Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? George Van Haltren

Claim to fame: Van Haltren hit .316 with 2,544 hits, 1.642 runs, and 583 steals in a career that spanned 1887 to 1903. Like other early greats, Van Haltren also pitched, going 40-31 with a 4.05 ERA, and he was unsurprisingly also known for his strong arm as an outfielder. I don’t know if Van Haltren’s been a serious candidate for Cooperstown since a campaign was waged for him in the early days of the museum, though his candidate page for the Hall of Merit lists him as one of the three best center fielders of the 1890s.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Under revised Veterans Committee rules that took effect in July, Van Haltren can be considered for enshrinement as a member of the Pre-Integration Era, for players who made their mark between 1871 and 1946. The committee will hold its next vote in two years, with inductions occurring in the summer of 2013.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Personally, I’m partial to Van Haltren, partial enough that he was one of my picks in a ballot I cast for a recent project here, The 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. Van Haltren received 10 votes, out of 63 ballots cast, tying him for 89th place with Jose Canseco, Charlie Keller, and Carl Mays among others, a disparate group, kind of the Gilligan’s Island of our results page.

We wound up with just one 19th century player in the top 50, shortstop Bill Dahlen, and I’m not sure if this bothers me, since I think the skill level was lower in baseball before 1900. Nevertheless, I voted for six players who had at least one season in the 1800s: Dahlen, Van Haltren, Pete Browning, Bobby Mathews, Deacon Phillippe, and Deacon White. I mostly went with names I knew, though Van Haltren seems to offer the complete package for a non-enshrined, 19th century great. I like his stats, the fact he pitched and hit, and his involvement in the Players League of 1890, an early, failed attempt by players to organize their own circuit.

In putting this post together, I emailed the other people who voted for Van Haltren, curious to hear their reasons. They told me a lot of what’s been said here. One voter pointed out that Van Haltren favorably compared to enshrined contemporaries Joe Kelley, Jim O’Rourke, and Fred Clarke. Joe Williams, chair of the chair of the Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legends Project, Nineteenth Century Committee, for the Society for American Baseball Research, also sent me a newsletter on greats from the 1800s that I’d be happy to forward to anyone interested.

I’d heard before that Van Haltren was very similar to Jimmy Ryan, who played roughly the same years, also hit for good average, stole a lot of bases and had an OPS+ rating in the 120 range. I emailed Total Baseball author John Thorn, an expert on baseball before the modern era. I asked Thorn to help me differentiate between Van Haltren and Ryan and if he thought they belonged in Cooperstown.

Thorn replied:

Van Haltren and Ryan were both very good if not great ballplayers. A case can be made that either or both belong in the Hall of Fame. All the same, I believe that nineteenth century players– apart from perhaps Jim Creighton and Deacon White– are adequately represented in Cooperstown. The great area of neglect is in the pioneer group, as modern research has revealed several individuals to be of far greater importance to the development of the game than some who were mistakenly identified as primal figures– (Alexander) Cartwright principally, but also (Morgan) Bulkeley.

Whatever the case, I doubt my voters and I are the only people who may have overlooked early baseball greats.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Al OliverAlbert BelleBert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil TravisChipper JonesDan QuisenberryDave ParkerDon Mattingly, Don NewcombeGeorge SteinbrennerJack MorrisJoe CarterJohn SmoltzKeith HernandezLarry WalkerMaury WillsMel HarderPete Browning, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman MunsonTim Raines, Will Clark