Point-counterpoint: Should the Hall of Fame cap membership?

I am pleased to present a first-ever point-counterpoint here. Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor, proposes a cap on Hall of Fame membership. I have other views. Thus, we are each taking a side.


I have a proposal that makes the Baseball Hall of Fame annual voting more interesting and would make the Hall a truly select place reserved exclusively for the game’s greatest players.

Cap the Hall of Fame membership at a specific number—let’s say 300 players.

Once membership hits 300, the total becomes frozen by position. If there are 20 first basemen, then that’s the maximum.

When the upper limit of allowable players is met, every year the Baseball Writers’ Association of America votes to elect a player, another must be voted out, to make room for the new inductee.

Here’s the crux of my plan. If writers don’t agree on who exits, then no one enters Cooperstown! Thus the Hall remains only for the absolutely best players who ever took the field.

My variation also makes the annual selection process more interesting. Who gets in? Who goes out?

Earlier this week the Hall inducted Andre Dawson. Using my standards, for Dawson to be ratified, one outfielder must go. Maybe it would be the Cards’ Chick Hafey or perhaps the Cubs’ Billy Williams?

The debate surrounding the election becomes twice as intense since two questions would be considered.

As years pass, the players remaining among the 300 would be constantly upgraded. No matter how much time goes by, the BBWAA would never kick out Babe Ruth, Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle.

Obviously, under the current system, each player added makes the Hall less exclusive. What began in 1936 as an elite club with five members is now a watered down mishmash.

Currently mentioned as Hall candidates are Roberto Alomar, Mike Mussina, Fred McGriff and John Smoltz.

All are great. But if elected, fans would agree that they represent second tier players by comparison, not worthy of mention in the same breath as Ruth, Williams or Mantle.

Don’t worry about what will become of those who have to step aside.

Their plaques would move to a Cooperstown wing constructed to honor their baseball contributions with a notation of their years as “active” HOF members.

-Joe Guzzardi



It’s true that less-than-stellar players occasionally make it into Cooperstown. Frankie Frisch helped enshrine former teammates like Chick Hafey, Jesse Haines and Ross Youngs when he was head of the Veterans Committee. For reasons that still defy logic more than 50 years later, the Baseball Writers Association of America chose to induct Rabbit Maranville in 1954 and pass on Joe DiMaggio, who needed another year to earn a Cooperstown plaque. And it seems a little odd to me that Travis Jackson and Babe Ruth have busts hanging in the same Hall of Fame.

It’s an interesting idea to consider capping membership and removing marginal Hall of Famers like Hafey, Jackson, and Maranville as space is needed for new, better members. But I’m against it. It doesn’t seem fair to the players removed, and beyond this, I ask: What’s wrong with having a large Hall of Fame?

One of the few advantages baseball still has over other major sports is its history, which goes back in competitive form to at least the 19th century. Cooperstown is a testament to that long and gloried life. Almost everything good about baseball is in the Hall of Fame.

Even as there are just over 200 players enshrined now, I don’t see anything wrong with eventually having a 1,000-player Hall of Fame if necessary, provided these men meet the subjective (and admittedly varying) standards for induction. A larger Hall of Fame will tell me baseball has that many more solid — if not great — players. I think that’s something to celebrate, not bemoan.

There’s also the human element to consider with any argument that proposes stripping old players of their honors and saying they were Hall of Famers only for a set time, even if they’re still in a token part of the museum. Being enshrined in Cooperstown may be the highlight of a man’s life. In his induction speech on July 25, former manager Whitey Herzog called making the Hall of Fame, “Like going to heaven before you die.”

What would it be like to get kicked out of heaven?

-Graham Womack

27 Replies to “Point-counterpoint: Should the Hall of Fame cap membership?”

  1. If you want to make The Hall of Fame better take the voting out of the hands of the writers. There should not be a cap, if someone is good someone is good. Think about all the players that have played this game and the minute number of players enshrined. So 100 years from now what will happen when a deserving player is up and we have a limit?

  2. Half the fun(?)is the debate over who is or what constitutes a hall of fame player?
    A case, of sorts, can be made for each player already in the hall, but why not stimulate some interest by having the fans vote on a yearly basis, which truly elite players should be entered into a special cream of the crop hof wing? Or, you could leave it to the writers, or players or some combination. Each year a vote could be taken of those inductees deemed worthy to be included with the elitist of the elite and so honored.

  3. Yes there are some undeserving players (and non-players) in the Hall of Fame, but putting a permanent cap on the number of members is an extremely short-sighted solution. There just aren’t that many undeserving players in the Hall, and with 30 teams, baseball is producing more HOF level players than ever. Right now we have Maddux, Randy JOhnson, Smoltz, Bonds, Ivan Rodriguez, Joe Mauer, Pujols, Utley, Chipper Jones, Hoffman, Glavine, A-Rod, Vizquel, Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Manny Ramirez, Vladimer Guerrero, Griffey, Thome, Sosa, Biggios, Bagwell, Sabathia, Ryan Howard, Miguel Cabrera, etc whose careers are going to be worthy of serious consideration. And 20 years from now there’ll be another group just as impressive.

