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Fame in the Hall of Fame

Well, the attempts to meet the Tango challenge — which, you might recall, meant coming up with a consistent framework that shows Jack Morris to be a better pitcher than Rick Reuschel (or, if not better, than at least more Hall of Fame worthy) — has taken us in some pretty fascinating directions.

I want to discuss one in particular — the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor — but before that, one point worth discussing is raised by brilliant reader W. Blake Gray and, also, by many, many others through the years. The point is that, you will notice, the word “Fame” is rather prominent in the title in “Hall of Fame.”* Well, fame, as we all know, means “fame” — you know, widespread reputation, renown, the condition of being known, that whole bit.

*Fame is 33 percent of the words and is hitting .400 when it comes to the available letters.

And it’s worth discussing: What part does fame play in the Hall of Fame? What part should it play? There’s no question that Jack Morris was and is more FAMOUS than Rick Reuschel. The reasons are obvious: the Game 7 performance, the All-Star appearances, the Opening Day starts, the overwhelming press and, yes, the mustache.

Should fame be a big factor in a player’s Hall of Fame candidacy? A deciding factor?

The Hall of Fame Monitor actually addresses this subject … but first, who would have to be immediately added to the Hall of Fame if indeed fame (and its brother, infamy) was the compelling factor in election?

Twenty-two players came to me as I scribbled them down on a piece of paper. Some, I will admit, are famous for NOT being in the Hall of Fame, which is a whole meta thing that twists the brain. Still, I think the most famous players who are not in the Hall of Fame should not be hard to come up with (if they were, they wouldn’t be very famous) so I’ll just pass along the list as I scribbled it down:

• Jose Canseco
• Dwight Gooden
• Roger Maris
• Fernando Valenzuela
• Steve Garvey
• Joe Carter
• Minnie Minoso
• Denny McLain
• Tony Oliva
• Dick Allen
• Frank Howard
• Dale Murphy
• Darryl Strawberry
• Mark McGwire
• Pete Rose
• Joe Jackson
• Billy Martin
• Dave Parker
• Don Mattingly
• Bo Jackson
• Don Larsen
• Monty Stratton

Now, obviously we could go deeper into this fame thing. Eddie Gaedel is famous — he was the 3-foot-7 player the St. Louis Browns sent to the plate to draw a walk in 1951. Mark Fidrych was famous. Super Joe Charboneau was famous. Of course, there were some players, like Brien Taylor, who became famous for not making it. And there were some players, in and out of the big leagues, who became famous for other things they did (Fidel Castro, Chuck Connors, Billy Sunday, Bob Uecker).

Now, I cannot honestly tell you the Hall of Fame would be less interesting and provocative with all these players in. I’m pretty sure it would make the place quite a bit more lively.

But is that what the Hall of Fame is about? Or is it about honoring the best players, whether or not they were as famous as they should have been? The thing is, fame is a wormhole, and it is volatile and unsteady and you could argue pretty convincingly that its quest tends to bring out the worst in people.

Still … we do know that fame — or, anyway, people’s perceptions — does play a big role in the Hall of Fame voting. And this is why Bill James’ Hall of Fame Monitor has its own kind of understated genius. The monitor was Bill’s effort to determine a player’s Hall of Fame chances by giving him points for achieving well-publicized recognition.

What makes the concept work, I think, is that the Monitor works just like fame. If you achieve something, you get a certain number of points. But if you DO NOT achieve it, you get ZERO. It’s like running a marathon: If you finish it, you’ve run ONE full marathon. But if you run 20 miles, an extraordinary achievement that is far beyond most of our dreams, you have finished ZERO marathons.

That’s fame, really. Nobody’s half famous. What’s the difference between a .300 and .299 hitter. One point, right? That point is almost nothing. Yes, it might be one hit over a whole season — “one extra flair … a gork, a ground ball with eyes, a dying quail,” as Crash Davis called it — but really it’s even less. It might be one pitch three inches outside that the umpire called strike three instead of ball four. It might be one infield ground ball that you beat out but the official scorer called an error. It might be one reasonably long fly where the guy on third decided for some reason to hold up.

