To the BBWAA: Focus on the Great, Not the Very Good

Editor’s note: One thing that I love about this blog is that we have a range of viewpoints among the writers here. I personally differ from Joe Guzzardi on how many players should be the Hall of Fame (he’s an exclusionist, I’ve become more welcoming in the last couple years), but I’m glad to share his views.


Barry Larkin is in the Hall of Fame. As opposed to last year’s choice of Bert Blyleven, I guess I’m sort of okay with Larkin, the winner of nine Silver Slugger awards, named to 14 All Star Games and one of the outstanding shortstops of his era. I’d have been okay if Larkin were passed over, too.

Luckily for Larkin, he’s untainted by steroid charges, an issue that will confront the Baseball Writers Association of America next year.

According to an analysis by the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner, 33 players over the next five ballots (including Larkin) could make what he calls “a realistic case” for their induction.  As Kepner describes it, “They may not have a winning argument, but they belong in the conversation.’

Kepner broke his 33 players into four categories:
      1) Virtual locks, barring evidence of steroid use: Larkin (2012); Craig Biggio (2013); Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas (2014); Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz (2015); Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman (2016).
     2) Possible, barring evidence of steroid use: Curt Schilling (2013); Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina (2014).
     3) Doubtful, based on playing career, voting track record or both: Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Billy Wagner, Larry Walker and Bernie Williams.
     4) Left out because of performance-enhancing drugs: based on suspicion, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza; based on admission, Mark McGwire; based on evidence, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa; based on admission/evidence/playing career, Juan Gonzalez and Andy Pettitte.

According to Kepner’s projections, by 2016 ten new Hall of Famers will have been elected. Seven reached a significant round number: 300 victories for Glavine, Johnson and Maddux; 3,000 hits for Biggio; 500 home runs for Thomas; 600 home runs for Griffey; 600 saves for Hoffman. Larkin was a most valuable player; Smoltz won a Cy Young Award, and Pedro Martinez won three.

But on my ballot, only Glavine, Johnson, Maddux, Biggio, Thomas Griffey and Martinez would get votes. A single Cy Young season (Smoltz) is more an argument for being passed over than being inducted.
As for Hoffman, the standard for earning a save is so artificial and watered down I can’t see ever putting any relief pitcher (including Mariano Rivera!) in the Hall of Fame. In his 18 year career, Hoffman averaged 60 innings pitched per season (out of about 1,500 team innings played) —simply too insignificant a contribution to merit Hall of Fame status.

As for Kepner’s “possible,” “doubtful,” and “left out” categories, I wouldn’t vote for any of them.

In previous blogs, I’ve noted that most of the ESPN talking heads like Peter Gammons, Buster Olney and Jayson Stark advocate for the steroids’ crowd.

When you hear these guys talk, it’s as if they are obligated to vote for multiple candidates each year. Attention: There’s no such requirement.

Here’s Jayson Stark’s 2012 ballot which he posted on the Internet:

Larkin, Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, Jack Morris, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy and what he describes as the “Steroid Guys” Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro.

Even if Palmeiro never used steroids, it would be a joke and an insult to the truly great players to include him in a Hall that has Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams and Stan Musial.

I’m in Bob Costas’ camp: The Hall of Fame is “too big” and should be reserved for the absolutely best, not just the very good. My January 2011 blog on that subject, including Costas’ opinion, is here.

23 Replies to “To the BBWAA: Focus on the Great, Not the Very Good”

  1. Hi Joe.
    I think I post in disagreement with all of your Hall posts (since I’m a big Hall guy and you’re a small Hall guy). Anyway, the specific point I’m trying to make here is to ask you HOW it is ” a joke and an insult to the truly great players to include him in a Hall that has Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams and Stan Musial.” (In reference to Palmeiro).
    I don’t think anyone who follows baseball would argue that (for example) Bert Blyleven is as good as Walter Johnson because he’s in the Hall of Fame; and I find it hard to believe that his presence makes Walter Johnson seem worse. So, again, please explain how it is “a joke and an insult….” as I really just don’t get that argument. Thanks!

