Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Hall of Fame Controversy Part 3: What Makes a Hall of Fame Player?

Over the last two weeks I hope I have opened up for discussion some of the issues that exist in the Hall of Fame process.  Even if you don't agree with everything (or anything) I have said I hope it has at least made you reflect on your own views a little.  Whether it has made you think a little bit deeper or even if it has made you a little more firm in your original opinion I hope you have enjoyed the articles.  This week we will end our three part series by asking what is probably the most basic question of the Hall of Fame Controversy:  What does it take to become a Hall of Fame player?

There are specific guidelines provided to the voters.  The Baseball Writers Association of America says that consideration for the Hall of Fame is based on the following guidelines in Rule 3 of the voting procedure:

A. A baseball player must have been active as a player in the Major Leagues at some time during a        period beginning twenty (20) years before and ending five (5) years prior to election.

B. Player must have played in each of ten (10) Major League championship seasons, some part of which must have been within the period described in A.

C. Player shall have ceased to be an active player in the Major Leagues at least five (5) calendar years preceding the election but may be otherwise connected with baseball.

D. In case of the death of an active player or a player who has been retired for less than five (5) full years, a candidate who is otherwise eligible shall be eligible in the next regular election held at least six (6) months after the date of death or after the end of the five (5) year period, whichever occurs first.

E. Any player on Baseball's ineligible list shall not be an eligible candidate.

These instructions under Rule 3 are fairly straight forward.  Under Rule 5 there comes a bit of a gray area.  Rule 5 states:  "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."

This is the extent of the information the voters have to go on for deciding who gets into the Hall of Fame.  There are certain milestones that "guarantee" (or used to anyways) a player will reach the Hall of Fame.  For a batter a .300 lifetime average, 3000 career hits or 500 career Home Runs usually get you into the Hall of Fame automatically.  For a pitcher 300 wins generally is considered the magic number.

So if the only guidelines are the ones set forth above how do we decide what actually makes someone a Hall of Fame player?  Supposedly the voting is based on "integrity, sportsmanship, character" as well as the actual performance.  The voters last year took a moral stand and wouldn't vote for anyone from the "steroid era" based only on them having played in the steroid era.  At the same time the same people seem to have no issues with having Ty Cobb (a racist, vicious, angry man who was hated by most of his era), Rogers Hornsby (a member of the KKK) or Phil Niekro (a notorious junk ball pitcher often suspected of doctoring the ball) as Hall of Fame members.

It would be interesting to see how these members would vote on players who did what they could to stand in the way of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier.  Enos Slaughter, who notoriously spiked Jackie at first base in Jackie's first season is an example.  Enos is definitely not the only Hall of Fame member who reacted strongly against Jackie but his interaction with Jackie was the most notorious.  It would be interesting to see how voters who took a moral stand against the "cheaters" of the current era would have felt about voting for someone like Slaughter.

This all still doesn't answer what makes a Hall of Fame player.  Is it just numbers?  If a pitcher wins a certain number of games does it make them a Hall of Fame player?  If so why are Red Ruffing (273), Burleigh Grimes (270), Jim Palmer (268), Bob Feller (266) , Eppa Rixey (266) and Ted Lyons (260) Hall of Fame members but Jim Kaat (283) is not a member?

There are some extra criteria that are generally accepted (but not written into the rules) as reasons to place someone in the Hall of Fame.  If someone was considered dominant at their position for their era they are considered a Hall of Famer. If you cannot tell the story of the game without mentioning their name they are considered a Hall of Fame player.  If they played a considerable part in the success of a long  lasting playoff run (Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Cardinals dynasities are heavily represented) or they revolutionized the game in some way they are considered a Hall of Fame player.  If you have a single, defining moment that all fans instinctively pointed to when the player's name is mentioned it is considered a great credential.

Keep in mind as well that there are different levels of Hall of Fame caliber players.  Clearly players like Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Walter Johnson, Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson are in the top 1% of players all time. Players like Richie Ashburn, Orlando Cepeda, Johnny Mize, Arky Vaughn and Rick Ferrell are great players in the history of the game and belong in the Hall of Fame but they are not on the same level as the top 1% of all time.