One point … but in the fame department that one point is everything. A .300 season will make you famous. A .299 season will not.

So, the Monitor gives a hitter 2.5 points for ever .300 season (and more for a .350 season or a .400 season). It gives you no points at all for any season below .300. The Monitor is stark and unforgiving and leaves people wanting. Like fame.

Jack Morris scores much, much higher on the Hall of Fame Monitor than Rick Reuschel. It’s not even close 122-48. That’s a Team USA basketball blowout. And, I would guess, that this is how most baseball fans probably view those two careers, that Morris was more than twice as good as Reuschel.*

*Although, the strong majority of people voting on this blog rank Reuschel as the better pitcher over the course of his career.

How is the Monitor figured? Here we go:

* * *


20-win seasons:
Morris, 3 (18 points)
Reuschel, 1 (6 points)

18-win seasons:
Morris 3 (12 points)
Reuschel 2 (8 points)

15-win seasons:
Morris 6 (12 points)
Reuschel 1 (2 points)

Running total: Morris 42, Reuschel 16.

Note: Reuschel had four 14-win seasons and two more 13-win seasons, which get him zero points.

* * *

Winning percentage

Number of seasons with 14-plus wins and .700 winning percentage:
Morris: 3 (6 points)
Reuschel: 0 (0 points)

Running total: Morris 48, Reuschel 16.

* * *


200-strikeout seasons:
Morris 3 (6 points)
Reuschel 0 (0 points)

Running total: Morris 54, Reuschel 16

* * *


Seasons with ERA under 3.00:
Morris 0 (0 points)
Reuschel 3 (3 points)

Running total: Morris 54, Reuschel 19

* * *


All-Star appearances:
Morris 5 (15 points)
Reuschel 3 (9 points)

Gold Gloves:
Morris 0 (0 points)
Reuschel 2 (2 points)

Running total: Morris 69, Reuschel 30

Note: Gold Gloves get one point for pitchers — not much of a boost in the fame department and rightfully so since pitchers’ Gold Gloves carry almost no cache in the world of fame. In the everyday player Hall of Fame Monitor, catchers, shortstops and second basemen get TWO points for each Gold Glove, which also sounds right. I might include center fielders in that too, but for way too long the Gold Glove rules gave three all-encompassing “outfield” Gold Gloves in each league every year rather than giving them to individual types of outfielder.

* * *

League leaders

Times led the league in a key category:
Morris: 6 (5.5 points)
Led in wins twice, innings once, strikeouts once, shutouts once and complete games once. Gets a half point for leading league in complete games.

Reuschel: 1 (1 point)
Led in shutouts once.

Running total: Morris 74.5, Reuschel 31

* * *

Career totals

Career wins:
Morris more than 250 (20 points)
Reuschel more than 200 (10 points)

Career winning percentage:
Morris higher than .575 (3 points)
Reuschel’s .528 does not qualify for points (0 points)

Running total: Morris 97.5, Reuschel 41.

* * *


World Series:
Morris: 7 starts, 4 wins (15 points)
Reuschel: 2 starts, 0 wins (2 points)

League Championship Series:
Morris: 6 starts, 3 wins (9 points)
Reuschel: 4 starts, 1 win (5 points)

Final tally: Morris 121.5, Reuschel 48.

* * *

What’s interesting about the Monitor is when you look at the two careers through this prism — and this is PRECISELY the prism so many baseball fans have looked at the game going back a hundred years — it’s very, very obvious that Morris was better than Reuschel. Look at the difference in wins! Look at the postseason performance! I don’t think you can go through this list and not think, at least for an instant, “Hey, what’s this argument even about?”

But then you remember that the Monitor is not trying to determine who was BETTER but who achieves those shiny object bits of glory that capture attention of praise. Take the wins: Morris played for much, much better teams than Reuschel, so of course he has more wins with a higher winning percentage.

