Historic Locke Field to become apartment complex

Locke-Field-2012-300x224

Two years ago, Dave England wrote here about Locke Field, a former Class D ballpark in Gainesville, Texas in danger of being torn down. “There’s an apartment complex in Brooklyn where Ebbets Field once stood,” England wrote. “Here’s hoping a similar fate doesn’t befall Locke Field.”

On Tuesday, the Gainesville City Council voted 7-0 to approve a 52-year lease with Orison Holdings of Denton, Texas to build an apartment complex where Locke Field currently stands. Gainesville city manager Barry Sullivan said in a phone interview with this website that construction will begin within six months.

No demolition time for Locke Field has been scheduled. It’s uncertain if anything from the ballpark will be preserved.

Sullivan said this was the third time since May 2010 the council has considered plans for Locke Field, which the city owns. “This wasn’t a one-night, ‘Let’s vote on this’ thing,” Sullivan said. “It’s been coming since 2010.”

As England wrote, Locke Field opened in 1946 and has been identified by the Society for American Baseball Research as one of the final Class D ballparks standing. England wrote of it as “one of the last baseball fields in Texas with wooden dugouts and covered wooden stands.”

Over the years, the field has hosted minor league, college, and high school baseball. Elvis Presley gave a small concert there in 1955.

Sullivan said the city council vote came amid an economic boom for Gainesville and a shortage of local living accommodations. “We’d been receiving several complaints about people having to drive 30 miles for housing,” Sullivan said.

Meanwhile, Sullivan estimated the city was spending between $7,500 and $15,000 a year to maintain a field barely in use in recent years. Gainesville High’s baseball team stopped using it, Sullivan noted, after building a field closer to campus.

“It’s land that we’re having to spend a lot of time to maintain it, and it’s not being utilized,” Sullivan said.

The contract for the apartment complex calls for a minimum of 144 units and the developer spending $10 million. Sullivan said ideally there will be at least 225 units and $16 million in development expenses by Orison Holdings. The city will receive $7,500 a year during the lease.

Locke Field’s fate was sealed in part by its location. Sullivan said it’s close to downtown and near the intersection of Interstate 35.

There are no plans for any plaque or other commemoration at Locke Field. Sullivan said that Gainesville company Antique Lumber may handle the demolition.

Justin Pratt, general manger for Antique Lumber, said by phone that his company does demolition work free of charge in exchange for reselling wood to cover labor costs. Pratt said that if his company takes the job, Locke Field’s bleacher wood will be sent to a saw mill and re-planed, with metal from the ballpark being sold for scrap. Signs from Locke Field may be donated to a historical group.

Tuesday’s vote on Locke Field passed without much public discussion, though it’s been heated in years past. When there was talk in 2012 of building another apartment complex at Locke Field, local resident Duane Walterscheid told a CBS affiliate, “I like it a lot it’s very family oriented. I mean if they want to they can build an apartment complex, but not there.”

The only public discussion before Tuesday’s vote centered on Orison Holdings. The Gainesville Daily Register noted in March that the council tabled consideration of the lease proposal after a representative from another firm accused the city of making a backroom deal with Orison Holdings.

Incidentally, just two people gave public comment Tuesday prior to the vote, both from other firms.

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For more information about Locke Field, read Dave England’s November 2012 piece for this website.

10 essential books for any baseball historian

Interviewing Pete Palmer recently spurred me to finally get a copy of his and John Thorn’s classic 1984 book, The Hidden Game of Baseball.

I’ve started reading Thorn and Palmer’s masterpiece, and I already know it’s a book I’m going to cite here. From the early going, it reads like a book no baseball history researcher should be without, a central canon of the field.

I got to wondering how many of these books exist. I’m not talking fine baseball books, necessarily, such as Ball Four, The Boys of Summer or Summer of ’49, to name three of my favorites. What I mean is, I wonder which books one’s understanding of baseball history would be incomplete without reading.

Bill James wrote in one of his books that every writer has a stack of books they know they’ll never read. This seems apt, though as a baseball historian and writer, I aspire to at least read enough of the essential books to be taken seriously.

So what are the most essential books for a baseball researcher and historian? I think there are maybe 10 of them, which I’ll list in chronological order. I invite anyone who’s interested to add to the list in the comments below:

  1. The Glory of Their Times, Lawrence Ritter, first published by MacMillan and Company in 1966, revised edition with four new interviews in 1984
  2. Baseball’s Great Experiment, Jules Tygiel, Oxford University Press, 1983
  3. The Hidden Game of Baseball, John Thorn and Pete Palmer, 1984
  4. Baseball, Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, Knopf, 1994
  5. Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?, Bill James, Free Press, 1995
  6. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James, Free Press, 2003
  7. Moneyball, Michael Lewis, W.W. Norton & Company, 2004
  8. The Book: Playing The Percentages In BaseballTom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andrew Dolphin, Potomac Books, 2007
  9. Cooperstown Confidential, Zev Chafets, Bloomsbury USA, 2009
  10. Baseball in the Garden of Eden, John Thorn, Simon & Schuster, 2011

I’m not sure if Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour-Mills three volume History of Baseball series, published between 1960 and 1990, belongs on here, too. I’ve yet to touch those books, and as a baseball historian, I’m probably long overdue. The same more or less goes for Thorn and Palmer’s long-running series, Total Baseball. Daniel Okrent’s Ultimate Baseball Book, with historical text by David Nemec, may deserve a spot as well.

Then there are any of the annual abstracts Bill James wrote between 1977 and 1988, though I don’t know if any of them stand out enough on their own to merit inclusion here; 1988, maybe, which has a valedictory feel to it, since a then-burnt-out James announced he was retiring from sabermetric research. We all know how that turned out.

In general, I shied away from including anthologies or chronologies without original research, save for the 592-page tome that accompanied Ken Burns’ 1994 PBS series. Burns’ book just has such an amazing bibliography. It’s like a Readers’ Digest of great baseball literature. While the book isn’t perfect and overlooks some important details, such as Bill James’ contributions to baseball, I would recommend it to any new fan of the game.

I’ll add that I don’t think all the great baseball books have been written, far from it in fact. Over the next 10-15 years, we’re going to see at least a few more with all of the old historic newspapers and magazines being made available online. I suspect in baseball writing, the best is yet to come.

An interview with Pete Palmer

In researching recently for Veterans Committee ballots, I emailed official MLB historian and longtime baseball author John Thorn to see if he might know anything. Thorn replied, “Pete Palmer would know if anyone would” and put me in contact with him.

For more than 40 years, Palmer has been the person to go to for baseball questions even other researchers might not know. He is the researchers’ researcher,  one of the wise old men of the Society for American Baseball Research, which he joined a month after its founding in 1971. Tom Tango, one of the co-authors of the influential 2007 work on sabermetrics, The Book, told me via Twitter, “Pete Palmer was our Yoda.”

At 77, Palmer remains active in baseball research and is father to three school-aged children, as he remarried after being widowed. Palmer and Thorn, who’ve written extensively together, just released a new edition of their classic 1984 book, The Hidden Game of Baseball, available via Amazon and elsewhere.

Truth be told, I’ve long wanted to talk to Palmer, and shortly after we began emailing about Hall of Fame voting, I asked if he’d be up for a phone interview. He was. Highlights of our hour and 40 minute conversation from Monday are as follows:

Baseball Past and Present: What’s it like being a dad at 77?

Palmer: I let [my wife] do a lot of the work, but I try to pay attention to them. I’m not some guy who’s sitting at the computer all day, typing away and ignoring everybody else. But they’re doing okay. My wife decided to home school the two boys this year, so she’s been pretty busy with that. Some days, they are a little reluctant to get into their studies, so that’s a bit of a problem. They’re, let’s see, third grade and six grade they’re in. We’re hoping maybe they can go back to regular school next year and give her a break.

BPP: Are your kids into baseball?

Palmer: Absolutely not. They’re into computers. They sit with their stupid little iPods, whatever you call them, the little handhelds playing games. It’s hard to tear them away from that sometimes.

I enjoy computer games as a break from doing the research. Sometimes it gets pretty tedious. Like, I’ve been working on Retrosheet. Retrosheet is going to have play-by-play of every game back to 1946 by this summer, and I’ve written a lot of programs to analyze the data and also look at the discrepancies. When you get back into the ’70s, there are a lot of mistakes in the official averages, and Retrosheet data is probably more accurate for the most part. But I try to look at everyone and try to figure out who’s right and what really happened.

Of course, when I started, we didn’t have all this stuff. But now, you can sit at your console and call up [lots of information.] One of the guys photocopied all the official averages which go back to 1905 in the American League and 1902 in the National League. You can look at newspaper accounts of the games for the box scores and stuff. It’s a lot easier to do than it would have been, say, even 10 or 20 years ago.

But it’s really kind of tedious. As I get older, I’m not quite as comfortable sitting down at the console for three or four hours and doing stuff. I used to to go to the Hall of Fame to get the records that weren’t in the guides, like the players of less than 10 games and stuff like that. I could sit there all day with my nose into the microfilm reader. But now, after a couple of hours, I have to kind of take a break. So I reward myself by playing a few games, Minesweeper or something.

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The following came while Palmer and I discussed the work he’s doing now.

Palmer: Are you familiar with the player win averages which are developed by [Harlan] and Eldon Mills? They developed the probability of winning the game table based on the inning and out and the runners on base and the score at the time.

BPP: Yeah, I’m familiar with win probability.

Palmer: Yeah, right. So anyway, back in 1969, they got data from Elias which allowed [them to] calculate all that data. They did it again in 1970, and they didn’t find that much interest in it, so it fizzled.

We now have the capability of calculating those numbers back to 1946, so I’m working on that for a Research Journal piece which I’m going to finish at the end of the year which has the win probability differences for everybody 1946 to ’15, which is 70 years. One thing I did was I put in a park and decimal factor because obviously if you play in a good hitters park, your batting is going to be better. And if you’re in the National League, then the pitcher batting counts as part of the league average, so batters in the National League for a given level would have a better relative performance compared to the league average, so I had to factor that out. I’m not really sure how it’s gonna come out. Barry Bonds will probably be the leader, but I’ll have to see.

The one problem with player win averages is there are only a handful of really pivotal situations where the probability of winning the game can change by 20 or 30 percent on one at-bat. What happens is those particular at-bats get overvalued. I think I looked at Albert Pujols one year, and if you took his performance in his top ten stress-wise or game-changing position [at-bats], that like overshadows 200 of his lesser at-bats. Because lots of times, the game isn’t really on the line when you’re batting, but your performance is still important. Over the course of 10 or 15 years, that theoretically should balance out. But over the period of a season, you might get one key hit that would add like half a win to your total. The leading player for the season might be like five wins above average. So that’s a bit of a problem with it. Course, the player doesn’t really have a choice of when he gets up. He just tries to do the best he can every time.

Still, it’s interesting, and there’s a pretty high correlation between that and your normal ratings. In fact, Dick Cramer did a study years ago on the Mills Data where he looked at players in 1969 and ’70 and compared their player win average to their nominal batting stats. Theoretically, if you were a clutch hitter, then your player win average should be higher than your normal situation where every bat counts the same. And he found no correlation whatsoever, which is what I expected, because I’m [in] the ‘Clutch hitters don’t exist’ camp.

Cramer and I did this study a couple years ago where we had everybody back to 1950, I think, 1950 to 2005, something like that, and there was no significant difference between the player’s overall record and his record weighed by the probability of winning the game. And that hasn’t really changed. So that’s one of the things I’m looking at when I do this. But I don’t know, are you a clutch hitter advocate or not?

BPP:  Um, I mean honestly, I feel that in most things in life, not even just baseball, I feel like there’s people who perform better under pressure and have different motivations. But I also understand one of the arguments against clutch performance in baseball, which is the idea that if a hitter could do that, why aren’t they doing that every single time?

Palmer: Right, that was one of Cramer’s points. Because, if you look at it, the guy’s up there about 10 minutes a day, at the plate. I know there’s stressors and you’re tired and stuff, but it shouldn’t really be that hard to concentrate for 10 minutes a day on your job… I would think that if there was clutch play, [it would] more have to be the pitcher because the pitcher actually is working hard. In the old days when everybody used to pitch a complete game, they sort of had to pace themselves a little. So you’d think, ‘Well, two outs, nobody on, I’ll just try to get the ball over and see what happens.’ I didn’t find any evidence of clutch pitching either. But you’re right, why don’t they try all the time?

BPP: What do you make of defensive independent pitching stats? Do you think there’s anything to it?

Palmer: I didn’t have a lot of faith in that. I think that if a pitcher’s a good pitcher, you’re not going to get as many hard-hit balls off him, and if it’s not a home run, the hard hit balls are going to be in the field.  We have hit locations and hit types back to 1988, which is like 25 years, more than 25 years. It says ‘line drive,’ ‘ground ball,’ ‘fly ball,’ ‘hard hit,’ ‘medium hit,’ ‘soft hits’ and the locations. If you hit a fly ball and it’s not a home run, the odds [are] it’s going to be an out. Of course, a pop up is almost a clear out. But line drives, they got a pretty good chance of dropping in.

I think what [Voros] McCracken’s problem was that he didn’t realize the variations due to chance on hits. If you hit a bunch of line drives, a certain percentage are going to be caught, but there’s a fair amount of variability in that. If you look at individual pitches, you see, well, the differences of outs on balls in play is not varied as much as maybe you would think without actually looking at how much it should be.

