The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Qualitative Analysis, Part 2
In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the first 45 players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The purpose of doing so was to determine if it is true, as so many claim, that The Hall was once the exclusive domain of the truly excellent, the best of the best.
After examining all the players inducted into The Hall through 1949, we have to conclude that even in its early years, the BBWAA and the various Old Timers Committees were already arriving at some questionable choices for player inductions into the Hall of Fame.
Fully 38% of the first 45 players chosen can be regarded as specious choices.
Although my analysis is not entirely a matter of sabermetrics, modern measurements like WAR, OPS+ and ERA+ do figure prominently in my evaluations.
Now let’s take a look at the subsequent players elected into The Hall for the years 1951-69.
1951 — BBWAA: Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott
Nine-time All Star, three-time MVP Jimmie Foxx, who came within two homers of matching Ruth’s
single season record just five years after it was set, received just 9% of the vote in his first year on the ballot in 1936. A word of caution to the Class of 2012, that’s what a crowded ballot can do.
Ott, like Foxx, topped 500 home runs, thus helping to create the myth that 500 home runs is the standard by which power hitters must be judged to gain entrance into The Hall.
1952 – BBWAA: Harry Heilmann, Paul Waner
Heilmann, with a pocket full of batting titles and a career OPS+ of 148, received 1.7% of the vote from the BBWAA in 1942. A decade later, without producing so much as a bunt single in the interim, the same BBWAA gave him 86.8% of the vote.
This Waner brother (Big Poison) actually does belong in The Hall.
1953 — BBWAA: Dizzy Dean, Al Simmons. VC: Chief Bender, Bobby Wallace
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, the dorsal fin of the Veteran’s Committee appears on the horizon.
The Veteran’s Committee absolutely loves light-hitting, slick fielding middle infielders. Bobby Wallace’s defensive WAR (11.9) is the same as Bill Mazeroski’s, and is very close to Rabbit Maranville’s 11.8 as well as Phil Rizzuto’s 11.0. Theoretically, this should bode well for Omar Vizquel (13.3) once he becomes eligible. Undoubtedly, some will argue that a Vizquel induction would seriously erode the high standards of The Hall. Clearly, as you can see, that would not be the case.
Dean had a great run, but flamed out fast. He had five great seasons in a row, winning an MVP award along with two second place finishes, and one other good year. Essentially, he paved the way for Sandy Koufax, and his equally brief run of greatness, to make it into The Hall.
Chief Bender, a Native-American of the Chippewa tribe, pitched for three A’s championship teams in
the early years of the 20th century. In his rookie season, 1903, he led the league by plunking 25 hitters in 270 inning pitched. Don’t mess with the Chippewa. But his career ERA+, 112, and his WAR, 38.5, are significantly lower than the vast majority of pitchers elected to The Hall up to this point.
Eleven-time All Star Bill Dickey is still among the ten best catchers who ever played the game, so at the time of his induction, few catchers in history had ever been as good as he was.
Rabbit Maranville: See Bobby Wallace above.
1955 — BBWAA: Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons, Dazzy Vance. VC: Home Run Baker, Ray Schalk.
Hard to believe that by 1955, Joltin’ Joe was already eligible for the Hall of Fame. In his short 13-year career, he finished in the top ten in MVP voting ten times, winning the award three times. Certainly an obvious choice for The Hall. Interestingly, his closest modern comparable player (according to Baseball-Reference) eligible for The Hall is Larry Walker.
For seven consecutive seasons, from age 31-37, Dazzy Vance led the N.L. in strikeouts. I’m of the opinion that this kind of dominance merits Hall membership.
Of the pair of catchers elected, Gabby Hartnett was a solid choice, but Ray Schalk was a poor one. In fact, Schalk’s election set the bar so low (at least for catchers) that it is possible to make a case that Butch Wynegar deserves to be inducted into The Hall.
Mark McGwire hit 583 home runs. Home Run Baker hit 96. They both led their league in home runs four times. McGwire’s career WAR was 63.1. Baker’s was 63.7. This is as good an indication as any of how misleading traditional counting stats (home runs, batting average, RBI, etc.) can be. Baker does belong in The Hall.
Ted Lyon’s election set the stage for later misfires like Eppa Rixey, Burleigh Grimes, Red Ruffing and Waite Hoyt.
1956 — BBWAA: Joe Cronin, Hank Greenberg.
Two solid choices for the Hall of Fame.
1957 — VC: Sam Crawford
MLB career leader in triples with 309. Career OPS+ 144. Career WAR 76.6. Solid choice.
1959 — VC: Zack Wheat.
Wheat is a marginal HOF’er. Won a single, empty batting title in 1918 (18 extra base hits.) OPS+ 129 is the same as Freddy Lynn. Career WAR 57.8 puts him in Willie Davis territory.
During the 1950’s, then, just 14 of 21 players inducted into the Hall of Fame were high quality choices. Therefore, about one-third of all the players inducted during this decade were of questionable merit (or worse.) Thus, out of the first 66 players inducted into The Hall between 1936-59, just 42 were what can be described as high quality choices. That represents just about 64% of all players chosen up to this point.
This begs the question, so when does this Golden Age of the Hall of Fame actually begin? Perhaps we’ll have better luck during the 1960’s, the next installment of this series.