In 1973, pitching for a lousy Cubs team in a big hitters park, Rick Reuschel made 36 starts — 25 of which were quality starts. He was in the top 10 in strikeouts, shutouts, starts, strikeout-to-walk ratio, fewest home runs allowed per nine innings and ERA adjusted to ballpark. He was one of the best fielding pitchers in the game. It wasn’t a Cy Young kind of year — it wasn’t Reuschel’s best or second best or perhaps even third or fourth best — but it was pretty darned good. His 3.00 ERA was lower than Jack Morris ever compiled in a season, and his 131 ERA+ was higher than all but one of Morris’ seasons.

He got exactly zero points for this season. He won only 14 games, so that got zero points. His 3.00 ERA got him zero points. He didn’t make the All-Star team, had a losing record, didn’t win any awards. So it’s zero points. That’s how the Monitor works.

Of course, the Monitor was never said to work any other way. The Monitor just tries to measure which player has been more honored and treasured, and in this it works well. Reuschel’s 48 points suggested that he wouldn’t get a second look for the Hall of Fame. And he didn’t. Morris’ 122 pointed predicted that Morris would get a lot of Hall of Fame consideration, and he certainly has and will this year. The challenge was to come up with consistent framework, one that makes sense, that puts Morris ahead of Reuschel, and this one does that. Tango himself says on his blog that while, yes, the Monitor is fraught with problems: “The Hall of Fame Monitor is a good example of a framework that meets the challenge.”

So, we have a winner! Only … wait, there’s one more thing. There was a second part to the challenge. The second part was simply this: You have to live with the results.

The Hall of Fame Monitor puts Jack Morris above Rick Reuschel. But, it should be said that it also puts Vida Blue above Dizzy Dean, Jose Mesa above Jim Bunning, Curt Schilling above Three Finger Brown and Juan Marichal. The Monitor says that 100 points suggests a “likely Hall of Famer” but if you want to make Morris’ 122 the qualifying line, then before we put Morris in, we might want to consider: Tommy John, John Franco, Billy Wagner, Jim Kaat, Lee Smith and a whole bunch of 19th Century Hall of Famers.

And on the hitters side, we would first add: Steve Garvey, Juan Gonzalez, Dave Parker, Edgar Martinez, Bernie Williams, Don Mattingly, Albert Belle, Larry Walker, Jeff Bagwell, among others.

Everybody knows that baseball wouldn’t be much fun if there was only one way to look at it, one overriding statistics or framework or opinion that trumps everything else. One of my favorite little baseball scenes in movies is when Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby are arguing about who was the better player: Roberto Clemente or Hank Aaron. I don’t like it so much because of the contents of the argument* but because of how the argument ends.

*Kirby asks: “Could Aaron run like Clemente? Could he throw like Clemente?” It’s fun talk, but I don’t find it convincing. For one thing, Aaron absolutely could run with Clemente — he stole three times as many bases as Clemente, for example. For another, while Clemente’s arm is a thing of beauty perhaps unmatched in baseball history, Aaron’s arm was not a weakness. He could throw. Aaron couldn’t throw with Ellis Valentine, Cory Snyder or Jesse Barfield either, but that hardly makes much of a case.

The argument ends when Stern says: “Look I’m going to say one thing to you: 755 home runs. Good bye.” I love that kind of finality … as if Aaron’s 755 home runs ends all arguments about all things. I’ve always thought it would be wonderful if all arguments no matter how complicated — what to do about education, guns, abortion, the environment, what to do about the Middle East, Medicare, the deficit, when to sacrifice bunt, Wilt or Russell, Lincoln or Roosevelt, public or private, Mays or Mantle, Montana or Unitas, Ginger or Mary Ann — could just be solved with: “755 home runs. Good bye.”

But, they can’t.

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29 Responses to Fame in the Hall of Fame

  1. mickey says:

    Mary Fydrich–she was awesome!