But the problem with DIPS is, if you prevent a home run, then your outs on balls in play go down because now, the balls rattling off the outfield wall somewhere. Whereas if it goes into the stands, it doesn’t count. If you turn a double into a single or a triple into a single because of your superior pitching, that doesn’t affect your outs on balls in play at all. And if you strike out somebody– strikeouts are a fairly important part of being a good pitcher– your outs on balls in play go down again because the out doesn’t count. So the only time that a good pitcher really makes a difference on outs on balls in play is when he turns a single into an out. When you don’t look at walks and strikeouts and home runs, you’re actually minimizing a difference between a good pitcher and a bad pitcher. And therefore, the gap in that category is going to be artificially low because some of the factors that would make it higher are not counted…

[McCracken] said there wasn’t a great amount of correlation from season to season. But as I said, the variations due to chance and everything in sports, baseball in particular, is a lot higher than people think. Your average could drop 60 points from one year to the next, and it’s not really statistically significant because 500 at-bats isn’t that many at-bats to verify what your current batting average should be. I think the average difference in batting average between seasons is something over 30 points, so 60 points is really just on the borderline of being statistically significant.

Even team wins. The variation due to chance from one season to the next on team wins is about nine. So what that says is, you can drop 18 wins in one season, and there’s still a 5 percent chance it was just luck.

BPP: Yeah, I feel like teams can swing from 70 to 90 wins pretty easily.

Palmer: I was amazed, the Red Sox were picked by Sports Illustrated to be the eastern division champs this year. That seems strange to me. I’m a Red Sox fan, you know, I go back to the ’40s, but I don’t see them being eastern division champs.

I never looked it up, but their swing over the last three years has got to be one of the biggest swings, from down to up and then down again. I don’t know if any team’s ever done that much. I never got around to looking it up, but I’d be surprised. They swung about 25 games, I think, plus or minus. That’s pretty unusual.

BPP: Bobby Valentine was a pretty terrible manager.

Palmer: He got off to a wrong footing and never really recovered. I think managers are overrated in baseball anyway. It’s probably easier to do a crummy job. There’s more downside to being a manager than upside, I think.

BPP: I don’t feel like a manager has much effect, but it seems like a really bad manager can still do some damage.

Palmer: Yeah, yeah, that was my point. They all do about the same thing. The nuances and strategy, if you look at it mathematically, the so-called optimal strategy might be a little better than what most people, but the differences are so small, you’d be hard-pressed to get an extra win out of intentional walks and stolen bases and sacrifices and all that stuff over the course of a season by altering your strategy, I think. Or even the batting order. The difference between an optimal batting order and a normal batting order is probably less than one win per season.

All that stuff isn’t important, but I think it is important to try to keep everybody working toward the same goal. I think that’s probably the biggest job for a baseball manager. Whereas in football, the coach I think it makes a huge difference.

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Palmer has done statistics work for the New England Patriots for more than 40 years– he actually prefers watching football to baseball– so our conversation veered away from the national pastime for a bit.

BPP: Is it ever frustrating to you that football has been so conservative and slow to embrace newer kind of statistical thinking?

Palmer: Yeah, yeah. Well, the trouble is if you do the conventional thing and it doesn’t work, nobody can criticize you. But if you do something weird, and it doesn’t work, then it looks bad.

The Patriots had a game a couple years ago in the playoffs where they had a 4th and 5 or something like that, and they faked the punt and tried to go for it and then they didn’t make it. It might have even been against Denver, I can’t remember. It was a good play. It didn’t work, but you don’t even know what the success rate should be because they never try it.

Some coach in high school, I remember reading an article in Sports Illustrated about it, a few years ago, he decided punting was stupid. So he vowed never to punt again. It doesn’t matter where they are, on fourth down, they go for it. And he’s had some luck with it, though that seems a little extreme. Even 4th and 5 inside the 10-yard line, mathematically it’s better to go for it.

BPP: Yeah, you’re giving yourself 33 percent more downs if you just always go for it.

Palmer: See one thing that happens is, if you kick a field goal, then the other team’s going to get the ball back around the 20 or the 25 after the kickoff, whereas if you go for it and don’t make, then they’re going to be down on the one-yard line. So that’s like 24 yards, and on average, 24 yards is worth about two points. Theoretically, if you kick a field goal, you’re giving away two of the three points you just got by field position after the kickoff. So it’s really only worth one point. Whereas with a touchdown, then it’s seven points and then again you’re giving away two points, but that’s the difference of five points to one point instead of seven points and three points, which is a difference.

There’s a guy, Aaron Schatz who has FootballOutsiders.com… Aaron and I have talked about that. He says, ‘They’re just not going to do it. It doesn’t matter. You’re never going to talk them into it.’

BPP: Have you tried to affect any change working in the NFL?

Palmer: No. My friend Bob Carroll, who founded the Pro Football Research Association, and I wrote a book called The Hidden Game of Football about 25 years ago, which had a lot of that stuff in there. It didn’t really have any impact on anything. They’ve been keeping track of fourth down conversions for 30 years now. It really hasn’t changed. It’s about one per game, per team, and they make it about 40 or 45 percent of the time. There’s been no movement of that in 30 years.

BPP: Why do you think it’s changed in baseball and not football?

Palmer: Baseball hasn’t changed that much. Obviously, rating on-base average more importantly has been a big change. But the strategy changes really haven’t changed that much. Some teams bunt less, and Earl Weaver used to hate intentional walks, but for the most part, there’s not a lot of difference.

One thing in stolen bases is, it’s become more specialized. The guys who are good at it steal a lot, and the guys who aren’t hardly ever steal. That’s been sort of gradually coming into the game. Everybody adopted the Tony La Russa relief pitching strategy around 1990. Nobody has really deviated from it. So that was one change but that wasn’t based on sabermetrics. That was based on La Russa being somewhat successful with it.

One of the big changes, just this year was people are using a lot more defensive shifts. It used to be just a couple guys that would get shifted down, Ortiz, a few others. But now, they’re doing it a lot. For the most part, I think it’s based on the work that John Dewan has done with Baseball Info Solutions where they plotted hit patterns for everybody in the league.

My friend Steve Mann and I had a contact with the Phillies back in the ’80s where he was somewhat familiar with the Phillies’ front office so he got us in there. We were plotting pitch locations and hit locations. They had a guy there, Jay McLaughlin who’s still there, who wrote a lot of programs to plot that stuff up. I don’t know really how much they used it, but that data’s been around for like 25 years. They only really started using it recently.

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BPP: Do you think the amount of competitive parity these days is a sign that baseball’s gotten better?

Palmer: You sort of have to think that. If you go back to Babe Ruth’s day, the number of North American white players in the major leagues are about the same today as it was then, but the population of the United States, of course, is much greater. I think the Dominican Republic ranks third among [countries] as far as number of players in the major leagues, something like that. The Japanese players are coming over, of course. There’s a much bigger pool of talent.

There are more sports, and you can make a lot of money. Back in Ruth’s day, you couldn’t really make that much money in any other sport, maybe prizefighting or something. Now you can make a lot of money playing basketball, hockey, or football. But there’s never really been a great player in more than one sport, except for I would say Bo Jackson. So I don’t think there are that many football or basketball players who could have been exceptional baseball players. They might have been average baseball players, but I don’t think the other sports are really taking people away from baseball.

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Other interviews with people from the baseball research community: Robert Creamer, Rob Neyer, Joe PosnanskiDan Szymborski, John Thorn.

The hunt for more Veterans Committee ballots

“The Veterans Committee never reveals its vote. In fact, committee members are cautioned not to say anything about their meeting. But word gets out.”

-Jack Lang in The Sporting News, March 13, 1989

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The quest began for me when, in the course of Sporting News archive research,  I discovered lists of Veterans Committee candidates for the 1961-64 elections. Heretofore, such lists have been forgotten and thought not to exist. Baseball-Reference.com, which lists full voting results for every Hall of Fame election by the Baseball Writers Association of America since 1936, has only listed names of players inducted by the modern version of the Veterans Committee since its founding in 1953. This is because the Veterans Committee, for almost 50 years, was loathe to release any information.

Since the Veterans Committee reformed prior to the 2003 election, it’s gotten easier to find lists of candidates and voting results. [Baseball-Reference.com doesn’t list this information, though my friend Adam Darowski alerted me that Wikipedia does.] Still, that’s left 45 Veterans Committee elections between 1953 and 2001 unaccounted for. Recently, I decided to do something about this.

After discovering the 1961-64 Veterans Committee lists, I quickly ascertained three things:

  1. Robust lists of candidates were fairly easy to find in The Sporting News up until 1964. I think this is partly because Sporting News publisher J.G. Taylor Spink served as chairman of the Veterans Committee until 1959.
  2. For some reason that I’m still not sure of, the number of Veterans Committee candidate names made publicly available dropped dramatically after 1964. Spink’s death in 1962 may have had something to do with the flow of information slowing to The Sporting News.
  3. That said, at least a few names leaked out with the majority of Veterans Committee elections after 1964.

With the help of The Sporting News archives, newspapers.com and Baseball-Reference.com, I aggregated the names of every leaked Veterans Committee candidate I could find between 1953 and 2001. It’s a little crazy, I’ll grant, but with the proliferation in recent years of online archives, such research can easily be undertaken. I’m surprised that seemingly no one has done this before me. I imagine there are more candidate names out there for anyone who wants to look hard enough and that more names may become available as old newspapers continue to be digitized. Truly, we’re in the golden age of research.

As I write this, I’ve found 901 candidates, who I’ve listed in this Google spreadsheet. I organized the spreadsheet in order of name, with separate listings for each year a person was considered by the Veterans Committee and notes about how they fared in voting, where I could find it. There’s more of this information out there than I initially expected. Leo Durocher, Gil Hodges, and Bill Mazeroski all had years where they missed by one vote from the Veterans Committee. Vic Willis, Joe Gordon, and Nellie Fox each had years where they drew the necessary 75 percent of the vote but weren’t inducted due to limits on how many players the committee could enshrine.

I learned other interesting things in my research. For instance, Deadball Era pitcher Willis’s name came before the Veterans Committee at least 23 times over five– read this again: five– decades before his induction in 1995. Durocher, Gordon, Roger Connor, Billy Evans, Charlie Grimm, Ned Hanlon, Babe Herman, Rube Marquard, Carl Mays, Phil Rizzuto, Amos Rusie, and Glenn Wright all were Veterans Committee candidates at least 10 times as well. As then-chairman of the committee Charley Segar told The Daily Gazette of Schenectady, New York in 1994, “There are about 45 names on a rather permanent list for us to review each year.”

Unlike the BBWAA, which is now limited to considering players up until 15 years after retirement, there doesn’t seem to be any statute of limitations for the Veterans Committee. I don’t know if there should be a limit, as new information and ways of viewing players can always come to light, but I also don’t know what’s different about a candidate his 23rd time on the ballot. Of course, back in 1995 when online news archives weren’t much a thing, Vic Willis may have looked like a long-lost discovery, precisely the kind of candidate the Veterans Committee is tasked with finding.

It’s uncertain if the Hall of Fame still has voting information for the Veterans Committee between 1953 and 2001. I reached out to Hall of Fame librarian Jim Gates, who directed me to contact Bill Deane. Bill’s the former senior research associate at Cooperstown and has written a few times for this site. When I have a Hall of Fame question, Bill’s on a short list of people I email. Jim CC’ed Bill in his email to me. Bill replied to both of us:

Jim —
Thanks for the “vote” of confidence.  Graham has already been in touch with me.  However, my expertise is more on BBWAA voting, and the composition of the Veterans’ Committees.  He has already amassed more information about the Vets’ ballots than I have ever seen.
When I worked at the NBL, there were about 800 bankers’ boxes in remote storage; I never saw or knew what was in them.  I wondered if the mother lode of Hall of Fame ballots was among them, and you had since catalogued them.  Judging from your response, I guess not.
My second guess was that Bill Guilfoile, as the Vets’ liaison in the 1980s & ’90s, kept documents related to that committee in safekeeping somewhere, and that someone in the museum has continued that tradition.  If true, I guess the intent is not to make the information available to the public.
One wonders, if the Hall of Fame doesn’t have records on its own Veterans’ Committee proceedings, who does?

It seems unfortunate to me that full voting information for the Veterans Committee might be lost. It’s a little galling as well. Since its founding, the committee has put far more people in the Hall of Fame than the BBWAA. If there was one thing that came through resoundingly in my research, it’s that the Veterans Committee has been able to more or less operate with impunity and little transparency. Its process is far from democratic for fans, with select retired players and other appointed representatives acting as kingmakers. That’s kind of the American political tradition, but for the Veterans Committee, it’s occasionally led to some egregiously bad Hall of Fame selections.

More Veterans Committee ballots found

My research to make more Veterans Committee ballots available online continues.

I now have ballots for the eight Veterans Committee elections between 1953, when the modern version of the committee debuted, and 1964. Rather than post another long table that overlaps a bit with yesterday’s post, I’m just going to offer a link to a Google doc where I’m compiling my findings.

A few things:

  1. My source for all the ballots thus far has been archives for The Sporting News, accessible for all SABR members via the Paper of Record service listed at SABR.org/research. If anyone wants a quick crash course on how to use The Sporting News archives, I’m happy to offer it. I encountered a slight learning curve.
  2. I found 133 players, executives and umpires on Veterans Committee ballots between 1953 and 1964, with 59 now in the Hall of Fame.
  3. The ballots may be incomplete. I found ballots for the 1955 and 1957 elections when Hall of Fame secretary Paul Kerr said nominations would be accepted until the time of the Veterans Committee meetings.
  4. I haven’t found full voting results for any older ballot– they’re typically listed in news accounts for contemporary Veterans ballots, such as the most recent one— though I’ve seen top finishers listed. Forgotten candidates like Jack Coombs and Lefty O’Doul each came close to induction on at least one ballot.
  5. It amazed me to see some of the players on these ballots, long before Baseball-Reference.com or the 1969 publication of The Baseball Encyclopedia. Deacon White makes multiple appearances. So do Jack Glasscock, Jimmy Ryan and other 19th century stars who would seemingly be forgotten at this juncture in baseball history.