I have two examples for you that should draw attention to the question of what makes a Hall of Fame player.  Keep in mind that both examples are of players who have not made the Hall of Fame as of this posting.

Example 1:
If a player won more games than any other pitcher during the 1980s (at the same time that pitchers like Nolan Ryan, Bert Blyleven and Roger Clemens were pitching)  would you consider them a Hall of Fame pitcher?

If that same player ended their career with 254 victories (more wins than Carl Hubbell, Al Spalding, Bob Gibson, Vic Willis, Joe McGinity, Amos Rusie, Juan Marichal, Herb Pennock, Three Finger Brown, Clark Griffith, Waite Hoyt, Whitey Ford, Jim Bunning, Catfish Hunter, Stan Coveleski, Chief Bender, Jesse Haines, Don Drysdale, Bob Lemon, Hal Newhouser, Rube Marquard, Dazzy Vance, Ed Walsh, Rube Waddell, Lefty Gomez, Sandy Koufax, John Montgomery Ward, Candy Cummings and Hoyt Wilhelm) including a no-hitter, would that person be a Hall of Fame player?

That same player won 20 games or more three times in his career (including 21 at the age of 36).  This pitcher never won a Cy Young award but he finished in the top five in voting five times in his career.  Three of those years the winner was a future Hall of Fame member.  Would you consider that Hall of Fame credentials?

This player was the unquestioned ace on four playoff teams, including three World Series winners.    During his time in the playoffs he won a total of seven games (including two of the four wins in the 1984 World Series and two of the four World Series wins in the 1991 World Series).    Finally, if this pitcher, at the age of 36, pitched a 10 inning complete game shut out in the deciding game of the World Series would that be a Hall of Fame pitcher?

This resume belongs to Jack Morris.  Jack Morris is still not in the Hall of Fame mostly because people feel his 3.90 career ERA is too high and because he was not friendly to the media.  So despite all of his credentials Jack Morris is not a Hall of Famer because, despite winning more games (remember last week we all agreed that the point of the sport is to win games) than anyone in an entire decade, he gave up more runs (despite winning)  than the experts thought was acceptable.

Example 2:
Let's look at another player.  This player finished his career with 2111 hits (more than Arky Vaughn, Monte Ward, Gary Carter, Harmon Killebrew, Chuck Klein, Deacon White, George Kell, Bobby Doerr, Earl Averill, Bill Mazeroski, Johnny Mize, Dave Bancroft, Jimmy Collins, Sam Thompson, Bill Dickey, Gabby Hartnett, Tony Lazzeri, Home Run Baker, King Kelly, Ernie Lombari, Lou Boudreau, Travis Jackson, and Elmer Flick).

This player finished with 1266 RBI.  This puts this player only 10 behind Hank Greenberg and 7 behind Pie Traynor.  It also places him  ahead of Zack Wheat, Bobby Doerr, Frankie Frisch, Gary Carter, Bill Dickey, Jim O'Rourke, Chuck Klein, Heinie Manush, Tony Lazzeri, Gabby Hartnett, George Sisler, Earl Averill, Tony Gwynn, Roberto Alomar, Joe Morgan, Luke Appling, Rickey Henderson, Kirby Puckett, Bill Terry, Sam Rice, Bid McPhee, Kiki Cuyler, Ryne Sandberg, Hack Wilson, Joe Sewell, Rod Carew, Fred Clarke, Ralph Kiner, Wade Boggs,Ernie Lombardi, Deacon White, Home Run Baker, Jimmy Colliins, Edd Roush, Joe Gordon, Larry Doby and Barry Larkin.

This player finished with 1197 runs scored.  This places him ahead of Willie Stargell, Earle Combs, Pie Traynor, Jim Bottomley, Yogi Berra, Arky Vaughn, Chuck Klein, Billy Herman, Joe Sewell, Deacon White, Ron Santo, Orlando Cepeda, Bill Terry, Johnny Mize, Edd Roush, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Bench, Kirby Puckett, Tommy McCarthy, Bobby Wallace, Jimmy Collins, Hank Greenberg, Dave Bancroft, Mike Piazza, Gary Carter, John McGraw and Tony Lazzeri.

