Virtually every conversation about the Baseball Hall of Fame includes some version of the following argument:
“We shouldn’t water down the Hall of Fame. It should only be reserved for the best of the best.”
The implication being, of course, that every pitcher on the ballot needs to compare favorably to Tom Seaver, Walter Johnson, and Sandy Koufax. The same, of course, is true of every position player on the ballot. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams are the immortals that some fans believe our most recent ballot hopefuls need to measure up to in order to merit serious consideration for being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
But how realistic and accurate is that assessment? What is a “real” Hall of Fame-caliber player? When we’re discussing the careers of Biggio, Bagwell, Thomas, Piazza, Walker, etc., (among the position players on the ballot), what is a fair and honest standard to hold them to in order to reward them with a plaque in Cooperstown?
Fortunately, Baseball-Reference has a page that actually sheds some light on these questions. Here are the statistics for a typical, average position player already in the Hall of Fame:
Games: 2,134, Plate Appearances: 8,996, At Bats: 7,917, Hits: 2,397, Doubles: 409, Triples: 110
Home Runs: 209, Runs Scored: 1,321, RBI: 1,212, Stolen Bases: 228, Walks: 889, Strikeouts: 728
Triple Slash Line: .303 / .376 / .462, OPS: .837 WAR: 69
I did a little research to see if I could find one player in baseball history who came closest to approximating those stats over the course of his career. While there was no one player that matched perfectly, of course, there were a few who came relatively close. For example, here’s Player A:
Games: 2,076, Plate Appearances: 9,053, At Bats: 7,869, Hits: 2,336, Doubles: 449, Triples: 55
Home Runs: 287, Runs Scored: 1,366, RBI: 1,257, Stolen Bases: 147, Walks: 1,069, Strikeouts: 1,212
Triple Slash Line: .297 / .381 / .477, OPS: .858 WAR: 49.5 (But Offensive WAR: 62.7).
As you can see, Player A had a little more power, and a little less speed than your “average” HOF player. But overall, this player is a pretty good comp. Let’s try another. Here’s Player B:
Games: 1,976, Plate Appearances: 8,283, At Bats: 7,173, Hits: 2,176, Doubles: 440, Triples: 47
Home Runs: 284, Runs Scored: 1,186, RBI: 1,205, Stolen Bases: 67, Walks: 937, Strikeouts: 1,190
Triple Slash Line: .303 / .384 / .497, OPS: .880 WAR: 56.2
Player B’s batting average is right on the money, and his on-base percentage is close. Again, a little more power and less speed than the average HOF’er. One last comp: Player C
Games: 2,380, Plate Appearances: 9,086, At Bats: 7,946, Hits: 2,383, Doubles: 413, Triples: 148
Home Runs: 169, Runs Scored: 1,247, RBI: 1,304, Stolen Bases: 71, Walks: 1,018, Strikeouts: 538
Triple Slash Line: .300 / .382 / .453, OPS: .834 WAR: 55.1
Player C’s Triple Slash Line is very close to the average HOF’er, as are his hits, doubles and triples. The WAR is a little low, but the rest of the profile matches up pretty well with our hypothetically average Hall of Famer.
Which of the three do you like best?
O.K., I wasn’t being completely fair. Of the three players I analyzed, only Player C is actually in the Hall of Fame. Player C is Enos Slaughter, inducted into The Hall in 1985.
As you can see, then, although many baseball fans feel protective of the Hall of Fame, and don’t want it to be “watered down” by inducting “unworthy” players, the truth is, the Hall of Fame doesn’t require protection from any of us.
There is little danger that any of the players on the current ballot who might conceivably be inducted would, in any objective way, lower the standards of the Hall of Fame as it actually exists. If anything, the majority of the players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot are, by historical standards, overqualified.*
Simply put, this is not just Hank Aaron’s Hall of Fame. It is Enos Slaughter’s Hall of Fame as well.**
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
*You will find that this is true, even if you decide to break the list down position by position.
**It may also some day be Carlos Beltran’s Hall of Fame. Though his stats are also pretty close to the historical averages, I didn’t include him because he is still currently active.