Anyhow, I’ll keep posting Veterans Committee ballots as I find them. If anyone wants to join in my efforts, I’m happy to give full credit.

Let’s get more of these ballots publicly accessible.

A repository for old Veterans Committee ballots

The last time I posted here, I mentioned I was working on a freelance piece, one which I now know will run April 13. Without giving anything away, I found something in the course of research I’d like to share a little sooner. I’m doing this in the hopes that what I found may spur more research from the kind of people who frequent this site.

Baseball-Reference.com has the voting results listed for every Hall of Fame election by the Baseball Writers Association of America since 1936. For some reason, however, Veterans Committee elections aren’t listed, perhaps because the committee typically meets in private. I don’t even know of a place online that publicly lists which players have been candidates.

It’s getting easier to find candidates and even voting results for recent Veterans Committee elections, which are often reported in the news and can be found archived via Google. Older Veterans Committee elections are trickier; but in heavily going through old Sporting News archives to research my freelance piece, I found lists of candidates for the 1961, 1962, 1963, and 1964 Veterans Committee elections.

I’ll withhold much comment at this time besides to say that it suggests to me that Frankie Frisch has maybe been maligned by Bill James and others for some of the worst Veterans Committee selections from the 1970s. A number of the players Frisch reputedly championed appeared on at least one Veterans Committee ballot before Frisch joined it in 1967.

Anyhow, here are the lists of Veterans Committee candidates from 1961 to 1964. A total of 79 people appeared on committee ballots during these years, with 44 now in Cooperstown:

Player Years on Vets Committee ballot Now in HOF?  Inducted
Al Reach 1963 No N/A
Amos Rusie 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1977
Babe Adams 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 No N/A
Bill Bradley 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Bill Dahlen 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Bill Dinneen 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 No N/A
Bill McKechnie 1961, 1962 Yes 1962
Billy Evans 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1973
Billy Hamilton 1961 Yes 1961
Burleigh Grimes 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1964
Charlie Grimm 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 No N/A
Chick Hafey 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1971
Dave Bancroft 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1971
Donie Bush 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 No N/A
Duffy Lewis 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Dummy Hoy 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Earl Averill 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] Yes 1975
Earle Combs 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1970
Edd Roush 1962 Yes 1962
Eddie Grant 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Elmer Flick 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] Yes 1963
Eppa Rixey 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] Yes 1963
Firpo Marberry 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] No N/A
Fred Fitzsimmons 1964 No N/A
Fred Lindstrom 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] Yes 1976
Fred Tenney 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
George Mullin 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Glenn Wright 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] No N/A
Goose Goslin 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1968
Hack Wilson 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1979
Harry Hooper 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] Yes 1971
Heinie Manush 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1964
High Pockets Kelly 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] Yes 1973
Hooks Wiltse 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Jack Coombs 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Jack Glasscock 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Jake Beckley 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1971
Jake Daubert 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 No N/A
Jesse Haines 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1970
Jesse Tannehill 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Jim Bottomley 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1974
Jimmie Wilson 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] No N/A
Jimmy Ryan 1963 No N/A
Joe Kelley 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] Yes 1971
Joe Sewell 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1977
John Clarkson 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] Yes 1963
John Kling 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
John Tobin 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Kiki Cuyler 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1968
Lave Cross 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Lefty Gomez 1964 Yes 1972
Lefty O’Doul 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 No N/A
Luke Sewell 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] No N/A
Max Carey 1961 Yes 1961
Mickey Welch 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1973
Miller Huggins 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1964
Monte Ward 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1964
Ned Hanlon 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1996
Pud Galvin 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1965
Red Faber 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1964
Red Rolfe 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 No N/A
Riggs Stephenson 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 No N/A
Roger Connor 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1976
Ross Youngs 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1972
Rube Marquard 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1971
Sam Rice 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] Yes 1963
Sam Thompson 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1974
Stan Coveleski 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1969
Thomas Lynch 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Tim Keefe 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1964
Tom Corcoran 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Tony Lazzeri 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1991
Travis Jackson 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] Yes 1982
Urban Shocker 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Vic Willis 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] Yes 1995
Waite Hoyt 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1969
Wes Ferrell 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] No N/A
Wilbur Cooper 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
William McGunnigle 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A

If anyone knows of places I can find other Veterans Committee ballots, particularly anything before 1961, please let me know. I’d like to make more of this information easily accessible.

Lee Allen’s standards for automatic HOF induction

My apologies to everyone for not posting here in awhile. I moved to Sacramento on January 31 to be with the woman I love and have been settling in at a new job. What writing time I’ve had has gone to paid obligations, though that brings us to what I’m writing about here today.

In researching a Hall of Fame-related freelance piece that will run sometime this spring, I came across an interesting note in a February 1961 edition of The Sporting News. In it, former Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen proposed automatic induction for the following statistical milestones: 300 wins; 2,500 hits or games; having more runs scored than games in a 10-year period.

Just for fun, with the help of Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index tool, I thought I’d see who’d be enshrined now who isn’t had Allen’s suggestion been acted upon:

300 wins: Roger Clemens.

2,500 hits: Harold Baines, Buddy Bell, Barry Bonds, Bill Buckner, Doc Cramer, Lave Cross, Willie Davis, Steve Finley, Julio Franco, Steve Garvey, Luis Gonzalez, Al Oliver, Rafael Palmeiro, Dave Parker, Vada Pinson, Tim Raines, Jimmy Ryan, Gary Sheffield, Rusty Staub, and George Van Haltren.

2,500 games: Darrell Evans, Dwight Evans, Gary Gaetti, Graig Nettles. Some of the players in the 2,500-hit club above would also qualify here, though I figured I’d just list them once.

More runs scored than games played in a 10-year period: Harry Stovey and George Gore. Only three Hall of Famers have done this, all from the 19th century: Billy Hamilton, Willie Keeler, and King Kelly. I suspect Allen at least had an inkling of this when he proposed the rule and that it was another tool to get 19th century players enshrined. A number of them got in on his watch during the early 1960s.

Bill James’ classic Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? notes that Allen did a lot of good for Cooperstown, pushing for some of the best Veterans Committee selections in the early 1960s. That said, I’m glad that this change was never picked up on.

A few more places to read my work

Hi everyone:

Once again, I must offer my apologies on the recent lull in posting here. I’m three days away from moving to Sacramento to be with my girlfriend, and life will hopefully be getting back to normal soon. The last few months have been a blur of work and hunting for an apartment and job in Sacramento while trying to get as much quality time in as I can with my girlfriend.

I apologize to anyone who’s been anxious for new content here. Believe me, I’ve been anxious to write more than I have, though my obligations have taken precedence.

That said, I’ve started contributing weekly at a memorabilia website called Sports Collectors Daily. I haven’t seriously collected sports cards since childhood, though there’s ample opportunity to discuss baseball history in writing about the hobby. I’ve written two pieces thus far, one on rookie cards of popular Hall of Fame candidates and one that went live tonight featuring cards of 15 players who met tragic ends. Please feel free to suggest ideas for future pieces– I’ll of course credit anyone who gives me an idea I use.

Aside from my new gig, I’m also working on a Hall of Fame-related research piece for a site that may be familiar to SABR members. I’ll hold off for now on saying the name of the site here, though I’m excited to write something for it.

Anyhow, my thanks to everyone who frequents this site. I look forward to having a steady supply of new content again soon.

Graham

How BBWAA voting predicts future Hall of Famers

Around Hall of Fame voting time every year, I hear baseball fans exclaim that a certain player is never going in Cooperstown because they’ve fallen far short of the 75 percent of votes needed through the Baseball Writers Association of America for enshrinement.

I’m here to say that based on some recent research I undertook, these fans by and large don’t know what they’re talking about.

Using Baseball-Reference.com, I recently went through every BBWAA vote since 1936, making a list of the 884 players who’ve received at least one vote and 221 more players who’ve appeared on the ballot and not gotten any votes. What I found: If a player gets even 20 percent of the writers vote, there’s a better than 50 percent chance they’re eventually going in. If they top 45 percent, their bid is more or less guaranteed. Not counting players currently on the ballot, 136 of the 139 players who’ve received at least 45 percent of the Hall of Fame vote from the writers are now enshrined.

There’s a question of causation or correlation between the BBWAA and Veterans Committee results that I don’t know I can answer here. There’s no proof, so far as I know at least, that the Veterans Committee cribs off the BBWAA to build its ballots. My gut is that the writers are a tough electorate and that any player who rises above 20 percent in the vote is a fairly popular candidate. I think the Veterans Committee would look to these players first even if the BBWAA wasn’t voting.

A more conclusive breakdown of my findings is as follows:

I. Enshrined by the BBWAA

Not counting Lou Gehrig or Roberto Clemente, who each were enshrined through special elections called for by the Hall of Fame, I count 117 people enshrined by the BBWAA. That leaves another 193 Hall of Famers, 96 of whom received at least one vote from the BBWAA at some point. Most of the remaining 97 Hall of Famers are executives and Negro League selections who fall outside the purview of the BBWAA. I’ll list the 17 Hall of Fame players who never appeared on a BBWAA ballot at the bottom of this.

I. Peaked between 70 and 74.9 percent on the BBWAA ballot 

A. The four people who peaked in this range: Jim Bunning, 74.2 percent in 1988; Orlando Cepeda, 73.5 percent in 1994; Frank Chance, 72.5 percent in 1945; Nellie Fox, 74.7 percent in 1985.

B. Since enshrined: 4/4

  1. How they got in: Nellie Fox by Veterans Committee in 1997; Jim Bunning by Veterans Committee in 1996; Orlando Cepeda by Veterans Committee; Frank Chance by Old Timers Committee in 1946.

C. Not enshrined: None

II. Peaked between 65 and 69.9 percent on the BBWAA ballot

A. The three people who peaked in this range: Jack Morris, 67.7 percent in 2013; Enos Slaughter, 68.9 percent in 1978; Rube Waddell, 65.3 percent in 1939.

B. Since enshrined: 2/3

  1. How they got in: Enos Slaughter by Veterans Committee in 1985; Rube Waddell by Old Timers Committee in 1946.

C. Not enshrined: Jack Morris

D. Holdover candidates on BBWAA ballot who are currently peaking in this range: Mike Piazza, 69.9 percent in 2015.

III. Peaked between 60 and 64.9 percent on the BBWAA ballot

A. The three people who peaked in this range: Johnny Evers, 64.4 percent in 1946; Gil Hodges, 63.4 percent in 1983; Miller Huggins, 63.9 percent in 1946.

B. Since enshrined: 2/3

  1. How they got in: Johnny Evers by Old Timers Committee in 1946; Miller Huggins by Veterans Committee in 1964.

C. Not enshrined: Gil Hodges

IV. Peaked between 55 and 59.9 percent on the BBWAA ballot

A. The person who peaked in this range: Ed Walsh, 56.9 percent in 1946.

B. Since enshrined: 1/1

  1. How they got in: Ed Walsh by Old Timers Committee in 1946.

C. Not enshrined: None.

D. Holdover candidates on BBWAA ballot who are currently peaking in this range: Jeff Bagwell, 59.6 percent in 2013; Tim Raines, 55 percent in 2015.

V. Peaked between 50 and 54.9 percent on the BBWAA ballot

A. The six people who peaked in this range: Roger Bresnahan, 53.8 percent in 1945; Max Carey, 51.1 percent in 1958; Ed Delahanty, 52.9 percent in 1939; Edd Roush, 54.3 percent in 1960; Sam Rice, 53.2 percent in 1960; Eppa Rixey, 52.8 percent in 1960.

B. Since enshrined: 6/6

  1. How they got in: Roger Bresnahan by Old Timers Committee in 1945; Max Carey by Veterans Committee in 1961; Ed Delahanty by Old Timers Committee in 1945; Edd Roush by Veterans Committee in 1962; Sam Rice by Veterans Committee in 1963; Eppa Rixey by Veterans Committee in 1963.

C. Not enshrined: None.

D. Holdover candidates on BBWAA ballot who are currently peaking in this range: Lee Smith, 50.6 percent in 2012.

VI. Peaked between 45 and 49.9 percent on the BBWAA ballot

A. The five people who peaked in this range: Jimmy Collins, 49 percent in 1945; Lefty Gomez, 46.1 percent in 1956; Tony Oliva, 47.3 percent in 1988; Pee Wee Reese, 47.9 percent in 1976; Ray Schalk, 45 percent in 1955.

B. Since enshrined: 4/5

  1. How they got in: Jimmy Collins by Old Timers Committee in 1945; Lefty Gomez by Veterans Committee in 1972; Pee Wee Reese by Veterans Committee in 1984; Ray Schalk by Veterans Committee in 1964.

C. Not enshrined: Tony Oliva.

VII. Peaked between 40 and 44.9 percent on the BBWAA ballot

 A. The 12 people who peaked in this range: Richie Ashburn, 41.7 percent in 1978; Chief Bender, 44.7 percent in 1947; Steve Garvey, 42.6 percent in 1995; Clark Griffith, 43.7 percent in 1945; Marty Marion, 40 percent in 1970; Roger Maris, 43.1 percent in 1988; Bill Mazeroski, 42.3 percent in 1992; Johnny Mize, 43.6 percent in 1971; Hal Newhouser, 42.8 percent in 1975; Ron Santo, 43.1 percent in 1998; Red Schoendienst, 42.6 percent in 1980; Maury Wills, 40.6 percent in 1981.