These stats by themselves are quite impressive, especially considering  that the player played in Atlanta when the Braves were the doormat of the league.  Contemporaries like Rickey Henderson played with Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Dave Henderson, Roberto Alomar and Paul Moltor and had pitching staffs including Dave Stewart, Bob Welch and Tommy John.  Gary Carter played with players like Andre Dawson, Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, Howard Johnson  and Doc Gooden.  Kirby Puckett played with Kent Hrbek and had pitchers like Frank Viola, Jack Morris and Rick Aguilera. The player in question played with players like Bob Horner, Chris Chambliss, Bruce Benedict and Rafael Ramirez.  With that lineup this player won two MVP's (1982 and 1983), made 7 All Star Games in 8 years (starting in five of them).  He also won five straight Gold Glove awards (1982-1986) as well as four straight Silver Slugger awards (1982-1985).

Add to that, this player was one of the most respected, highly thought of and overall considered one of the nicest guys to ever play the game.  Somehow, with all of these credentials Dale Murphy is not in the Hall of Fame.

So what is the point of all this? I know I just told you that numbers are not the only thing that matters and that we need to look more deeply at the performance than just at career numbers.  Then I immediately threw numbers for Morris and Murphy at you.  The point is this:  Look at what the numbers of Morris and Murphy tell you.

Morris won more games (never lose focus on the fact that the entire point of the game is for the team to win) than anyone else in the 1980's when several Hall of Fame pitchers were in their prime.  Morris was the ace pitcher on four playoff teams and when the team absolutely needed to have a win in the most pressure packed situation Morris threw 10 shutout innings to win the World Series.

Murphy won two MVP awards, started five All Star Games, won five Gold Glove awards and was ahead of many contemporary Hall of Famers.  He did all of this with very little support in the lineup at a time when Atlanta was not the best place to play baseball.

The point of all this is that we need to look at all of the player's career as a whole and not just the newly developed stats that are being focused on by the experts.  The funny thing about some experts is that they focus too much on certain statistics.  For example, several experts last year at the voting said they voted solely based on the WAR.  One expert later admitted that he didn't properly understand the statistic he used as his primary basis for his votes.

Bottom line, we need to dig deeper into the careers of the eligible players before using one or two statistics to rule someone out or induct them.

As I mentioned in the previous two weeks, I am sure that many of you readers disagree with me.  Please send me your views so we can continue to discuss the situation.

The 1984 Tigers featured some of the best players in the game including Jack Morris, Allen Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, Kirk Gibson and Darrell Evans.  How many Hall of Fame Players were on the 1984 Tigers?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
Congratulations to Hope who partially answered the question last week.
The number 2632 may not be the most immediately recognizable number in sports but it is important.  The number more recognizable would likely be 2131.  When Cal Ripken played in his 2131 consecutive game he passed Lou Gehrig for the all time record.  He continued playing until he reached 2632.


  1. I'll take my partial victory thank you. ;)

    That's so silly about the "expert" admitting that he didn't even understand the stats he was using to induct people into the HOF. Stuff like that makes me think it's also one big popularity contest or a matter of who paid for it. Sort of like how the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame aren't so much earned as much as they are just bought by the Studios to promote whatever that person's current project is. :/

    My guess for this week's Trivia is 0.

  2. Great insight on Morris. I was well aware of the debate over his qualifications. I knew he had the most wins in the 80's. I was on the fence on whether he should be in. What I did not know is he had more victories than Gibson, Marichel, Drysdale, Ford and Koufax. On that note I think he should be in the HOF.

    My guess on the trivia is 0. Great team of very good players.


    1. Thanks for the comment TJD. I don't mean to be too heavy handed on the Jack Morris defense because I certainly respect the opinions of those who feel he is not a Hall of Fame player, although I certainly disagree with them. What made my opinion even stronger in favor of Morris was a statistic I saw on MLB Network the day after the voting was released. As I mentioned, Jack Morris won more games than anyone in the 1980's, What I had not realized until this week was that between 1979 and 1990 Morros had 41 more victories than any other pitcher.


Have questions about something in this or a former post? Have a suggestion for a future post? Want more information on a specific team, player, season or game? I welcome the feedback, so feel free to leave a comment in the box or email me at baseballeras (at) gmail (dot) com.