    • Frank says:

      Wasn’t she, though? [More seriously, I have a concern that one of these days poor Joe is going to land in some hot water over one of these typos.]

  2. csb669 says:

    Castro in MLB? Snopes says this is nonsense…

  3. Nick O says:

    I don’t understand what the purpose of the Hall of Fame Monitor is. For one, it doesn’t really seem to be very good at predicting who will make the Hall of Fame. Though I know the comment was tongue-in-cheek, there are obviously people who are “half-famous” – especially today. And I’m not sure how important round numbers are to people, especially talking about single season. Before 2001 Randy Johnson was famous for having only one 20 games once although he’d won 18 and 19 many times. Mickey Mantle hit .298 for his career. I don’t know if they’d be more famous if Randy had a bunch more 20 win seasons or Mickey didn’t play and hit .235 in 1968.

    • I’m not sure what your point is. Both Mantle and Johnson are well over the 100 point threshold:

      Mantle’s HOF Monitor score: 300
      Randy Johnson’s HOF Monitor score: 331

      The 100 point threshold means “good possibility”, with 130 being “virtual cinch”. Remember a lot of the players over 100 not in the HOF still have the possibility of being inducted by the Veterans’ Committee.

      You can look up any player’s score on the HOF Monitor at

    • adam says:

      Randy Johnson was famous for winning 20 games only once prior to 2001?

      Funny, here I was thinking Randy Johnson was famous for being a 6-10 freak of nature who could throw 100 mph. Well, that, or winning 4 consecutive cy young awards.

      I guess I stand corrected.

  4. Dinky says:

    When Bill James (praise him with great praise) came up with his HOF Monitor, James was not aware of the changes that sabermetrics would wreak upon the baseball landscape.

    I think the HOF is slowly steering towards the true magnetic north of “value” as opposed to the false north pole of 1920s era box scores. We see stats like OBP and OPS all over the place. Announcers, even the oldest of the old timers like Vin Scully, refer to strikeout to walk ratios and walks issued per nine innings pitched. Moneyball may have accelerated the trend, but the most successful teams of the post-Baseball Abstract era saw the trend. The Braves recognized that limiting pitch counts led to fewer injuries for their starting pitchers, which led to less stress on their bullpens and perhaps the best period of success the National League has ever had. The Yankees and the Red Sox built lineups that had high pitch counts, that got into bullpens, that perhaps even got into bullpens enough to figure out the ace reliever’s specialty pitch. These are all outgrowths of sabermetrics.

    It is inevitable that the HOF will follow, and is following. Steve Garvey, for example, looked like a decent HOF candidate, and is identified as such by the HOFM. But he only walked 5% of the time, had a lousy OBP, couldn’t throw (but oh that glove!), couldn’t steal, and has not cracked the HOF. Andre Dawson was just that little bit better, a few more walks, a little more power, a lot more speed, slightly better defense at a slightly more important position, 119 OPS+ versus 117, a lot more WAR (Garvey’s career really was a whole lot more flash than substance) and Dawson got in. I am sure that without his defense or his speed, Dawson would not be in the HOF, and without Bill James, defense and speed would not have been examined so closely.

    Had Dale Murphy won the MVP he deserved far more than Dawson in 1987, twice Dawson’s WAR, would Murphy be in the HOF instead of Dawson? It’s *really* rough to keep a guy out with three MVPs and no steroids. Of course, whether Murphy deserved it over Eric Davis, Tony Gwynn, Jack Clark, or Ozzie Smith is debatable as well.

    The other element that is changing is total career value. The HOFM is now slightly out of date. Careers in general are lasting longer, thanks mostly to better medicine. As careers lengthen, the HOFM score will have to rise. I also think relational rankings (OPS+, ERA+) and ballpark effects will become more important, as will team independent rankings like WAR. Team dependent ratings like R, RBI, W, and L will inevitable become less important. Note that less important is not unimportant. But the more weight voters give to WAR and ERA+ in picking Cy Young awards, the less weight W/L will have, and CYA and MVP awards do influence HOF selection.