B. Since enshrined: 8/12

  1. How they got in: Richie Ashburn by Veterans Committee in 1995; Chief Bender by Veterans Committee in 1953; Clark Griffith by Old Timers Committee in 1946; Bill Mazeroski by Veterans Committee in 2001; Johnny Mize by Veterans Committee in 1981; Hal Newhouser by Veterans Committee in 1992; Ron Santo by Veterans Committee in 2012.

C. Not enshrined: Steve Garvey, Marty Marion, Roger Maris, Maury Wills.

VIII. Peaked between 35 and 39.9 percent on the BBWAA ballot

 A. The nine people who peaked in this range: Phil Cavarretta, 35.6 percent in 1975; Hank Gowdy, 35.9 percent in 1955; Harvey Kuenn, 39.3 percent in 1988; Hughie Jennings, 37.2 percent in 1945; George Kell, 36.8 percent in 1977; Al Lopez, 39 percent in 1967; Phil Rizzuto, 38.4 percent in 1976; Wilbert Robinson, 38.2 percent in 1942; Hack Wilson, 38.3 percent in 1956

B. Since enshrined: 6/9

  1. How they got in: Hughie Jennings by Old Timers Committee in 1945; George Kell by Veterans Committee in 1983; Al Lopez by Veterans Committee in 1977; Phil Rizzuto by Veterans Committee in 1994; Wilbert Robinson by Old Timers Committee in 1945; Hack Wilson by Veterans Committee in 1979.

C. Not enshrined: Phil Cavarretta, Hank Gowdy, Harvey Kuenn.

D. Holdover candidates on BBWAA ballot who are currently peaking in this range: Barry Bonds, 36.8 percent in 2015; Roger Clemens, 37.6 percent in 2013; Edgar Martinez, 36.5 percent in 2015; Curt Schilling, 39.2 percent in 2015; Alan Trammell, 36.8 percent in 2012.

IX. Peaked between 30 and 34.9 percent on the BBWAA ballot

A. The 11 people who peaked in this range: Home Run Baker, 30.4 percent in 1947; Jim Bottomley, 33.1 percent in 1960; Kiki Cuyler, 33.8 percent in 1958; Hugh Duffy, 33 percent in 1942; Red Faber, 30.9 percent in 1960; Burleigh Grimes, 34.2 percent in 1960; Tommy John, 31.7 percent in 2009; Tony Lazzeri, 33.2 percent in 1956; Allie Reynolds, 33.6 percent in 1968; Johnny Sain, 34 percent in 1975; Luis Tiant, 30.9 percent in 1988.

B. Since enshrined: 7/11

  1. How they got in: Home Run Baker by Veterans Committee in 1955; Jim Bottomley by Veterans Committee in 1974; Kiki Cuyler by Veterans Committee in 1968; Hugh Duffy by Old Timers Committee in 1945; Red Faber by Veterans Committee in 1964; Burleigh Grimes by Veterans Committee in 1964; Tony Lazzeri by Veterans Committee in 1991.

C. Not enshrined: Tommy John, Allie Reynolds, Johnny Sain, Luis Tiant.

X. Peaked between 25 and 29.9 percent on the BBWAA ballot

A. The 14 people who peaked in this range: Ken Boyer, 25.5 percent in 1988; Mordecai Brown, 27.7 percent in 1946; Bobby Doerr, 25 percent in 1970; Joe Gordon, 28.5 percent in 1969; Mel Harder, 25.4 percent in 1964; Jim Kaat, 29.6 percent in 1993; Chuck Klein, 27.9 percent in 1964; Mickey Lolich, 25.5 percent in 1988; Don Mattingly, 28.2 percent in 2001; Joe McGinnity, 26.2 percent in 1946; Eddie Plank, 27 percent in 1942; Joe Tinker, 27.2 percent in 1946; Johnny Vander Meer, 29.8 percent in 1967; Arky Vaughan, 29 percent in 1968.

B. Since enshrined: 8/14

  1. How they got in: Mordecai Brown by Old Timers Committee in 1949; Bobby Doerr by Veterans Committee in 1986; Joe Gordon by Veterans Committee in 2009; Chuck Klein by Veterans Committee in 1980; Joe McGinnity by Old Timers Committee in 1946; Eddie Plank by Old Timers Committee in 1946; Joe Tinker by Old Timers Committee in 1946; Arky Vaughan by Veterans Committee in 1985.

C. Not enshrined: Ken Boyer, Mel Harder, Jim Kaat, Mickey Lolich, Don Mattingly, Johnny Vander Meer.

XI. Peaked between 20 and 24.9 percent on the BBWAA ballot

A. The 16 people who peaked in this range: Lew Burdette, 24.1 percent in 1984; Fred Clarke, 24.9 percent in 1942; Lou Gehrig, 22.6 percent in 1936; Tommy Henrich, 20.7 percent in 1970; Billy Herman, 20.2 percent in 1967; Elston Howard, 20.7 percent in 1981; Minnie Minoso, 21.1 percent in 1988; Dale Murphy, 23.4 percent in 2000; Dave Parker, 24.5 percent in 1998; Casey Stengel, 23.1 percent in 1953; Joe Torre, 22.2 percent in 1997; Mickey Vernon, 24.9 percent in 1980; Bucky Walters, 23.7 percent in 1968; Lloyd Waner, 23.4 in 1964, Zack Wheat, 23 percent in 1947; Ross Youngs, 22.4 percent in 1947.

B. Since enshrined: 8/16

  1. How they got in: Fred Clarke by Old Timers Committee in 1945; Lou Gehrig in a special election in 1939; Billy Herman by Veterans Committee in 1975; Casey Stengel by Veterans Committee in 1966; Joe Torre by Veterans Committee in 2014; Lloyd Waner by Veterans Committee in 1967; Zack Wheat by Veterans Committee in 1959; Ross Youngs by Veterans Committee in 1972.

C. Not enshrined: Lew Burdette, Tommy Henrich, Elston Howard, Minnie Minoso, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Mickey Vernon, Bucky Walters.

D. Holdover candidates on BBWAA ballot who are currently peaking in this range: Fred McGriff, 23.9 percent in 2012; Mark McGwire, 23.7 percent in 2010; Mike Mussina, 24.6 percent in 2015; Larry Walker, 22.9 percent in 2015.

XII. Peaked between 15 and 19.9 percent on the BBWAA ballot

A. The 16 people who peaked in this range: Dick Allen, 18.9 percent in 1996; Dave Bancroft, 16.2 percent in 1958; Earle Combs, 16 percent in 1960; Dave Concepcion, 16.9 percent in 1998; Al Dark, 18.5 percent in 1979; Roy Face, 18.9 percent in 1987; Curt Flood, 15.1 percent in 1996; Bucky Harris, 16.9 percent in 1958; Waite Hoyt, 19.2 percent in 1956; Ernie Lombardi, 16.4 percent in 1964; Pepper Martin, 17.3 percent in 1958; Thurman Munson, 15.5 percent in 1981; Don Newcombe, 15.3 percent in 1980; Lefty O’Doul, 16.7 percent in 1960; Vada Pinson, 15.7 percent in 1988; Smoky Joe Wood, 18 percent in 1947.

B. Since enshrined: 5/16

  1. How they got in: Dave Bancroft by Veterans Committee in 1971; Earle Combs by Veterans Committee in 1970; Bucky Harris by Veterans Committee in 1975; Waite Hoyt by Veterans Committee in 1969; Ernie Lombardi by Veterans Committee in 1986.

C. Not enshrined: Dick Allen, Dave Concepcion, Al Dark, Roy Face, Curt Flood, Pepper Martin, Thurman Munson, Don Newcombe, Lefty O’Doul, Vada Pinson, Smoky Joe Wood.

D. Holdover candidates on BBWAA ballot who are currently peaking in this range: Jeff Kent, 15.2 percent in 2014.

XIII. Peaked between 10 and 14.9 percent on the BBWAA ballot

A. The 23 people who peaked in this range: Babe Adams, 13.7 percent in 1947; Bobby Bonds, 10.6 percent in 1993; Walker Cooper, 14.4 percent in 1976; Stan Coveleski, 12.8 percent in 1958; Dom DiMaggio, 11.3 percent in 1973; Leo Durocher, 10.5 percent in 1958; Jimmie Dykes, 10 percent in 1960; Dwight Evans, 10.4 percent in 1998; Goose Goslin, 13.5 percent in 1956; Chick Hafey, 10.8 percent in 1960; Keith Hernandez, 10.8 percent in 1998; Orel Hershiser, 11.2 percent in 2006; Addie Joss, 14.2 percent in 1942; Dickey Kerr, 10 percent in 1955; Johnny Kling, 10 percent in 1937; Ted Kluszewski, 14.4 percent in 1977; Don Larsen, 12.3 percent in 1979; Duffy Lewis, 13.5 percent in 1955; Sparky Lyle, 13.1 percent in 1988; Rube Marquard, 13.9 percent in 1955; Terry Moore, 11.7 percent in 1968; Rafael Palmeiro, 12.6 percent in 2012; Vic Raschi, 10.2 percent in 1975.

B. Since enshrined: 6/23

  1. How they got in: Leo Durocher by Veterans Committee in 1994; Stan Coveleski by Veterans Committee in 1969; Goose Goslin by Veterans Committee in 1968; Chick Hafey by Veterans Committee in 1971; Addie Joss by Veterans Committee in 1978; Rube Marquard by Veterans Committee in 1971.

C. Not enshrined: Babe Adams, Bobby Bonds, Walker Cooper, Dom DiMaggio, Jimmie Dykes, Dwight Evans, Keith Hernandez, Orel Hershiser, Dickey Kerr, Johnny Kling, Ted Kluszewski, Don Larsen, Duffy Lewis, Sparky Lyle, Rafael Palmeiro, Terry Moore, Vic Raschi.

D. Holdover candidates on BBWAA ballot who are currently peaking in this range: Sammy Sosa, 12.5 percent in 2013; Gary Sheffield, 11.7 percent in 2015.

XIV. Peaked between 5 and 9.9 percent on the BBWAA ballot

A. The 50 people who peaked in this range: Nick Altrock, Earl Averill, Harold Baines, Hank Bauer, Albert Belle, Vida Blue, Bob Boone, Tommy Bridges, Hal Chase, Doc Cramer, Lou Criger, Frankie Crosetti, Paul Derringer, George Foster, Charlie Grimm, Freddie Fitzsimmons, Juan Gonzalez, Ron Guidry, Jesse Haines, Babe Herman, Fred Hutchinson, Travis Jackson, Joe Judge, Charlie Keller, Dolf Luque, Fred Lynn, Sal Maglie, Heinie Manush, Willie McGee, Stuffy McInnis, Bob Meusel, Graig Nettles, Bobo Newsom, Pete Rose, Schoolboy Rowe, Nap Rucker, Muddy Ruel, Hal Schumacher, Joe Sewell, Billy Southworth, Rusty Staub, Dave Stewart, Fernando Valenzuela, Lon Warneke, Bernie Williams, Cy Williams, Jimmie Wilson, Wilbur Wood, Glenn Wright, Rudy York

B. Since enshrined: 6/50

  1. How they got in: Earl Averill by Veterans Committee in 1975; Jesse Haines by Veterans Committee in 1970; Travis Jackson by Veterans Committee in 1982; Joe Sewell by Veterans Committee in 1977; Heinie Manush by Veterans Committee in 1964; Billy Southworth by Veterans Committee in 2008.

C. Not enshrined: I’m not listing all those names again

D. Holdover candidates on BBWAA ballot who are currently peaking in this range: Nomar Garciaparra, 5.5 percent in 2015

XV. Peaked under 5 percent on the BBWAA ballot

A. Peaked in this range: 697 people, including 221 who appeared on the ballot and never got a vote. [A handful of players got zero votes one year and at least a vote in one or more other BBWAA elections. The rule that says a player must receive at least 5 percent of votes to remain on the ballot for the next year came about in the early 1980s.]

B. Since enshrined: 23/697

  1. How they got in: Jake Beckley by the Veterans Committee in 1971; Jesse Burkett by Old Timers Committee in 1946; Jack Chesbro by Old Timers Committee in 1946; John Clarkson by Veterans Committee in 1963; Sam Crawford by Veterans Committee in 1957; Larry Doby by Veterans Committee in 1998; Buck Ewing by Old Timers Committee in 1939; Rick Ferrell by Veterans Committee in 1984; Elmer Flick by the Veterans Committee in 1963; Billy Hamilton by Veterans Committee in 1961; Harry Hooper by Veterans Committee in 1971; Joe Kelley by the Veterans Committee in 1971; High Pockets Kelly by Veterans Committee in 1973; Freddie Lindstrom by Veterans Committee in 1976; Connie Mack by the Centennial Commission in 1937; Joe McCarthy by Veterans Committee in 1957; John McGraw by Veterans Committee in 1937; Bill McKechnie by Veterans Committee in 1962; Kid Nichols by Old Timers Committee in 1949; Satchel Paige by the Negro League Committee in 1971; Branch Rickey by Veterans Committee in 1967; Amos Rusie by Veterans Committee in 1977; Bobby Wallace by Veterans Committee in 1953.

XVI. Hall of Famers who were never appeared on a BBWAA ballot

I count 17 people who played in the majors at least 10 years and thus could have been considered by the BBWAA but, for various reasons, never were.