  2. @Bob: I look at it this way. If I were a member of an exclusive club supposed to be open only to the very best of any profession and all of a sudden the very good were included, I would be feel that my contributions as “the best” were watered down.

    To me, it’s a joke to write down two names, Johnson and Blyleven to use your example, and identify them both as Hall of Famers when one is so clearly better than the other.

    I’m also worried by the trend—it’s obvious that the writers have much looser standards than they should—in my opinion. I suspect that in the next two years, Jack Morris (ERA 3.90) will get in. If that happens, then the Hall will have Johnson, Blylven and Morris.

    The smaller the total number of inductees, the more exclusive the group.That’s what I want—a truly exclusive group that, ideally is not tainted by PEDs,

  3. I just don’t get how can you leave Mike Piazza out of the HOF…I don’t like witch hunt based only on suspicions. What evidence do we have on Mike ? If we don’t have any clear evidence, Piazza is a first ballot HOF, period. If we start talking about suspicions no one can be left out…Cal Ripken included.

  4. @Stefano:

    Sorry, I’m opposed to continuously lowering the bar. I’m fine with the thirteen catchers already induced: Bench, Berra, Campanella, Dickey, Cochran, etc. In fact, I’d like to vote some of the others out.

  5. @Joe

    I get your point, even if I don’t agree with it, if you believe that Piazza used PED, but if PED is not involved I really don’t understand how can you talk about “lowering the bar” in the Piazza’s case: he was nothing special behind the plate but his offensive numbers are just impossible to ignore.

  6. @Stefano

    There is no use arguing with this guy. This is someone who wouldn’t vote for Barry Larkin, Ken Griffey Jr, Mike Piazza or Pedro Martinez. Any Hall that is too small for those four, I wouldn’t want to visit.

  7. @Paul:


    I think you misread. Here, from the text, is what I wrote:

    “But on my ballot, only Glavine, Johnson, Maddux, Biggio, Thomas, Griffey and Martinez would get votes.”

    And at the outset of my blog I wrote: “I guess I’m sort of okay with Larkin.” Apparently the only candidate we disagree on is Piazza. You suggest that my lack of support for Piazza puts me out of the mainstream. But, again if you had read more closely, you would have seen that Tyler Kepner, New York Times writer, predicts that Piazza will be “left out.”

    I don’t mind criticism but it should be directed at what I actually wrote.

  8. That’s interesting – I would’ve sworn Griffey and Martinez weren’t there a few minutes ago. That’s fine. We disagree on Piazza. I don’t see how anyone leaves Piazza off their ballot, but I’ll have to agree to disagree with you on that one.

    Piazza was the greatest hitting catcher who never played in the Negro Leagues.

    Piazza won 10 silver sluggers
    finished top 10 in MVP voting 7 times (with 2 seconds and 1 third)
    12 all star games (including an AS MVP in 97)
    Rookie of the Year
    .308 career batting average
    427 Home Runs
    1335 RBI

    What else did he need to do? He was never an outstanding catcher, but he was good enough to have accumulated the 20th most games caught in major league history. Your hall is severely lacking if Mike Piazza isn’t good enough to be in it.

  9. @Joe:
    Well, I sorta see what you mean about being in an exclusive club consisting of the best of the best and suddenly the bar is lowered… but I really don’t think that applies to the baseball hall of fame, unless you’re holding it to the standards of the “first five” or such. Oh, and though I’m glad Blyleven made it to the hall I certainly agree with you on not thinking Morris was good enough to get in.

    I don’t think Joe is really saying that Piazza isn’t good enough for the hall, I think he’s saying that he’s tainted by steroids and that’s why he doesn’t want him in.

  10. I would not vote for anyone suspected of PEDs so Bob B. is correct. According to various BBWAA writers, their camp is split right down the middle on that so I am not a lone voice in the wilderness here.

    Some like Paul who say they would vote despite suspicions agrue that we can never know who did what or when they did it. If I had money to bet, I’d wager all of it that Piazza did steroids.

