December 2, 2023

Hall of Fame Voting – “If it Ain’t Broke, …”

January 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

On Jan. 9, 2013, it was announced that the baseball writers (BBWAA) had not elected anyone to the Hall of Fame.  This is the first time that this had happened since 1996.

This result drew more attention than usual because two of baseball’s best players ever (Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens) were not elected because of the common belief that they cheated by using illegal PEDs (performance enhancing drugs).

Following this announcement, all sorts of things were written which would lead one to believe that somehow or other the baseball writers had gotten something wrong.

But, in fact, THE WRITERS GOT IT RIGHT.  They rejected the PED abusers and they did not elect anyone who does not belong in the Hall.  And anyone who has studied these elections knows that deserving players like Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines will be elected in the next few years.

So, no “permanent damage” has been done and the integrity of the Hall has been preserved.  And the voting system does indeed work.  Or, in the words of the old adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Why then is so much being written suggesting ways to “improve” the way the Hall of Fame vote should be handled?  I would suggest that this is based on a MISUNDERSTANDING of how well the BBWAA has performed this task.

In fact, the present system works just fine – and the last thing we need is any change designed to get more marginal players into the Hall of Fame.  It should be VERY DIFFICULT to be elected to the Hall.  I have always thought (and still do) that this was the whole point – to honor ONLY THE VERY BEST.

Why do I say that the present system works rather well?  Here is one example.  Since 1996 (the last time no one was elected), twenty-six (26) players have been elected to the Hall by the BBWAA and only three do not have HOF numbers according to the CAWS Career Gauge.  Those three are: Tony Perez (his numbers are very close), Andre Dawson and Jim Rice.

Twenty-three out of twenty-six good picks – that’s 88%.  Does anyone think that they could improve on that score by appointing some other group to do the voting or by changing the rules?  I do not really think so.

Of course, the other question that should be raised is – What about all the other players who also had HOF numbers and were NOT elected?  That is a fair question so let’s have a look.

There may be some who think that there are a lot of such players so let’s try to separate fact from fiction.  I was quite surprised to find that THERE ARE RELATIVELY FEW.

In the analysis that follows, a player who has HOF numbers and was not elected by the BBWAA (such as Lou Whitaker) will be considered OVERLOOKED.  A player who is still on the ballot and has HOF numbers (like Alan Trammell) will not yet be considered to be in that category.  The two players who have been officially banned and had HOF numbers (Joe Jackson and Pete Rose) will also not be counted.  So, the question is – How many OVERLOOKED players are there?

The CAWS Career Gauge suggests the following:

  1. 169 major league players actually posted HOF numbers during their playing days during the 20th century (from 1900 to the present) – 118 position players and 51 pitchers.
  2. 63 players are presently in the Hall of Fame who are NOT part of this group (that is, they do not have HOF numbers) – 47 position players and 16 pitchers.
  3. 50 players who have HOF numbers are not yet in the Hall – 37 position players and 13 pitchers.  Of course, most of these players are either active (Derek Jeter) or retired but not yet eligible (Greg Maddux).

OK, so how many of these players fall into the OVERLOOKED category?

Five of these fifty players (like Sherry Magee and Bill Dahlen) are from the dead-ball era.  So, I will concentrate on the other forty-five who have played since 1920.

Believe it or not, according to the CAWS Gauge, of these 45 players, there are ONLY eleven (11) players who have obvious Hall of Fame numbers who have been completely OVERLOOKED by the BBWAA.  I was surprised by this result.

In fact, when you check the list below, you will see that most of these players could be said to have “marginal HOF numbers” and may be considered “borderline Hall of Famers” by many (or not Hall of Famers at all).  This just gives further validity to how well the BBWAA has done its job over time.

The OVERLOOKED position players:

Dick Allen
Will Clark
Darrell Evans
Jimmy Wynn
Bobby Grich
Stan Hack
Joe Torre
Lou Whitaker
Ted Simmons

(Alan Trammell will probably join the ranks of the OVERLOOKED at some point.)

The OVERLOOKED pitchers:

Carl Mays
Dan Quisenberry

(Like Trammell, Lee Smith will also probably join the ranks of the OVERLOOKED.)

I should note that according to the CAWS Gauge every starting pitcher since 1930 who has HOF numbers and had been eligible had been elected to the Hall – (Roger Clemens is now the only exception).

Who else would you suggest has obvious HOF numbers and has been OVERLOOKED by the writers for induction into the Hall of Fame?

So, here is my question.  Do we really need to change the rules – or has the BBWAA done a really good job?

Thanks for your time.

Michael Hoban, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics – City U of NY
Author of DEFINING GREATNESS: A Hall of Fame Handbook



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