Who these Hall of Famers are and how they got in: Cap Anson by Old Timers Committee in 1939; Dan Brouthers by Old Timers Committee in 1945; Roberto Clemente in a special election following his death; Roger Connor by Veterans Committee in 1976; George Davis by Veterans Committee in 1998; Pud Galvin by Veterans Committee in 1965; Tim Keefe by Veterans Committee in 1964; King Kelly by Old Timers Committee in 1945; Tommy McCarthy by Old Timers Committee in 1946; Bid McPhee by Veterans Committee in 2000; Old Hoss Radbourn by Old Timers Committee in 1939; Jim O’Rourke by Old Timers Committee in 1945; Sam Thompson by Veterans Committee in 1974; Monte Ward by Veterans Committee in 1964; Mickey Welch by Veterans Committee in 1973; Deacon White by Veterans Committee in 2013; Vic Willis by Veterans Committee in 1995.

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It will be interesting to see if the Steroid Era is a game-changer for this data. My hunch? Nothing much will change with the historical trend. I see most– if not all– of the players who’ve come as far as they have in voting eventually being enshrined.

Keith Olbermann mentioned me on ESPN

I had one of the more surreal moments of my life yesterday.

A few weeks ago, I tweeted a link to my recent piece on Herman Long to Keith Olbermann. Like me, Olbermann’s a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and he wrote something about Long a few years ago that caught my eye.

I originally hoped Olbermann might like my piece enough to retweet it or even just say he liked it. It’s gratifying to get a response from someone of Olbermann’s stature, a sign that perhaps all the work I do here isn’t in vain. There’s also a tangible benefit, as even a 0.1 percent click through rate on my story from Olbermann’s 500,000 Twitter followers would bring 500 visitors here, a good traffic day by this website’s standards.

It made my night when Olbermann retweeted my piece just before Christmas and told me great job via Twitter. Yesterday, Olbermann went one better and did something that, to my knowledge, no television personality has done for me before. In a segment Tuesday on Long’s forgotten Hall of Fame candidacy, Olbermann mentioned me and my piece during his show “Countdown” on ESPN2, even quoting what I wrote on the air.

The mention of me starts around the 4:30 mark of this.

I can’t say how flattered I was to see this. I’m 31 years old, haven’t sold a freelance piece in almost a year, and I question sometimes how much longer I can keep trying to write about baseball for a living. I love researching and writing about baseball history, and I think I’ll always do it at least as a hobby, but economically, it doesn’t make much sense to keep telling myself I can one day make a career of this. Days like Tuesday make me want to keep trying.

Revising the 10-player Hall of Fame voting limit

A lot has been made in recent years about the rule that limits members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to voting for no more than 10 players for the Hall of Fame each year. Many people would like this rule changed including Buster Olney of ESPN, who’s refusing to vote this year in protest. His colleague Jayson Stark wrote a fine piece today about having to leave players off the ballot he’d vote for with no restriction, lamenting:

All the Hall should want me to do, as a voter who takes this responsibility as seriously as every player on this ballot took his career, is to answer one question:

Was this player a Hall of Famer or not?

Philosophically, I agree with Jayson, though I don’t see a major change in the voting limit happening anytime soon beyond the BBWAA’s recommendation in December to raise the limit to 12 players. The current HOF voting system still gets players in, even with Steroid Era candidates glutting the ballot. Tomorrow, results of the BBWAA’s 2015 voting for Cooperstown will be announced, with anywhere from 3-5 players expected to go in. It will be similar to last year when Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas were voted in.

If anything, rates of induction are trending up historically. Consider that in the 70 years the BBWAA voted between 1936 and 2014, it enshrined 113 players at an average of 1.61 players per year. It’s rare that even three players are enshrined through the writers vote in one year. Checking Baseball-Reference.com, I determined the following:

  • Number of times the BBWAA has enshrined five players in one year: Once, 1936
  • Four players: Twice, 1947 and 1955
  • Three players: Eight times, most recently in 2014
  • Two players: 25 times, most recently in 2011
  • One player: 26 times, most recently in 2012
  • No players: Eight times, most recently in 2013

The writers are notoriously stingy with the vote, and I’m actually more okay with that now than I’ve been in past years at this time. For one thing, the writers aren’t the last line of voters. Other committees have enshrined 193 people in Cooperstown and will probably continue to outflank the BBWAA. Also, while I favor a large Hall of Fame, honoring and acknowledging all of baseball’s history, I generally am against mass inductions. To me, they cheapen the honor. And some of the worst players in Cooperstown have gotten in en masse, via committee in the 1940s and 1970s.

I don’t see pandemonium ensuing if the 10-player voting limit were adjusted or removed altogether, as I think people would still take voting for Cooperstown seriously. That said, the rate of inductions would likely rise. For the past few years, I’ve run a regular project having people vote on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. The last two times I’ve done this project, I’ve had voters signify whether each player they voted for belongs in Cooperstown. Using my system, voters would have enshrined seven players last year and three in 2013. Perhaps seven BBWAA inductions last year would have been too many.

But as I said, I agree with Jayson Stark that I’d like Hall of Fame voters to be able to select as many players as they’d like. It seems less ethically murky for voters than forcing some to strategically omit players from their ballots. It’d keep players like Kenny Lofton on the ballot longer, too, allowing them to receive the consideration they deserve instead of being shunted off the ballot in impacted years.

In addition, the number of votes a player receives from the BBWAA also matters for when they eventually get considered by the Veterans Committee. I looked at it a few years ago, and of the 104 players who received at least 30 percent of the BBWAA vote between 1936 and 1980, 97 are now enshrined. [The seven who aren’t: Phil Cavarretta, Gil Hodges, Marty Marion, Hank Gowdy, Allie Reynolds, Johnny Sain, and Maury Wills.]

So I’m for removing the voting limit, but against mass inductions. To me, a good compromise would be allowing Hall of Fame voters to select as many players as they’d like on their ballots but capping the number of inductions from the BBWAA each year. Judging by historical standards, this cap could be 3-5 players, and I doubt it’d often be a significant issue. Of course, a player would still need to receive 75 percent of the vote to get in through the writers, and that remains a far greater barrier to induction than any voting limit that could be proposed.

Guest post: Bill Deane’s third annual Hall of Fame forecast

Editor’s note: For the third consecutive year, I’m honored to feature Hall of Fame predictions from Bill Deane, former senior research associate at Cooperstown. Historically, Bill has been highly accurate, nearly calling the ballot in 2013. He finally stumbled a bit last year, though it was an unusual election, one that could have thrown even the most experienced of Hall forecasters for a loop. In a post-mortem, Bill vowed to return, and I’m glad he’s done so. I’m curious to see how Bill’s predictions, compiled in November, fare this year. He has a place at this website as long as he wants it.

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I’ve been predicting Baseball Hall of Fame elections for 34 years now, with an 80% success rate (51-13) in guessing who would or would not make it among candidates receiving between 65-85% of the vote. If there has been one thing predictable about Hall voters, it is how many names each one will check. Though they are permitted ten selections apiece, the typical voter uses considerably fewer than that: six, to be exact. For 27 straight years, 1987-2013, the average number of votes per voter was more than five, but less than seven. Now, that’s consistency.

Then came 2014: the average leaped up to 8.39, some 40% above average. That shattered my crystal baseball, leading to my worst forecast ever. Yes, there was a bumper crop of newcomers on the 2014 ballot, including Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas, but that’s not the first time that was the case. In 1999, for example, ballot rookies Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, and Carlton Fisk joined holdovers Tony Perez, Gary Carter, Jim Rice, Bruce Sutter, and Bert Blyleven, among others, on the slate – yet writers used an average of just 6.74 votes per ballot.

So the question for me is, was the 2014 voting a fluke, or the start of a new trend? I believe the average will remain well above the 1987-2013 standard, but below the 2014 level – I’m guessing about 7.7 votes per voter in 2015. That should allow for two more Cooperstown inductees.

A review of the voting process: Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) do the voting. Late each fall, ballots are distributed to active and retired beat-writers who have been BBWAA members for ten years or more. The ballots, which are to be returned by the end of the year, list candidates in alphabetical order, instructing voters to choose up to ten players. Eligible candidates include men who played in at least ten seasons in the majors, the last of which was not less than five nor more than 15 (reduced from 20 this year) years prior to the election. Any candidate being named on at least 75% of the ballots is elected to the Hall; anyone receiving less than 5% of the vote is dropped from further consideration. The BBWAA honors an average of about two players per year. The 2015 results will be announced on January 6 at 2 PM EST.

More than half of the 35 players who were listed on the 2014 ballot are not on the 2015 version: Maddux, Glavine, and Thomas, who were elected; Jack Morris, who failed in his final attempt; and 14 others (Rafael Palmeiro, Moises Alou, Hideo Nomo, Luis Gonzalez, Eric Gagne, J. T. Snow, Armando Benitez, Jacques Jones, Kenny Rogers, Sean Casey, Ray Durham, Todd Jones, Paul LoDuca, and Richie Sexson) who were dropped for failing to reach the 5%-cutoff. These men collected a whopping 1,958 votes in 2014, which conceivably could be redistributed to the new and returning candidates this year. The solid 2015 rookie class – led by three pitchers who combined for nine Cy Young Awards – figures to get the bulk of those, but the 17 returnees are likely to move up in the voting.

Most first-time eligibles are destined for just one try on the writers’ ballot, the consequence of receiving less than 5% of the vote. These include Rich Aurilia (186 homers, .275 average), Aaron Boone (126 HR, .263, plus the 2003 AL pennant-winning homer), Tony Clark (251 HR, .262), Carlos Delgado (473 HR, including four in a game, 1512 RBI, .546 slugging percentage), Jermaine Dye (325 HR, .274, plus a Gold Glove and the 2005 World Series MVP), Darin Erstad (124 HR, .282, and a monster 2000 season, in which he amassed 240 hits and became the first leadoff man ever to knock in 100 runs) , Cliff Floyd (233 HR, .278), Nomar Garciaparra (1997 AL Rookie of the Year Award and two batting titles en route to a .313 career average), Brian Giles (287 HR, .291), Tom Gordon (138-126, 158 saves), Eddie Guardado (187 saves), Troy Percival (358 saves), and Jason Schmidt (130-96, ERA title). Though many of these will get votes, only Delgado, Garciaparra, Percival, Giles, and Dye have even outside chances of making the cut.

Here’s the way I foresee the rest of the election shaping up, with newcomers in bold and predicted percentages in parentheses:
Randy Johnson (94) – A late bloomer who won five Cy Young Awards after his 32nd birthday, The Big Unit finished with a 303-166 won-lost record, 4875 strikeouts (second behind only Nolan Ryan), four ERA titles, a perfect game, and a 20-K performance. Making it easily on his first try, Johnson will stand tall in Cooperstown.

Craig Biggio (79) – An excellent but not dominant player who amassed 3060 hits, 1844 runs, 668 doubles, and 414 stolen bases. He missed election by just two votes in 2014, and should get over the hump on his third try.

Mike Piazza (69) – The best offensive catcher of all time (419 homers, .308 average), Piazza managed to survive steroids rumors and a poor defensive reputation. He’ll get near the doorstep of election this year but fall a bit short.

Jeff Bagwell (60) – Batted .297 with 449 homers and 1529 RBI in just 15 seasons, winning the 1994 NL MVP Award.

Pedro Martinez (57) – Finished 219-100 with 3154 strikeouts against just 760 walks, winning five ERA crowns and three Cy Young Awards.

Tim Raines (52) – Rock was an outstanding player whose credentials (including an 808-146 stolen base record) are starting to be appreciated by voters.

John Smoltz (46) – Despite a modest 213-155 career record and credentials very similar to two-time also-ran Curt Schilling, Smoltzie is getting a lot of buzz as a “future Hall of Famer,” with many expecting him to go in on his first try. I see him making a strong showing, but far short of election. Smoltz had 3084 strikeouts, 154 saves, the 1996 NL Cy Young Award, and a 15-4 record in post-season play.

Roger Clemens (38) – The most-accomplished pitcher of the past century, if not any century, Clemens won a record seven Cy Young Awards and seven ERA crowns while going 354-184 with 4672 strikeouts. His reputation has been skewered by well-documented accusations of steroids and HGH use, though he was acquitted of perjury on the subject.

Barry Bonds (38) – The most accomplished non-pitcher with the possible exception of Babe Ruth, Bonds won a record seven MVP Awards and set all-time marks for career homers (762, including a record 73 in 2001) and walks (2558, a record 668 of them intentional). For good measure, he added 514 stolen bases and eight Gold Glove Awards. But, like Clemens, accusations of his using performance enhancers in the second half of his career, along with his surly relationship with the media, will keep him out of Cooperstown for the foreseeable future.

Curt Schilling (36) – His won-lost record (216-146) is modest by Hall of Fame standards, but he had three second-place Cy Young Award finishes and 3116 strikeouts with a record 4.38 SO:BB ratio. Moreover, he starred for three different World Series teams, the 1993 Phillies, the 2001 D’backs (for whom he shared Series MVP honors), and the 2004 Red Sox (for whom he authored the gutsy “bloody sock” performance).

Lee Smith (32) – Lost his all-time saves record (and his only persuasive Hall of Fame argument) in 2006 to Trevor Hoffman, who in turn lost it to Mariano Rivera in 2011.

Edgar Martinez (28) – Though he didn’t become a big league regular until he was 27, the DH wound up with 2247 hits, 514 doubles, 309 homers, and a .312 average.

Mike Mussina (27) – Moose went 20-9 in his final season to finish at 270-153. Since the current pitching distance was established in 1893, only 12 pitchers have more wins over .500, and just three have a higher career strikeout-to-walk ratio. Mussina made a respectable 20% showing in his first try in 2014.

Alan Trammell (25) – A fine shortstop, overshadowed throughout his career by Cal Ripken and Robin Yount.

