Why getting a lot of Hall of Fame votes matters

I logged into my Google Analytics account this morning and was surprised to see that I got a bunch of traffic yesterday from a Web site called Baseball Think Factory. David Pinto of Baseball Musings linked to my post from Saturday proposing a new Hall of Fame metric, so I expected some spike, but this was insane. I got over 200 unique visitors yesterday, a Baseball: Past and Present record (I don’t get a whole lot of traffic.) Over a hundred of these visitors came from Baseball Think Factory, which I’m guessing picked up on my post from David. I was less excited, though, when I saw discussion by the members. I didn’t know whether to cheer that I made the site or throw up at how I was received.

Basically, I got my ass handed to me in the forum. No one much cared for the metric I proposed, Hall of Fame +/- which takes the number of future Hall of Famers a ballplayer got more votes for Cooperstown than, subtracts the number of non-members who finished in front of them and divides by the number of years they were on the ballot. Some members didn’t read my post, instead remarking that I share the same last name as an excellent Motown singer (I like to tell people we’re related.) One person who did read my story (twice, he lamented) referred to it as TFA, Internet slang for That Fucking Article. A guy who said he skimmed my piece slammed it for not offering Hodges’ Hall of Fame credentials, which I previously did elsewhere and would’ve added to an already-long post.

He wrote:

Did you read the article? The guy makes no case for Hodges whatsoever other than he received a lot of HoF votes. He doesn’t mention the pennant winners, the all-star games, the MVP votes (which aren’t impressive), the best at his position or anything. He mentions his made-up stat. His argument for Hodges’ worthiness is essentially (although it’s not clear he understands this) “the writers almost elected him, therefore he’s the most deserving of the un-elected.” You’d have a hard time coming up with a less interesting take on who deserves to be in the HoF that isn’t there already.

Actually, that’s incorrect.

I looked at every Hall of Fame ballot from 1936 to 1980 this evening. Out of the 104 men who received at least 30% of the vote at least once from the Baseball Writers Association of America in those years, 97 are now in Cooperstown (the seven players who aren’t enshrined are: Phil Cavarretta, Gil Hodges, Marty Marion, Hank Gowdy, Allie Reynolds, Johnny Sain, and Maury Wills.) The honorees aren’t just guys who made the Hall of Fame in a walk. The writers inducted 61 men (some, like Duke Snider, past their 10th ballots), the Veterans Committee enshrined another 24, and an Old-Timers Committee tabbed the remaining dozen.

Basically, if a player gets at least 30% of the vote at any time he’s on the Hall of Fame ballot, there is a better than 95% chance he will eventually get a plaque. It may take a long time, like it did with Tony Lazzeri who was enshrined 35 years after the first time he cracked 30 percent of the BBWAA vote, but it’ll happen. The longer it takes for a guy to get enshrined, the more he rises in the Hall of Fame +/- rankings.

I stand by my “made-up stat.”

(Postscript: This post caused some discussion)

2 Replies to “Why getting a lot of Hall of Fame votes matters”

  1. Graham,

    A couple comments (more or less):

    –I’ve always understood TFA to simply be an abbreviation of “the full article”, nothing more.
    –The phenomenon you’re addressing, that strong BBWAA support leads to a strong likelihood of election, is pretty obvious, don’t you think? I first realized it over 30 years ago when I was a teen and have documented it since the first edition of Total Baseball first made HOF voting widely available.
    –Still, it’s something many fans don’t really know, so I think your efforts are worthwhile. Don’t take the snark attack at BTF too personally. There are a ton of knowledgeable people that regularly post there; I consider the site essential reading for keeping tabs on the baseball issues of the day.

    1. Right on, Daniel, thanks for your insight. I’d be interested to read what you’ve written on Cooperstown. I’m also thinking I probably need to read Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? at some point in the not-too-distant future.

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