    Voting for them is very unfair to hundreds of players who never did steroids. I heard Roy Oswald, one of the era’s best pitchers, make a very angry protest against players like Clements whose numbers (and eventually his contracts, his possible admission to the HOF) were inflated by PED’s while his stats (Oswald’s) were the product of his own hard work.

  11. I (often) love reading Joe’s work. I love it when he talks about guys like Bob Friend. Today, I have to vehemently disagree.

    You have this image of the Hall of Fame being exclusive that was just… never true. I wrote about this yesterday ( I don’t understand not being willing to add Bert Blyleven to a group that ALREADY INCLUDES Hugh Duffy (elected 1945), Jack Chesbro (1946), Tommy McCarthy (1946), Chief Bender (1953), Rabbit Maranville (1953), Ray Schalk (1955), Edd Roush (1962), Eppa Rixey (1963), Burleigh Grimes (1964), Lloyd Waner (1967), and countless other questionable candidates. Bert Blyleven raised the bar. Jeff Bagwell would raise the bar. Tim Raines would raise the bar. Alan Trammell would raise the bar. Heck JOHN FREAKIN’ OLERUD would raise the bar.

    In a post over at Fangraphs (don’t disregard it yet, there aren’t numbers), Dave Cameron made a great statement about the size of the Hall:

    Cameron says:
    “To me, an inclusive hall is a better hall, and one I’d be more interested in visiting. I won’t begrudge someone who holds a small hall perspective, but I would ask them to perhaps consider to what end they’re in favor of exclusivity. What is the benefit of fewer people remembering how great Tim Raines really was?”

    Why do we want people to forget about how good these players were? I mean… Mike Piazza? Jeff Bagwell? How can you not want people to remembrer these guys?

    I hope Bagwell is not included on your list of people you disregard for PEDs. If nothing else, you seem like a man who dots his i’s and crosses his t’s. There’s no evidence of Bagwell using, he has denied it, and his minor league statistics (cavernous statements) actually SUPPORT his power trajectory. Please tell me you don’t use the PED excuse with him.

    You also say:
    “To me, it’s a joke to write down two names, Johnson and Blyleven to use your example, and identify them both as Hall of Famers when one is so clearly better than the other.”

    Couldn’t this be said of any exclusive group? I mean, aren’t some Presidents better than others? They’re all still Presidents, the most powerful position in the country.

    I like ya, Joe. But this inclusive Hall of Fame stance bugs me. I don’t want to let just anyone in. I consider myself a moderate Hall guy. But man, there are a lot of great players who WOULD HAVE BEEN ENSHRINED if they played in earlier eras but are being ignored now.

  12. @Adam (and everyone else, I guess):

    First, the things we agree on: like you, I don’t think Duffy, Rixey et al that you mentioned belong in the Hall. If you search my BBPP archive, you’ll see many of my posts to that effect. And if you want to hear my comprehensive proposal for what I think should be done, here a link to a You Tube video of a presentation I made at the Forbes Field SABR chapter that outlines it all

    I maintain my stance that, by definition, a smaller HOF is a more exclusive HOF and therefore, in my opinion, a better HOF.

    Reasonable people can disagree which seems to be the case here.

  13. Joe, thanks for the link. I’m actually working on a project that is very similar to what you present. I developed this metric based on WAR called Weighted WAR (wWAR) and it gives an added bonus for peak years, postseason, and short-season careers (like in the 19th century).

    My goal for this “alternate Hall” was to see what the Hall of Fame would look like if it was populated simply by numbers. For that reason, the Hall of wWAR also has 208 players in it (not counting Negro League players because they don’t have the same stats).

    As the Hall of Fame grows, the Hall of wWAR grows.

    Example: When Ron Santo got in, I needed to add another player. Ron Santo was already in the Hall of wWAR, since he is most definitely one of the 207 best of all time. So, the 207th best player (by wWAR) of all time was added: Frank Tanana.

    Likewise, Barry Larkin was already in my Hall. So when he was inducted, I added the 208th best player—Frank Chance.

    Next year, the Hall of wWAR will welcome *SEVEN* new members with deserving statistics. For that reason, Tanana, Chance, and the five guys ahead of them will likely be REMOVED from the Hall of wWAR (depending on how many are actually inducted).