Jeff Kent (17) – Kent set the record for most career home runs by a second baseman and won the 2000 NL MVP Award. He finished with 377 homers and a .290 average, and received a decent 15% of the votes in his first attempt.

Fred McGriff (14) – Crime Dog had 493 home runs and 1550 RBI, winning homer titles in each league.

Mark McGwire (13) – Had 583 home runs, a .588 slugging average, and the highest homer percentage of all time, but became the voters’ poster boy for players accused of using PEs. With the new rule cutting eligibility from 15 to ten years, this is Big Mac’s next-to-last try.

Larry Walker (12) – Hit 383 homers and batted .313, winning three batting titles and the 1997 NL MVP Award, though most of his damage was done a mile above sea level.

Don Mattingly (11) – After a half-dozen years as one of the game’s most productive hitters, Mattingly was reduced to mediocrity by back problems. Still, he wound up with credentials eerily similar to 2001 first-ballot inductee Kirby Puckett’s. Mattingly received 28% that same year, but has gone steadily downhill since then; this is his last try on the BBWAA ballot.

Sammy Sosa (8) – Slammed 609 home runs, including three 60-homer seasons and an MVP Award, in a career also tainted by performance-enhancer accusations.

Gary Sheffield (5) – Blasted 509 homers with 1676 RBI and a batting crown. But as an admitted steroids user, he’ll be lucky to make the 5% cut.

Looking ahead toward upcoming elections, in 2016 the leading newcomers will be Ken Griffey, Jr., Trevor Hoffman, and Billy Wagner. The following year, Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez, and Vlad Guerrero will top the rookie list. The 2018 ballot will include Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Omar Vizquel, Johnny Damon, and Jamie Moyer.

Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte, and Todd Helton are among those who will become eligible in 2019. And any ten-year veteran who played in 2014, but does not return next season – Derek Jeter, Paul Konerko, Bobby Abreu, and Adam Dunn, to name four – will join the 2020 ballot.

Herman Long and the 1936 Veterans Committee vote

The past few Hall of Fame votes by the Baseball Writers Association of America have looked a bit chaotic, with steroid users and a number of other holdover candidates glutting the ballot. By historical standards for Cooperstown, though, the present chaos pales in comparison to some of the early votes when few if any players had been inducted and everyone in baseball history was eligible. Out of this time comes one of the more unusual stories of Hall of Fame voting.

Most modern fans are probably not familiar with Herman Long, who played shortstop in the majors from 1889 to 1904 and died of tuberculosis in 1909. Statistically, there isn’t much to support a Hall of Fame case for Long today, though he was held in high esteem by a number of his contemporaries. Their esteem may have been the reason Long finished eighth in the first Veterans Committee election in 1936, drawing nearly 20 percent of the vote. More unusually, Long never again received even one percent of the Hall of Fame vote.

I read of Long’s unusual showing in the votes a few years ago when Keith Olbermann wrote a blog post on it. Olbermann’s piece, while interesting, didn’t delve too deeply into how Long got as much support as he did without ever receiving it again, so I recently decided to do some more digging. What I found isn’t conclusive, but it sheds a bit more light.

Before we get too far into Long’s story, some background is in order. There were two Hall of Fame votes held in 1936, the first year for elections. A BBWAA vote on players since 1900 resulted in Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner being honored. A special committee of 78 members was set up to vote on players from before 1900, and while Baseball-Reference.com refers to it as the Veterans Committee, it was a one-off meeting that bore little relation to the continuing committee that came into existence in 1953.

The Sporting News noted on January 2, 1936 of the Veterans Committee:

Writers, managers, officials and players who are qualified by first-hand information and personal observations will choose the five who will represent that early period at Cooperstown. The maturity of this committee’s personnel assures careful consideration of all eligibles [sic] and there should be little criticism of their choices.

The initial plan was for the committee to select five pioneers for Cooperstown. But a wide dispersal of votes and some confusion over voting resulted in no players receiving the necessary 75 percent of votes from the committee for induction. Part of the confusion lay in the fact that several players who’d played in the 19th and 20th centuries received votes in both elections. Voters were also requested to vote for five players, but some voted for 10, leading to half points being awarded for the players on those ballots. [There was confusion among the BBWAA, too: Some voters mailed in All Star-style ballots, with one player at each position. These ballots were returned.]

Out of this confusion, Long received 15.5 votes. The election wound up being treated as a nominating vote, with the top 12 finishers advancing for more consideration. All but Long have since been enshrined, with 10 of the 12 getting in Cooperstown within the decade. Here’s a list of the top 12 finishers in the 1936 Veterans Committee election that breaks it down:

  1. Cap Anson: Enshrined in 1939 through the Old Timers Committee
  2. Buck Ewing: Enshrined in 1939 through the Old Timers Committee
  3. Wee Willie Keeler: Enshrined in 1939 through the BBWAA
  4. Cy Young: Enshrined in 1937 through the BBWAA
  5. Ed Delahanty: Enshrined in 1945 through the Old Timers Committee
  6. John McGraw: Enshrined in 1937 through the Veterans Committee
  7. Old Hoss Radbourn: Enshrined in 1939 through the Old Timers Committee
  8. Long: Not enshrined
  9. King Kelly: Enshrined in 1939 through the Old Timers Committee
  10. Amos Rusie: Enshrined in 1977 through the Veterans Committee
  11. Hughie Jennings: Enshrined in 1945 through the Old Timers Committee
  12. Fred Clarke: Enshrined in 1945 through the Old Timers Committee

So there are two questions before us: 1) How Long did so well in 1936; and 2) Why never again?

It’s hard to know what exactly went on among the 1936 Veterans Committee. I’m not sure who was on it and couldn’t find anything through the Sporting News archives listed on SABR.org. It’s uncertain, too, if Cooperstown keeps records for this. Former Hall of Fame senior research associate Bill Deane told me by phone Saturday that he had to start from scratch in the early 1990s in making a list of committee members from 1953-2001, piecing together results from Hall of Fame yearbooks which begin in 1980 and The Sporting News. I was curious if Deane got any resistance from the Hall of Fame in his research. “I didn’t encounter resistance,” Deane said. “I just encountered ignorance.”

While the specifics of how Long got as many votes as he did in the 1936 election might be lost to history, we can deduce a fair amount. From my research, I suspect longtime Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith may have had some influence on voting. While I don’t know for a fact that Griffith was one of the 78 members of the 1936 Veterans Committee, it’s logical he would have been on it and wielded some influence. After Connie Mack, Griffith might have ranked as the most esteemed figure from 19th century baseball at the time, and the committee’s stated task, after all, was to consider pre-1900 players.

Griffith paid tribute several times to Long, with whom he had a personal connection. The two were teammates on the 1903 New York Highlanders. They also faced one another in the National League of the 1890s, when Long helped the Boston Beaneaters win five pennants. Bill James wrote in his 2001 historical abstract that Griffith named Long to his all-time team in 1914. Two weeks before the Veterans Committee vote was announced in January 1936, Griffith included Long on an all-nineteenth century team. And in 1938, Griffith considered Long for a “most graceful all time baseball team.” Griffith told Grantland Rice:

There’s more of an argument at short. Herman Long was a good one. Hans Wagner was the best of all the shortstops but you’d never ship Hans a medal for grace. Dave Bancroft of the Giants ranks high and Jack Berry [sic] of the Athletics was another.

Griffith isn’t the only baseball person who held Long in high esteem. Wagner narrowly chose Joe Tinker over Long for his all-time squad in March 1936. Wagner and Long have a couple of connections worth noting here. Long was actually the first player nicknamed “The Flying Dutchman.” As others like Olbermann have noted, Wagner was given the nickname in tribute. Long also gave Wagner one of his gloves in 1902, an over-sized glove with a large hole in the middle that became a Wagner trademark.

Long figured into other all-time discussions as well. In 1939, Long was named an alternate for an all-time team voted on by players from 1870-1939. Rice wrote of Long and 1890s Boston Beaneater teammates Fred Tenney, Bobby Lowe and Jimmy Collins as the best infield in baseball history. John Thorn made note of the celebrated Boston infield, too, when I emailed him about Long. Interestingly, Long has the most errors in baseball history, though historian David Nemec told me that in Long’s era, any player who got a hand on a ball but didn’t make an out was charged with an error. Nemec also said that Long had more errors because he got to more balls due to his speed.

Long was celebrated during his lifetime, too. While he was dying of tuberculosis in the summer of 1909, one Kansas newspaper wrote of him as having been regarded as the greatest shortstop in baseball. A 1911 piece in the Arizona Republican, two years after Long’s death, noted:

In every one of the championship years, Herman Long was a prop. Some justice would seem to suggest that much of the credit for the record wins belongs to the memory of Herman Long. Memory, in this instance, is unfortunately accurate, Herman being no longer with those who run the bases and kill the hits. While he lasted, however, there was none beside him, and when he went to Boston from the west he carried with him his wonderful gifts of fielding, of hitting, of base-running and of generalship, and thus became a permanent sensation of which the Boston team and the Boston fans  were justly proud, and in whose achievements sportdom [sic] generally was interested.

It’s odd Long never again figured prominently in a Hall of Fame election after 1936. But as much as anything, Hall of Fame votes are a barometer of opinion and how it shifts over time. By 1943, Wagner spoke of Hughie Jennings as the best shortstop in baseball history. While he said Long and Bobby Wallace were “a couple other dandy old-time shortstops… they didn’t quite come up to Jennings.” Jennings and 20 others were enshrined by a special Old Timers Committee between 1945 and 1946. A 79-year-old Wallace was enshrined by the Veterans Committee in 1953.”I’d rather have Long on my team in his prime than Wallace,” Nemec said. “I’d also rather have him than Hughie Jennings.”

Fellow baseball history blogger Verdun2 has been conducting an experiment over at his site, creating a Hall of Fame based on information available from 1901-1910. “I submit it would be quite different,” he writes of his Hall. Indeed. No one talks much about Herman Long anymore, but if the Hall of Fame had existed when he last played in the majors in 1904 or if the voting process had been better established in the 1930s and ’40s, he might long since have his plaque.

Joe Sewell and the art of not striking out

By various measures, Joe Sewell might rank as the hardest player to strike out in baseball history. The Hall of Famer fanned just 114 times in 8,333 plate appearances lifetime, famous for going full seasons with four or six strikeouts. Lefty Grove, who never struck Sewell out in 96 at-bats, per Retrosheet, called him the toughest batter he ever faced.

I got to wondering recently if Sewell went his entire career without striking out twice in a game. I checked game logs on Baseball-Reference.com, and it’s close: Sewell struck out twice on May 13, 1923 and again on May 26, 1930. Sewell being Sewell, he didn’t strike out the rest of the 1930 season after May 26, finishing the year with three strikeouts in 414 plate appearances.

At the time of the 1930 game, Sewell was getting over a recent end due to illness to an 1,103-game consecutive games streak, second-best in baseball history at the time after Everett Scott according to Sewell’s SABR biography. Interviewed in the 1970s by Society for American Baseball Research founder L. Robert Davids, Sewell said also he was thrown off in the 1930 game by white shirts in the center field bleachers.

One of Sewell’s secrets as a hitter, after all, was his ability to keep his eye on the ball. He also favored contact over power, with just 49 homers lifetime, and he kept a comfortable stance that allowed him to adjust to any pitch.

“I followed the ball all the way,” Sewell said in 1960, while hitting coach of the Cleveland Indians, where he played most of his career. “I could even see it hit the bat. Anyone can– if he concentrates on picking up the ball and not watching the pitcher’s motion.”

That might be a good lesson for today’s hitters. With major leaguers striking out a record 37,441 times in 2014, Sewell’s career strikeout rate looks untouchable. Since 1950, just five players according to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool have struck out under 500 times with at least 8,000 plate appearances: Nellie Fox, Jim Gilliam, Bill Buckner, Tony Gwynn and Juan Pierre.

Sewell, who died in 1990, would likely be aghast at today’s strikeout rates. “There’s no excuse for a major league player striking out 100 times a season,” he said in 1960. “Unless, of course, he’s blind.”

A busy few weeks

Dear readers:

I apologize for the sporadic content lately. It’s been a busy past couple of months. I’ve been working longer hours at work and am also in the process of moving to Sacramento to be with the woman I love.

I enjoy maintaining this site and something feels off when I’m not writing regularly here. That said, supporting myself and being there for the people who matter most to me will always take precedence.

The regular posting schedule here is 3-5 articles per week. I will return to this as soon as I can.

I should have a new post up in the next couple of days.

Thanks for reading,
Graham

Why the Veterans Committee didn’t surprise me today

Voting results for this year’s Veterans Committee were announced today, with no one being voted in. I tweeted beforehand that I didn’t expect any players to be enshrined through the committee, and I can’t say I’m surprised by how voting came out.

Here’s why I wasn’t surprised:

1. There weren’t enough voters on the Veterans Committee: This latest iteration of the committee had 16 members which, given Cooperstown’s history, makes little sense. Some of the worst Veterans Committee selections came when people like Frankie Frisch and Bill Terry wielded great influence over small versions of the committee in the 1970s. Consider that with 75 percent of the vote needed for induction, five voters for this Veterans Committee had the power to keep anyone from being inducted. While I’m not suggesting it happened, it’s not difficult for five people to unite and push their own agenda. It’s a lot more difficult for 50 people to do this, 500 more so.

2. There were too many candidates: Once or twice a year, I organize projects here where I have people vote on a variety of topics, from the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame to the 25 most important people in baseball history. One thing I’ve learned in doing these projects is that candidates tend to get more votes if I put them on the ballot, maybe three or four times as many votes than if they’re just write-in options. There’s something about having a name on a ballot that spurs a voter to think of it. Fewer candidates concentrate the vote totals more. This year’s Veterans Committee ballot featured nine players, with two– Dick Allen and Tony Oliva– falling one vote shy. I assume that if there’d been fewer candidates to choose from, Allen and Oliva might have gotten in.