    Due to there being so many players in MLB these days I think that from this point forward there will be an average of AT LEAST 2 no doubt Hall of Famers every year. So under the proposal, we’d have to eliminate 80 current Hall of Famers over the next 40 years in order to accommodate them.

    A better idea might be to say that from this day forward, no more than 3 new members could be elected per year. In some years that would mean delaying the induction of some no-doubters, but they would
    get in eventually. Also, limit the Hall to players only from now on. No more owners, umpires, or sportswirters. Finally, players MUST be added within 20 years of retirement or they don’t get in. Period. In this day and age we have all the tools we need to analyze player careers and if a player doesn’t make it within 20 years, too bad.

  4. @300lbsofsportsknowledge: I agree that others, probably baseball insiders, should vote for HOF: players, maybe even broadcasters (no votes for their home team. What would happen in 100 years is that voters will have to choose whose better, Player “A” already in the Hall or Player “B” the candidate under consideration.

    1. I didn’t get into this in my portion of the column but my vote would be to create a sister museum in Cooperstown designed to honor the top 100 or 300 ballplayers, with members rotating out as space is needed. I think this would be fine, so long as it’s the understanding from the beginning.

  5. I like what Bill James wrote about in his first Historical Abstract: make a three-level HOF. The “Inner Circle” would be statues of the true greats–Ruth, Mays, Williams, etc. Elect 5 to start, 5 the following year, and then maybe 1 every 5 years after that. These would have to be players who were already elected to the “regular” HOF and have been in long enough so that there’s a true historical perspective. Then add kind of an “outer circle” to honor people who played the game well, but are not great enough to be in the “regular” HOF. Solid contributors like, say, Roy White. I absolutely do not like the idea of kicking people out of the HOF once they’re in, unless they commit some sort of heinous crime. The mistakes like Rick Ferrell and Chick Hafey have to stand.

  6. “What would it be like to get kicked out of heaven?”
    -Graham Womack

    Saints have been demoted, at least. Ask [the former] Saint Ursula and her 10,000 virgins what it feels like.


  7. I dont see anything wrong with the size of the hall of fame or with contiually adding players to it. True there have been some mistakes let in, but there are also in my opinion a number wh have been left out. Don Mattingly, Gil Hodges and Thurman Munson come to mind, all players as deserving if not more so than some already in the hall. If Whitey Herzog is in, shouldn’t Billy Martin also be in. If George Steinbrenner goes in, then Col. Jacob Rupert should be in as well. He started the great Yankee tradition. Limiting the number of players in the hall would be a disservice to baseball and its fans. Maybe the idea of an “upper echelon” for the baseball “gods” like Ruth, Gehrig, Mays, Aaron, Mantle, Cobb, etc. could work. Like the difference between plaques and monuments in Yankee Stadium.

  8. I like some aspects of this idea. I’m more in favor of having an elite group within the existing group than simply capping the number of Hall of Famers. Let’s have an exclusive group of say 50 superstars who are already in the HOF. If you want to vote somebody into that elite group, you have to vote somebody out. What a great debate that would be!

  9. Forgive me for committing the cardinal sin of NOT
    reading either the entire pro/con arguments or the
    responses to date; the very idea of “capping” HOF
    inductees has already been addressed admirably by
    the 75%-votes rule, so the idea that only a certain
    quantity of players can be admitted is quite silly.
    I’m going to ignore the “quality” arguments–I’m even going to ignore the “popularity” arguments, other than the aforementioned 75% requirement–and
    then, most disgustingly to many of my fellow SABR
    life-members, I’m going to ignore any possible
    “statistical threshold” model that has been proposed
    previously or may be proposed in the future.
    Here’s why: Baseball is a GAME–get it? Many many
    players have played it well for the love of it and
    not for the glory of it. Millions more have played it in mediocre or poor fashion–but possess the same
    love for baseball as do/did the HOF inductees.
    Let’s “get over” ourselves and realize that those
    in the Hall are peer-reviewed and approved as such,
    and that’s all there is to it; even the souls that
    miss HOF induction, for whatever reason, should
    eventually realize that it is JUST A GAME and that
    your value as a human will hopefully be known by
    some other measure; no matter what your age, your
    temple of worship should NOT be Cooperstown, but in
    a more appropriate place where praise and thanks can
    be rendered unto the God which blessed some of us
    with more game-playing talent(s) than others.