    I think we’re at least a decade out, but I think the time will come where there is no way a guy not in the playoffs will win MVP over three other players at the same position (okay, two played CF instead of RF, but that’s even MORE against Dawson) with TWICE the first guy’s WAR, and two other players on a division winner with more than two more WAR, like Dawson won over Eric Davis, Tony Gwynn, Dale Murphy, Jack Clark, and Ozzie Smith. With CYAs now going to the best pitchers, and WL is a tie breaker rather than the prime rating, and if MVP follows, then go out another 20-30 years. HOF selection will always depend heavily on trophies, and the first step was to get away from W and RBI being the most important metrics.

    Jack Morris has a HOFM of 122, is not (yet) in the HOF, and IMO does not belong. Steve Garvey has a HOFM of 130, is not in the HOF, and IMO also does not belong. Bert Blyleven is in the HOF and deserves to be, even though the HOFM ranks him slightly behind Morris. That says is that the HOFM needs revision.

    • Rob Smith says:

      The big issue with HOF monitor, for pitchers anyway, is that if you played for a bad team, like Reuschel or Blyleven, you face an up hill battle. You WON’T win a lot of games, so you lose a lot of points. Reuschel also had the issue of pitching in a hitters park, so his ERA was also impacted. ERA+ tells the story there.

      So, the HOF monitor can have it’s place, but there are a whole bunch of players that would get in the HOF if that was the standard…. Garvey being one of them. Still, the Andre Dawson and Jim Rice picks are obviously products of the old way of looking at things. I don’t have a problem with them being in, though. Morris, however, is another case. He doesn’t hold up to the scrutiny, except for winning games (he played on a very good team most of his career) and Game 7. That’s not enough. He shouldn’t be getting the look that he has been getting. He was more of a work horse than a true ace. I equate him to a Mickey Lolich (also a Detroit Tiger). Lolich, I could argue, was a better pitcher than Morris.

    • adam says:

      Re: pitchers, is that an issue with the HOF monitor or the HOF itself? I would guess pitchers on good teams would have a greater (and maybe much greater) chance of making the HOF than pitchers on bad teams. Even if you subtract out the pitcher’s own contributions in making a good team good.

      Re: Blyleven, he was a special case, that being the groundswell of sabremetric support for him that pushed him over the top. Sure it could mean the HOF monitor needs to be revised, but it could also be just a fluke. The HOF monitor was never meant to be perfect anyway (and almost certainly not as an answer to the Tango Challenge).

    • MCD says:

      Please remember that James’ “HOF Monitor” score is meant to gauge how *likely* a player is to be elected to the HOF, not how *wothy* he is. It was created in an attempt to accurately capture the voters’ tendency to perhaps over-evaluate certain milestones.

      James “HOF Standards” was his attempt to devise a single stat to measure worthiness.

  5. arc says:

    There a bit of a miss on the point of the word “Fame” in the “Hall of Fame”. This is not in the title because it is the criteria by which people are measured to get in, but it is what induction into it brings you. You go into it and you become famous, not that you have to be famous to get in.

    • Ashley says:

      Well… You think that’s what it means. Some will agree. Some have a different take on what “Fame” means in the context of the Hall.

    • adam says:

      What do you think it means Ashley? Seems to be pretty much taken for granted that “fame” in this context means “great player*” rather than famous, which I think is what arc is trying to say. Do you disagree?

      *well, great player who hasn’t been accused of steroid use.

    • clashfan says:

      Ashley: Possibly, but ‘fame’ doesn’t enter into the criteria published by the BBWAA:

      5. Voting: 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.

      How well-known, popular, or well-liked doesn’t enter into it . . . or shouldn’t.