3. There wasn’t enough incentive to vote for any players right now: This is most important. Give me a minute, and I’ll explain why.

As a fan of a big Hall of Fame, I have no problem with anyone from this Veterans Committee ballot being in the Hall of Fame. Allen is the best player from the 1960s who isn’t enshrined. Oliva is one of the best contact hitters not in. Minnie Minoso and Billy Pierce rank with Allen among the most underrated players in baseball history. Luis Tiant and Jim Kaat are two of the best pitchers not in. Ken Boyer is at least a poor man’s Ron Santo. Maury Wills broke Ty Cobb’s single season stolen base record. And Gil Hodges is a sentimental favorite.

That said, none of these players would rank as inner circle Hall of Famers if enshrined. While they all have their supporters– easier than ever to find in the age of the Internet– these players are mostly a collection of second and third-tier candidates, if that. The Hall of Fame is not glaringly worse for their absence, and some purists might argue they’d dilute the quality of honorees. From the standpoint of a cost benefit analysis, the benefit gained from preserving the exclusivity of the Hall far outweighs the goodwill generated by putting any of these players in, at least for now. Since the early 1980s, the Veterans Committee has tended to vote conservatively for this reason. No one, I’d guess, wants to be blamed for enshrining the next Dave Bancroft.

It’s sad, but it generally takes one of three things, I think, to get people into the Hall of Fame through the Veterans Committee these days:

  1. A good showing on the BBWAA ballot [e.g. Jim Bunning, who rose as high as 74.2 percent of the writers vote]
  2. Years and years of well-publicized rejections from the committee [e.g. Phil Rizzuto, who finally got in Cooperstown in 1994 at age 76]
  3. Sympathy generated by death [e.g. Santo and at least a few others]

That said, even if one of these factors is in play, the Veterans Committee can still generally be counted on to vote skittishly. And that’s unfortunate.

Jim Levey’s year in the sun

If Jim Levey isn’t the worst player in baseball history, he isn’t far off. My friend Adam Darowski ranks him 18,401st out of 18,405 players. But even bad players have their days. Alfredo Griffin, Doug Flynn and Neifi Perez all won Gold Glove awards. Ray Oyler had his own fan club in Seattle, having a good enough experience in the city that he lived there until his death. Levey, meanwhile, got an MVP vote in 1932. There’s a good story around how Levey got that vote.

I discovered Levey, a shortstop for the St. Louis Browns while researching Pete Rose and the worst seven-season stretches for players based on Wins Above Average. WAA’s an interesting stat, and Levey shows a side of it I hadn’t thought much about. As reader Marc Rettus has pointed out a few times in the comments here, WAA is a rate stat that rewards players like Roberto Clemente or Sandy Koufax whose careers ended at or near peak performance levels. WAA penalizes players like Rose, Lou Brock and Rabbit Maranville, to name a few who stuck around past their primes. Then there are the Jim Leveys of the baseball world who started their careers at the statistical bottom and scraped it for a few years before their inevitable quick departures from the majors.

Levey lasted just 440 games through four seasons with the Browns before being banished back to the minors, though it’s worth noting he accumulated his -13.7 WAA at a quicker clip than the all-time leader for this stat, Bill Bergen at -24.4 WAA. For the most part, Levey’s career was just wall-to-wall dreck. His -5.9 WAA in 1933 is worst in baseball history, and he also ranks fourth-worst all-time with -5 WAA in 1931. Levey wasn’t a bad athlete, necessarily, coaching semi-pro basketball during the 1932 offseason and playing in the NFL after his time in the majors. He just didn’t have much success with baseball.

But in 1932, however, things seemingly came together for Levey. Seizing on a suggestion in spring training from manager Bill Killefer to change his right-handed batting stance and hit left-handed against right-handed pitchers, Levey raised his batting average .280, up 71 points from 1931. While sabermetrics shows that Levey’s 1932 season wasn’t good, just relatively less bad than his other work at -2.6 WAA, it seemed like enough of an improvement at the time that he was written of as possibly baseball’s most improved player late in the season.

I couldn’t figure out who gave Levey his MVP vote and if it was meant seriously or as a token gesture. Votes like this sometimes go to veteran players who help traditionally bad teams to unexpected successes; Maranville got these sorts of MVP votes late in his career. But the ’32 Browns finished a distant sixth at 63-91. And even by the statistical measures of the day for voters, Levey looked nothing close to the best player in his league. Jimmie Foxx was American League MVP decisively, hitting .364 with 58 homers and 169 RBIs for an A’s team that won 94 games and finished second.

That being said, I can’t say that I mind coming upon votes like this. It’s nice to see the Jim Leveys of baseball win one every now and again.

Pete Rose’s historically bad final seasons

I was struck perusing Baseball-Reference.com on Saturday to see Pete Rose had -13.7 Wins Above Average over his final seven seasons, 1980 through 1986. It’s long been well-known Rose stuck around a few seasons longer than he maybe should have as he chased the all-time hits record. Rose got 884 hits those final seven seasons, passing Honus Wagner, Cap Anson, Tris Speaker, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and finally Ty Cobb on the hits list. But those seasons cost Rose in other ways.

If Rose had retired at 38 after the 1979 season, he’d rank 49th all-time with 42.3 WAA; instead, he’s tied for 130th at 28.6. He’d also be two hits shy of averaging 200 hits a season for his career and likely would have been ushered into the Hall of Fame in 1985, four years before his lifetime ban for betting on baseball. In more ways than maybe any other player in baseball history, Rose’s career and life is a story of not knowing when to quit. Ironically, it’s the same compulsive drive that made him great.

By Wins Above Average, Rose’s final seven seasons rank 29th-worst among position players in modern baseball history. With the help of the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, here are the 29 worst seven-season runs by position players since 1900:

  • Bill Bergen, -14.3 WAA, 1901-1907
  • Bill Bergen, -14 WAA, 1902-1908
  • Bill Bergen, -14.9 WAA, 1903-1909
  • Bill Bergen, -16 WAA, 1904-1910
  • Bill Bergen, -16.3 WAA, 1905-1911
  • Ralph Young, -14 WAA, 1916-1922
  • Walter Holke, -13.8 WAA, 1918-1924
  • Walter Holke, -14.7 WAA, 1919-1925
  • Chick Galloway, -15.3 WAA, 1920-1926
  • Tommy Thevenow, -13.8 WAA, 1928-1934
  • Tommy Thevenow, -15.6 WAA, 1929-1935
  • Tommy Thevenow, -14 WAA, 1930-1936
  • Doc Cramer, -15.8 WAA, 1936-1942
  • Doc Cramer, -13.8 WAA, 1937-1943
  • Ken Reitz, -15 WAA, 1973-1979
  • Ken Reitz, -16.2 WAA, 1974-1980
  • Jerry Morales, -15.3 WAA, 1974-1980
  • Dan Meyer, -14.3 WAA, 1974-1980
  • Ken Reitz, -15.7 WAA, 1975-1981
  • Dan Meyer, -15.4 WAA, 1975-1981
  • Jerry Morales, -14.9 WAA, 1975-1981
  • Doug Flynn, -15.9 WAA, 1976-1982
  • Dan Meyer, -14.1 WAA, 1976-1982
  • Doug Flynn, -17.6 WAA, 1977-1983
  • Dan Meyer, -14.7 WAA, 1977-1983
  • Doug Flynn, -17 WAA, 1978-1984
  • Doug Flynn, -14.7 WAA, 1979-1985
  • Pete Rose, -13.7 WAA, 1980-1986
  • Yuniesky Betancourt, -16.7 WAA, 2007-2013

There’s another side to this that I’d be remiss to not mention. For one thing, Rose’s WAA would be higher had he not played first base for the Phillies. According to this page of Baseball-Reference.com, which @LoveSportsFacts showed me on Twitter, WAR sets average offensive production for first basemen at .797 OPS. It’s set at .707 for third base, Rose’s position before he signed with the Phillies in December 1978. Assuming Rose had been able to keep playing the bulk of his innings at third, his .687 OPS from 1980 through 1986 would be close to average for the position. It seems a little unfair to penalize Rose, given that he switched positions to accommodate Mike Schmidt.

Rose’s greatest value may have come in the clubhouse, which makes me wonder why he didn’t manage Philadelphia, which had four skippers during his five seasons in town. Dan Mallon shared a few pages with me via Twitter from the 2013 book Almost a Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the 1980 Phillies, which describes Rose’s immediate impact in Philadelphia. This included Rose diverting attention away from Schmidt by grandstanding with the press, “a wonderful salesman for the team almost from the beginning of his tenure.” He also helped build Schmidt and other teammates’ confidence. The book includes a quote from Schmidt, who said of Rose:

In 1980, Pete provided the kind of dynamic leadership that took the pressure off the other players. He was the finest team player I had ever seen. He always had something to say to pump you up, to play harder every game. At the same time, he was the kind of athlete who was boastful and could go out on the field and back it up. That allowed the rest of us to raise our level of play and ultimately go on to win the World Series.

Mallon told me Rose that Schmidt, like Phillies teammates Larry Bowa and the late Tug McGraw and manager Dallas Green have all publicly credited Rose for getting Philadelphia over the hump to win its first World Series in 1980. After all when Rose joined the Phillies as a free agent in December 1978, the team was coming off three consecutive years losing the National League Championship Series. As a player, Rose was worth -2.8 WAA in 1980. Given the outcome that year, the point is moot.

It’s a different story for 1983, where 42-year-old Rose hit .245, was worth -4 Wins Above Average and struggled to keep his starting spot. Nicknamed “The Wheeze Kids” at an MLB-high 31.8 years average age that season, Philadelphia somehow made a pennant run. Rose hit .345 in the playoffs, but the Phillies lost to Baltimore 4-1 in the World Series and released Rose one week later. Roger Angell wrote of it, “It is painful for us to see old players go, and infinitely harder when they prolong the inevitable process.” Bill James wrote in his 1984 abstract, by which point Rose had signed with the Montreal Expos:

Pete’s selfishness in sacrificing the good of his team to forge on in sub-mediocrity after his own goals is, in its own way, what you would expect from a spoiled beauty. It’s a sad way to end a distinguished career, but you’ll do us both a favor if you’ll just pull the plug on it, and let him get his 4,000th hit two years from now in an empty parking garage in a dark corner of the nation, at a far remove from the pennant race.

Baseball, of course, did nothing of the sort with a seven-minute celebration and new Corvette presented on field when Rose got his record on September 11, 1985.

The worst Hall of Famers and why I’m against kicking anyone out

As someone who writes often about the Hall of Fame, I’m accustomed to readers asking about the worst players in Cooperstown. I generally shy away from writing about this. One of the benefits of independent blogging is the control one has over their writing topics and I generally prefer to focus on more positive subject matter. I’ll admit it, too. As someone who’s grown more in favor of a large Hall of Fame through five years of researching and writing about baseball history through this website, I also am not hugely motivated to decry a few lousy players being in. I’d rather focus on worthy players who aren’t yet enshrined.

That said, as anyone who’s been around this site awhile may know, others here have written about this topic before. Recently with the help of the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, I took another look. I found 20 Hall of Famers who rank for one stat, Wins Above Average as the worst players enshrined. While I wouldn’t suggest any stat offers definitive proof in this regard, the results here struck me. A lot of these players are the usual candidates in these exercises.

Here’s what I found:

Lowest Wins Above Average, Hall of Fame position players

  1. Lloyd Waner, -2.1 WAA in 1,993 games
  2. Tommy McCarthy, 0.2 WAA in 1,273 games
  3. Ray Schalk, 4.5 WAA in 1,762 games
  4. High Pockets Kelly, 4.5 WAA in 1,623 games
  5. Bill Mazeroski, 4.7 WAA in 2,163 games
  6. Rick Ferrell, 5.9 WAA in 1,884 games
  7. Rabbit Maranville, 7.6 WAA in 2,670 games
  8. Lou Brock, 8.2 WAA in 2,616 games
  9. Red Schoendienst, 8.4 WAA in 2,216 games
  10. Jim Bottomley, 9 WAA in 1,991 games

Some of the usual suspects abound here. Bill James, among others, has suggested Tommy McCarthy may be the worst Hall of Famer. People sometimes defend Bill Mazeroski’s selection by saying he did more than hit the winning homer in the 1960 World Series, that he was a great defensive second baseman as well. But he’s one of the worst hitters enshrined. By sabermetrics, Mazeroski’s bat more or less offsets his glove, with Mazeroski saving 147 defensive runs above average but being worth -162 runs below average at the plate. That’s third-worst among Hall of Fame position players behind Maranville at -228 runs below average and Luis Aparicio at -197 runs below average.

Voting shenanigans helped get at least three of the position players above their plaques. The Veterans Committee may have enshrined Rick Ferrell in 1984 after a sympathetic player called several members in hopes of keeping Ferrell from being shut out in votes. I’ve heard Ted Williams and Stan Musial, while on the committee, made a deal for their respective ex-teammates Bobby Doerr and Red Schoendienst to be enshrined. Then there’s High Pockets Kelly, who essentially got in because ex-teammates Frankie Frisch and Bill Terry were members of the 1973 Veterans Committee.

Frisch, notorious for looking down on later-generation players, said Kelly “had a better arm than any of today’s stars.” Another member of the Veterans Committee that voted Kelly in, Waite Hoyt, said Kelly was the first first baseman sent to the outfield to relay throws to home plate. Bad Hall of Famers are sometimes defended as the first of something. Tommy McCarthy is said to have invented the hit and run play. My friend Jacob Pomrenke, a SABR member who researches the Black Sox, said Ray Schalk was the first catcher to backup first and third base on throws.