  10. Clark wrote:

    “even the souls that
    miss HOF induction, for whatever reason, should
    eventually realize that it is JUST A GAME and that
    your value as a human will hopefully be known by
    some other measure; no matter what your age, your
    temple of worship should NOT be Cooperstown”


  11. My problem with capping the HOF and removing players is that as the years pass some of the best players from previous eras will either gain legendary status or lose favor among HOF voters (rightfully or wrongfully) as they become distant memories. Therefore, it would be a sham to remove an outfielder from the 1800’s or early 1900’s from the Hall just because a voter does not understand their significance to the game over 100 years later.
    Does this mean many of the players currently enshrined are more deserving of other players from a bygone era just because they had enough votes to become voted in? In many cases no and as time passes many deserving players of a bygone era will never gain enshrinement into the Hall. But, I like the system currently used much more than say the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame that votes in many individuals from the Rock and Roll past that are from the fringes but are voters favorites while leaving out many individuals that are more deserving based on the criteria selected for enshrinement.

  12. No matter how you argue it; some of those players just don’t belong. It seems to me that the inclusion of certain players brings down the true honor of being in such a select group if that group is not so select.
    I don’t know the answer; I think using alongside the usual methods of selection, using some sort of the new stats of the day such as “WAR”, “RCAA”, “RSAA” could be used.Or you could just go to Bill James and let him select.

  13. The HOF needs to make it more difficult to get in as I agree that there are players in the HOF that really weren’t that great. It’s time to strengthen the criterion to get in and if some years it means ONE player (or manager, etc..) gets in then so be it.

  14. Bill James probably knows more about baseball and what constitutes a great player than nearly every member of the BBWAA. The fact that James doesn’t get a vote (at least so far as I know) astounds me.

  15. Putting a cap on the HOF would deny future players’ enshrinement unless the plan to vote out those whose careers were not of the Ruth or Mantle caliber. Voting out those who have already been enshrined, regardless of their supposed qualifications, is, in my opinion, grossly unfair to them. Allowing the fans to vote makes it a popularity contest, as the All-Star Game has become, rather than a true test of a player’s qualifications for the HOF. What’s wrong with allowing things to go along as they are now? Players are voted in according to the writers’ knowledge, and who would be better qualified to vote than those whose careers are spent studying baseball? (And if Bill James is a member of the BBWAA, then he does have a vote.)

  16. A monumentally dumb idea. It would, in fact, be less dumb to activate a policy of “second thoughts” — an opportunity to vote out egregious members. I don’t advocate this; I only suggest it is less dumb than the notion of permanently keeping new members out.


    Ernie Nagy

  17. At this point in the game, you can’t kick out those who have already been enshrined, even the ones who got in via the second chance VC.

    So, maybe the Bill James idea is the right one. Establish who the best of the best were and honor them accordingly.

    From here out, maybe the vote should be ‘one and done.’ If it took nine elections to decide whether or not Dawson was worthy or 15 on Rice, well maybe they don’t belong.

    So, starting with the next election, maybe it should be that ‘one and done’ and should have nothing to do with who else is on the ballot. If ten players get elected or none, that’s it; these players will never be voted on again.

    There are enough people of dubious credentials in the HOF and others being enshrined late in the election process to the point where it (the HOF) is rapidly becoming irrelevant. Jim Rice and Andre Dawson were talented players. But there’s no way in hell they can be mentioned in the same breath as Ruth, Cobb, Mays, Williams and Musial or even Tony Gwynn.

    1. A permanent one-and-done rule was tried for a time within the last 20 years, and that didn’t work out so well. As I noted near the bottom of a piece I wrote in April on one-and-done candidates, there are many Hall of Famers who got less than five percent of the vote their first time on the ballot.

  18. Capping the number of HOF members is one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard. How do you kick somebody out of the HOF? Yes, there are some undeserving members, but there will be times where someone on the fringe will get elected to the HOF (he’s the 299th or 300th best player) only to have it revoked the next year when one or two better players get in. As the number of players keep getting larger, eventually somebody who is considered an all-time great will have to be removed — someone like Willie McCovey or Robin Roberts. Then maybe a decade or two later, Mickey Mantle or Jimmie Foxx will have to go.

  19. The Hall of Fame has too few members, not too many. In particular, at least fifteen other nineteenth century players and other figures deserve to be in.
    The proposal above is stupid, and would result in great players arbitrarily being voted out of the Hall, probably when many were still alive. Many eligible players who were elected would probably decline to be admitted, knowing the “honor” was temporary.

  20. Oddly enough, the Hall of Fame recently has become a great deal choosier. The explaination is expansion. The current selectors(BBWAA & Veterans COmmittee)are electing a combined average of THREE players per year from the 26 major league teams of 1969-1992 era. That the equivalent of less than 2 players per year from 16 teams (1901-1960) It is impossible to maintain the present pace without getting increasing more demanding in voting standards. Speaking personally, I was a little surprised that Dawsom got the necessary 75% of the vote.

  21. I agree with Wardall Clark on this one as the Hall has become choosier in recent memory. I would prefer one HOF per year if they were worthy rather than the multiple HOF’s that the NFL seems to elect to hit a certain number of enshrinees each year.

    thanks – JRN

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