) he would have certainly posted obvious HOF career numbers.

Of course, I am not saying that the career numbers should be the ONLY consideration.  If the numbers are not in doubt, then other considerations may come into play.  As noted above, I can understand how some fans may think that some players such as Pete Rose (gambling) and Mark McGwire (steroids) should not be elected to the Hall of Fame no matter how good their numbers may be.

Be that as it may, I only consider here a player’s career numbers posted during the regular season.  No post-season results are considered – in an effort to keep the playing field leveled for all.  (Of course, normal baseball records do not include post-season play.)  Naturally, this affects some players more than others.  We will see, for example, that Hall of Famer Whitey Ford is judged to NOT have Hall of Fame numbers during the regular seasons.  Some fans will argue that if his post-season results were included, this judgment would change.  And that may very well be true.  But we will focus on the question: Which players deserve to be enshrined in Cooperstown based on their regular-season on-field performance alone?

According to the CAWS Career Gauge, there are 167 players who did achieve obvious Hall of Fame career numbers in the major leagues during the 20th century (from 1901 through 2010) – 116 position players and 51 pitchers.  Of these players, 37 position players (34 from the modern era and 3 from the deadball era) are not yet in the Hall of Fame.  Likewise, 14 pitchers (12 from the modern era and 2 from the deadball era) are not yet in Cooperstown.  Of course, some of these players (like Derek Jeter) have not yet been eligible.

The Five Levels of Hall of Famers

As suggested above, I believe that the museum in Cooperstown should make better distinctions between the groups of people honored there.

One problem that I have always had with the present Hall of Fame is that all the major league players who are enshrined there are “lumped together.”  For example, Babe Ruth and Heinie Manush are both in the Hall.  Does that mean that they had comparable careers and it is difficult to say that one was better than the other?  Hardly.  The Babe was a far superior player.  But, unfortunately, the Hall makes no distinction between the two players as to their “level of greatness.”  So that is what I will do here.  I will separate the major league players who have HOF numbers into Levels of Greatness according to their career numbers alone.

One outcome of a ranking system like the CAWS Career Gauge is that each player’s career is awarded a score and this score can be used to separate the different levels of players.  So, for example, if we are talking about the 20th century position players who were true legends of the game, we are talking about Level 1 players – a group of only thirteen (of which Babe Ruth is one).

The CAWS Career Gauge has separated those 20th century players who have obvious Hall of Fame numbers into five levels depending on their CAWS score (that is, according to their career numbers).  We will look at these players in the articles that follow.  The lists of players will include those who are in the Hall of Fame and those who have the numbers but are not yet inducted.  At the end of the series, we will indicate those players who are currently in the Hall but who do not have the numbers to be there.

For example, we will see that Hank Aaron, Mike Schmidt and Willie McCovey were all great players who had obvious Hall of Fame numbers during their careers.  But Hank Aaron’s career numbers designate him as a Level 1 player while Mike Schmidt had a Level 2 career and Willie McCovey a Level 3 career.

Here are the five levels of major league position players (who actually posted HOF numbers) and the number of players in each level – a total of 116 players.  Remember that some of these players are not yet in the Hall.  And forty-five (45) 20th century position players who are in the Hall of Fame do not have HOF career numbers and are not on these lists.

  1. Level 1  -  CAWS score > 400   =   13 players
  2. Level 2  -  CAWS score > 330   =   18
  3. Level 3  -  CAWS score > 300   =   25
  4. Level 4  -  CAWS score > 280   =   32
  5. Level 5  -  CAWS score < 280   =   28

As we will see, there are one hundred sixteen (116) 20th century position players who actually posted HOF numbers during their major league careers.  Of these, seventy-nine (79) are actually in the Hall of Fame and twenty-three (23) are not yet eligible or currently on the ballot (2011).  Fourteen (14) of these 116 players have been completely snubbed for election so far.  Of course, this number includes Pete Rose and Joe Jackson who have been banned from consideration for the Hall of Fame.

In Part 2 of this series, we will look at the Level 1 and 2 players and in Part 3, we will examine Levels 3 and 4.  In Part 4, we will discuss Level 5 and present the list of the forty-five (45) position players who are in the Hall of Fame but who do not have the career numbers to be there according to the CAWS Career Gauge.

Thanks for your time.

Mike Hoban
Professor Emeritus – City U of NY
Author of A GOOD CAWS: A Hall of Fame Handbook (2011)

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