    So, you and I have the same philosophy with two key differences:

    1. You don’t follow the same size of the Hall of Fame (obviously)
    2. You don’t populate/rank according to statistics.

    Is this fair?

    To be honest, I would probably make the Hall about 180 players big for now and have a slightly higher standard. Right now, Bobby Abreu has good enough numbers to get in the Hall of wWAR. I don’t, however, think of him as a Hall of Famer.

    Thanks for responding.

  14. Adam:

    Thank you for sharing your work. I love the idea and will be following with great interest. Please keep me posted.

  15. Hi Joe. Enjoyed your post and Adam’s post on a wWAR Hall. I’m curious about your stance on PED use. I’m still evolving and digesting this in terms of my own position. One perspective which I’m really struggling with is being anti-steriods and exlcuding users or suspected users when we already know many players from decades past used amphetamines and were never excluded or even chastised for it. How do you reconile saying you wouldn’t vote for anyone who used PED’s with the fact that amphetmine users are already in the Hall? Are you calling for them to be ousted?

  16. @ps:

    This is a great question re amphetamines. I would be just as harsh on them. I have more to say on my upcoming blog that should post in a couple of days.

    Thank you for writing.

  17. joe: what’s your thought on the postseason body of work? in my opinion, that’s what pushes smoltz and schilling over the top. i’d still put them in on the basis of 3000 strikeouts, but the postseason really seals it for me. i’d like to know why you disagree. thanx

  18. @Ron:


    Great question. I’m not sure that I do disagree re post season. Did I write that somewhere? I know I am very conservative about the general Hall ballot. Anyway, as for the post-season records, it certainly would enhance the candidacy of Schilling and Smoltz. My concern might be that it would arbitrarily mitigate against top level players who never made the post-season or made it less frequently than those who played in several divisional and World Series games. I’m not sure how you would account for that.

  19. This article is about ten months old now, but I’d just like to make a comment about the “so-and-so in the HOF would be a joke and an insult to the truly great HOFers” argument.
    It’s just that… well, “the actual HOFers themselves,” and I mean the truly great ones, often advocated players not nearly as great as themselves for induction into the HOF.
    I don’t have who specifically voted for who, but Ron Santo was elected by a group that included first balloters Hank Aaron, Al Kaline and Brooks Robinson, as well as Juan Marichal; and those are just the guys who I can’t see ‘anyone, ever’ having problems with being in the Hall. Santo received 15 of 16 votes, so “at least three” of these no-doubters thought he belonged.
    Frankie Frisch, who many think is a no-brainer, is the one responsible for guys like Freddie Lindstrom and Chick Hafey.
    In the intro of “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?”, no-doubter Bob Feller advocates for the inclusion of George Blaeholder [who even ‘I’ haven’t heard of] and Firpo Marberry. (Both for pioneering-type reasons; he says Blaeholder invented the slider, while Marberry was pretty much the first relief pitcher.)
    Ted Williams advocated for Phil Rizzuto, and was on the Veterans Committee that elected teammate Bobby Doerr.
    In the 2007 Veterans Committee election, when all HOFers could vote, I know first balloter Mike Schmidt at least voted for Jim Kaat, and no-doubter Joe Morgan said he voted for ten players.

  20. @triston:

    Thanks for writing. You make interesting points. Its somewhat problematic when someone like Ted Williams says that Rizzuto should be in the HOF—who’s to challenge Williams on who is and isn’t a premier player?

    Williams’ opinion along with guys like Morgan and Feller count for a lot more than beat writers although I’m sure Williams, et al let their personal friendships become part of the equation.

    1. “…although I’m sure Williams, et al let their personal friendships become part of the equation.”
      THAT is definitely true.
      A lot of writers/regular people let their “friendships” influence them, too; so-and-so goes from a borderline HOFer to a sure-thing because of that one play you’ll always remember, or because he was just an important part of ‘your’ team for so long, or even because you actually met him once, and he was just the nicest guy ever.

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