    • Fame in the context of “Hall of Fame” simply implies that the person will be remembered long after their time, the vast majority of snubs people talk about are in their own lifetime. Perhaps being in the Hall of Fame made you famous in the early 20th century, it certainly doesn’t anymore aside from particularly devoted baseball fans. “Hall of Fame” isn’t a particularly good phrase in and of itself but it now has connotations associated with it to make it seem more excellent. Babe Ruth and Player X are in the Hall of Fame, therefore player X is comparable to Babe Ruth in some respect.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Ashley says:

    “The big issue with HOF monitor, for pitchers anyway, is that if you played for a bad team, like Reuschel or Blyleven, you face an up hill battle…”

    That’s not an issue with the HOF Monitor – The monitor is not measuring who DESERVES to get it. It measure who is LIKELY to get in.

    Like Joe says the HOF Monitor has an understated genius.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Ashley, you’re splitting hairs now. The wins heavily factor into the HOF monitor and it IS a tool used by some to determine HOF worthiness. Granted, it’s not the ONLY tool. But others have fewer downsides than the HOF monitor. Granted, none are perfect.

      Besides, you could use ANY tool for Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle and the results would still say they are HOFers. It’s the borderline players, like Morris, where these tools come into play. Clearly the HOF monitor overstates wins for pitchers, and that gives Morris supporters another resume point. That’s a point he shouldn’t have since wins are really not a good measure of HOF worthiness.

    • clashfan says:

      Rob, I think you’re missing Ashley’s point. The Monitor isn’t trying to measure who’s worthy, but instead who’s likely.

      It overstates Pitcher Wins as a measure of worth, but not of likelihood. If the voters start moving away from Ws as a measure of enshrinement, then the Monitor will need to be overhauled. I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet.

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  9. alcaniglia says:


    I have a simple metric for the Hall of Fame – has my mother heard of the player. If my mom knows who the player is, then they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.

  10. Grulg says:

    Honestly I don’t think Black Jack stands a chance here, anymore than Jim Rice did or Omar Vizquel will. Statborg Orthodoxy is quite clear–they didn’t excel in the ‘Right’ ways, counting stats only count when We say so, Elect Jimmy Wynn! and the rest of us should just shaddap and go away.

    Such is life.

  11. Justin Zeth says:

    It’s not called the Hall of Fame because it recognizes fame. It’s called the Hall of Fame because it confers fame.

    Look at it that way, and it becomes more clear than ever that Rick Reuschel is far, far more deserving than Jack Morris of having fame conferred upon him.

  12. Descole says:

    What I don’t understand, One of my favorite players, Pettitte, was the winningest pitcher of the ’00’s, as Jack was of the ’80’s. They have nearly identical records.Obviously, Andy had the opportunity to play in way more post seasons, but their post season stats are also similar, minus wins. Yet people generally discount Andy, as do I, for the Hall of Fame, but vehemently argue for Jack.

  13. B says:

    Sorry to be coming to this so late, I didn’t realize this was up here until Buster Olney referenced it today. The case for Jack Morris is simple, albeit controversial. You actually mention it in your article. Jack Morris won 15 games 12 times. In a 13th season, the strike-shortened 1981 year, Jack Morris lead the AL with 14 wins. I don’t have the research in front of me, but virtually every pitcher who has that many 15-win seasons is already in the Hall of Fame. One exception is Jim Kaat, and his failure to be in the Hall of Fame says nothing about Jim Kaat, and everything about the BBWAA. You do have to watch the games, and not just look at the stat sheet. People who argue against Jack Morris say that who is standing on the mound during a win doesn’t matter, which I sort of understand in the context of 1 or 2 seasons, but not over a 15-20 year career (which is what most Hall of Famers have). Alternatively, the argument is that Jack Morris only pitched on good teams. I would argue the opposite — the teams were good because Jack Morris pitched on them. According to his detractors, Jack Morris was the luckiest pitcher in the history of baseball. Maybe that should be a Hall of Fame category. Either way, putting Jack Morris in the Hall of Fame does not create a slippery slope, or a reduction in standards for the HOF, and is in keeping with the Hall of Fame as a whole

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