A few people made this list because of late declines. Lou Brock retired with 3,000 hits and the stolen base record, though he had -6.4 WAA over his final five seasons, dropping him within range here. Same goes for Maranville, who was worth -9.2 WAA over his final 10 seasons, though interestingly, he received MVP votes five of those years. Then there’s Jim Bottomley. It’s been said Branch Rickey had a knack for knowing when to sell off aging players. Bottomley had 15 WAA when Rickey traded the 32-year-old first baseman in December 1932. Bottomley compiled -5.9 WAA thereafter.

Lowest Wins Above Average, Hall of Fame pitchers

  1. Catfish Hunter, 5.8 WAA in 3,449.1 IP
  2. Rollie Fingers, 7 WAA in 1,701.1 IP
  3. Rube Marquard, 8.8 WAA in 3,306.2 IP
  4. Herb Pennock, 9.4 WAA in 3,571.2 IP
  5. Jesse Haines, 10.3 WAA in 3,208.2 IP
  6. Bruce Sutter, 10.8 WAA in 1,042 IP
  7. Burleigh Grimes, 14.2 WAA in 4,180 IP
  8. Red Ruffing, 15.1 WAA in 4,344 IP
  9. Bob Lemon, 15.1 WAA in 2,850 IP
  10. Jack Chesbro, 16 WAA in 2,896.2 IP

It’s interesting to see Catfish Hunter atop this list, as he had an MLB-best 111 wins from 1971 through 1975 with a 2.65 ERA and 294 innings a year on average during that span. Hunter’s heavy workload was his undoing, as it was for many pitchers in the ’70s when usage rates for starters reached their highest point since the Deadball Era. [One example, per the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool: No pitcher has faced 1,200 batters in a season since Charlie Hough in 1987; it happened 63 times during the ’70s.] Hunter’s low WAA is partly because he threw his last pitch at 33. My friend Adam Darowski also said Hunter’s WAA is lower because he had elite defenses in Oakland and New York.

Most of the other starting pitchers here, in fact, were part of marquee teams as well. Herb Pennock and Red Ruffing both pitched extensively for the Murderers Row-era New York Yankees. Jesse Haines was a teammate of Frankie Frisch on the Gashouse Gang St. Louis Cardinals and, like Kelly, got into Cooperstown during Frisch’s Veterans Committee tenure. Bob Lemon won 20 games seven of his 13 seasons, though that’s partly because his team, the Cleveland Indians finished second or better seven times during his career.

Rube Marquard was key to the New York Giants during their pennant runs of the early 1910s, though the day the Veterans Committee voted him in might be the darkest in Hall of Fame history. I wrote last week of how the committee, led by Frisch railroaded in Marquard and six other players on January 31, 1971. Marquard wasn’t a former teammate of Frisch but he had no business getting a plaque and his selection reeks of cronyism. Aside from his splendid 1911-13 run, Marquard was rarely more than a journeyman, being worth -1.7 WAA with a 128-149 record his other 15 seasons. His 103 ERA+ is the worst of any Hall of Fame pitcher.

That being said, I’m not in favor of kicking anyone out. I wrote as much in noting the circumstances of Marquard’s enshrinement, saying it’d be cruel to remove anyone from Cooperstown and that there are worse things in life than a few lousy players being enshrined. I sent a link to my piece on to Fox Sports columnist Rob Neyer, hoping he’d pick it up. He did, even mentioning me by name in his piece, though it wasn’t the most flattering note. Rob wrote:

Yes, of course there are worse things in life. There are LOTS AND LOTS of worse things in life. There are worse things in life than someone spitting on the sidewalk. That doesn’t mean we should excuse spitting on the sidewalk.

More to the point, how would it be cruel to kick Rube Marquard out of the Hall of Fame? He died almost 25 years ago. Whatever you might think of our postmortem fates, it seems highly unlikely that today ol’ Rube gives a damn about the Hall of Fame, one way or the other. His grandchildren? Okay, sure. But I really don’t think it’s our place to worry about an old ballplayer’s grandkids, who should be old enough by now to take something like this in stride. I certainly wouldn’t be averse to some procedure that reconsidered long-dead Hall of Famers. Or hell, at the very least, revising their plaques (and their Web pages) when they’re clearly in error.

I like Rob’s idea to revise error-ridden Hall of Fame plaques. He wrote his piece primarily about the errors on Alexander Cartwright’s plaque that perpetuate the myth he’s baseball’s true founder and that he codified its rules. Knowledgeable folks like John Thorn have long since debunked these myths, but so long as they’re hanging in the Hall of Fame and easily accessible on its website, I imagine people will keep laying hold of them. It certainly caused a stir in the comments when readers here recently declined to name Cartwright one of the 25 most important people in baseball history.

I have a harder time supporting removing players from Cooperstown, for a number of reasons. Speaking as someone who’s gotten comments here from relatives of High Pockets Kelly, the Meusel Brothers and others, family members do care and what’s wrong with that? I also think the removals could quickly get out of control. This Los Angeles Times piece in support of the idea reads as if written by someone traipsing through Baseball-Reference.com, picking players at random. I love Baseball-Reference.com, but snap judgments might be the worst thing that website enables, even if I doubt its founder Sean Forman has that intent.

I have two other reasons for not wanting to kick players out of Cooperstown and they’re the same two reasons I’m okay with steroid users eventually being enshrined. First, nothing in life is perfect. I don’t see the point in demanding this of the Hall of Fame. It’s still an awesome museum, one I haven’t been to since childhood and can’t wait to see again. Beyond this, much as I consider the Hall of Fame a celebration of baseball’s greatest players, I see it as a record of its history, all of it. And baseball’s history includes the history of Cooperstown. Letting players who never should have been enshrined keep their plaques serves a valuable purpose. It reminds voters to do better in the future.

A healthy compromise might be to develop an inner circle for the Hall of Fame. I had readers vote on a 50-player inner circle a few years ago that could offer a good start. Cooperstown could even make annual updates, perhaps voted on by fans to stir interest, allowing the inner circle to become progressively greater as more legends are enshrined. If the Hall of Fame wants my help on developing this further, I’ll provide it free of charge.

The 10 oldest Hall of Famers upon being voted in

I wrote a few days ago that the Hall of Fame doesn’t have a great track record of honoring aging players. This was prompted by the Veterans Committee candidacy of Minnie Minoso who, depending on the source, is anywhere from 88 to 92. Even if Minoso’s listed birthday on Baseball-Reference.com of November 29, 1925 is correct, placing him just shy of his 89th birthday, he’d be the oldest living honoree ever for Cooperstown at the time of getting in, if it happens.

With the help of Baseball-Reference.com which lists the life spans of all Hall of Famers, here are the 10 oldest Hall of Famers at the time they were voted in:

1. Elmer Flick at 87 years, 16 days old on January 27, 1963

I’ve written before of Flick, a Deadball Era great nearly traded for a young Ty Cobb in 1907. Detroit lucked out on that one, as Flick contracted a stomach ailment that ended his career in 1910. All but forgotten by Cooperstown thereafter, save for one vote from the BBWAA in 1938, Flick was stunned when the Veterans Committee honored him. As my Twitter friend Vince Guerrieri told me, Flick thought Branch Rickey was fooling when he called to congratulate him. “I can’t believe it,” Flick said. “I had given up all hope. When Sam Crawford was voted in [in 1957], he sent me a letter and said he couldn’t see how he was getting in before me.”

2. Ed Barrow at 85 years, four months and 18 days old on September 28, 1953

Being voted into the Hall of Fame is valedictory. As a reader recently pointed out to me, excluding HOF players serving as coaches, only Connie Mack continued to work at the job that got him into Cooperstown after his induction. Legendary executive Ed Barrow worked for the New York Yankees until he was 77. But by the time the Veterans Committee selected Barrow in 1953, he’d been in ill health for many years and was about two months from dying. Barrow was posthumously inducted in August 1954, one of four Hall of Famers I know of besides Chief Bender, Eppa Rixey and Leon Day to die between being voted in and the next induction ceremony.

3. Rube Marquard at 84 years, three months and 22 days old on January 31, 1971

I hear proponents of a small Hall of Fame talk of kicking honorees out. I imagine they could start with Marquard, who got his plaque partly because he was featured in Lawrence Ritter’s 1966 book, The Glory of Their Times and partly because the Veterans Committee railroaded in seven new members the day it voted Marquard in. January 31, 1971 may rank as one of the most ethically-bankrupt days in Hall of Fame history. It reminds me of the danger when small groups– this iteration of the Veterans Committee had ten members— are given a lot of power. It’s one of the reasons I try to have as many people as I can vote in projects here.

But I think of how happy the news made Marquard, who was on a cruise at the time. He wrote to Ritter, who shared the letter in a preface to a 1984 edition of his classic. Marquard wrote:

Dear Larry:

I was the happiest and most surprised man in the world when I heard your voice yesterday telling me I was voted into the Hall of Fame. The reason I didn’t say anything for so long was that I couldn’t. I was all choked up and tears were running down my cheeks.

Yesterday evening, a few hours after you called, everybody was dancing and having a good time and suddenly the Captain of the ship stopped the music and said he wanted to make an important announcement. He said they had a very prominent man on board who had just been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. His name is Rube Marquard and he is right here dancing with his wife.

Well, all hell broke loose, people yelling and clapping, and the band played ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game.’ I was so happy and Jane just loved it too. When we go to Cooperstown this summer, please come with us and be my guest.

It’s hard, at least for me, to stay angry reading a letter like that. There are worse things in life than a few undeserving people being in the Hall of Fame, especially with all the joy the living ones must have felt when they got that call and later stood on the Cooperstown dais. I’m certainly not in favor of kicking anyone out. It seems cruel. It also seems pointless. Wipe the slate clean on the Hall of Fame and there’d be a lousy honoree within 10-15 years.

4. Happy Chandler at 83 years, seven months and 24 days old on March 10, 1982

Bowie Kuhn may rank as one of the more reviled figures in MLB history, baseball’s commissioner while Marvin Miller was leading the successful charge to take down the reserve clause. Here’s one thing Kuhn got right: leading the campaign to honor Chandler, who was commissioner at the time Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. That may seem insignificant, though the man Chandler succeeded, Kenesaw Mountain Landis did much to keep blacks out of the majors.

5. Harry Hooper at 83 years, five months and seven days old on January 31, 1971

Like Marquard, Hooper was interviewed for The Glory of Their Times and got in the day the Veterans Committee gave out plaques like it was going out of business. Hooper might be a slightly more deserving pick, having played in arguably the best defensive outfield of the Deadball Era with Tris Speaker and Duffy Lewis on the Boston Red Sox. My friend through the Society for American Baseball Research, Jacob Pomrenke told me a few months ago that one of Hooper’s sons campaigned heavily for his induction.

6. Tommy Connolly at 82 years, eight months and 28 days old on September 28, 1953

Longtime sportswriter Joe Williams wrote of Connolly, a few months before the Veterans Committee tabbed him, as the lone surviving member of the original American League staff. An umpire as well as a teacher and supervisor for other umps, Connolly’s career spanned 60-plus years. He worked the first World Series in 1903, at a time when umpires got $50 a game and paid their own travel expenses.

7. Lee MacPhail at 80 years, four months and six days old on March 3, 1998

Weird fact about MacPhail: The former American League president was on the board of directors for the Hall of Fame nearly a quarter century before he got his plaque. In the interim in 1978, his father Larry MacPhail, a groundbreaking executive was posthumously enshrined.

8. Bobby Wallace at 79 years, 10 months and 24 days old on September 28, 1953

Why Wallace and not his contemporary Bill Dahlen? Statistically, the two Deadball Era infielders are roughly equal: 110 OPS+ for Dahlen, 103 for Wallace; 139 defensive runs saved for Dahlen, 133 for Wallace. For stats that may have meant something to Veterans Committee voters at the time, Dahlen bested Wallace .272 to .268 in batting average, 2,461 to 2,309 in hits and 8,138 to 7,465 in assists, though he had more errors, 975 to 814.

Perhaps the Veterans Committee wanted to honor the living. While Dahlen died in 1950 after several years in retirement, Wallace scouted for the Reds into the early 1950s. Three of the other five men the Veterans Committee selected in 1953 were also still alive. Ironically though, none of the four attended the subsequent induction ceremony in 1954. Ed Barrow and Chief Bender died in the interim, while Wallace and Tommy Connolly were too ill to attend.

9. Dave Bancroft at 79 years, nine months and 11 days old on January 31, 1971

Bancroft’s defenders sometimes speak of him as a defensive wizard. This may be an exaggeration. According to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, Bancroft ranks 30th all-time among shortstops with 93 defensive runs saved above average. Among the 18 non-Hall of Famers ranked in front of him for this stat: Bill Dahlen, Jack Glasscock and Art Fletcher, all of whom had better bats. As has been widely noted, Bancroft’s former teammate Frankie Frisch was on the ten-member Veterans Committee that voted him in, as was Bill Terry.

10. Doug Harvey at 79 years, eight months and 24 days old on December 7, 2009

Harvey’s page at the Hall of Fame website lists him as the ninth umpire enshrined, with Hank O’Day bringing the number to 10 in 2013. “This much is indisputable,” Hal Bodley wrote for USA Today upon Harvey’s retirement in 1992. “Harvey is one of the best umpires the game has seen. He’s a Hall of Famer, period.” It’s a wonder it took another 17 years for Harvey to get his plaque.