By In Baseball

Shakedown 1968

So, I was messing around with something else entirely … and I came across this weird baseball anomaly. You probably know that Bill James has broken down the Baseball Hall of Fame by birth year. It’s a smart way of doing it, I think; it gives you a real perspective of just how good a player has to be to even be considered for the Hall of Fame. I’m focused today only on hitters, and over the last 75 years, only 29 hitters have been elected to the Hall of Fame, one more if you count Joe Torre who was elected as a manager.

Beyond those 29, I have come up with 60 more hitters who have been “talked about” as Hall of Fame candidates. I tried to make this “talked about” category” pretty liberal — I don’t think that there really has been any extensive Hall of Fame talk about Willie Davis or Jimmy Wynn or Roy White or Bobby Bonds or Willie Randolph or most of these others. But they were superb players who could have a case made.

Here they are, players born between 1939 and 1975 … see if you can find the weird year:

In the Hall: Carl Yastrzemski, Lou Brock.
Talked about: None

In the Hall: Ron Santo, Joe Torre, Willie Stargell.
Talked about: Willie Davis.

In the Hall: None
Special category: Pete Rose
Talked about: Bill Freehan

In the Hall: Tony Perez
Talked about: Dick Allen, Jimmy Wynn

In the Hall: Joe Morgan
Talked about: Roy White

In the Hall: None
Talked about: Graig Nettles.

In the Hall: Rod Carew
Talked about: Reggie Smith

In the Hall: Reggie Jackson
Talked about: Bobby Bonds, Al Oliver.

In the Hall: Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk.
Talked about: Thurman Munson, Darrell Evans.

In the Hall: None
Talked about: Ron Cey, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey.

In the Hall: Mike Schmidt
Talked about: Bobby Grich, Ted Simmons.

In the Hall: None.
Talked about: None.
Best of the rest: Brian Downing, Doug DeCinces.

In the Hall: Dave Winfield
Talked about: Dwight Evans, Buddy Bell, Dave Parker.

In the Hall: None
Talked about: Fred Lynn.

In the Hall: George Brett, Jim Rice.
Talked about: Keith Hernandez.

In the Hall: Ozzie Smith, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson.
Talked about: Willie Randolph

In the Hall: Robin Yount.
Talked about: None.
Best of the rest: Chet Lemon, Jack Clark.

In the Hall: Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray.
Talked about: Dale Murphy.

In the Hall: None.
Talked about: Lou Whitaker
Best of the rest: Brett Butler, Kirk Gibson.

In the Hall: Rickey Henderson, Wade Boggs.
Talked about: Alan Trammell.

In the Hall: Ryne Sandberg
Talked about: Tim Raines.
Best of the rest: Jesse Barfield.

In the Hall: Cal Ripken, Kirby Puckett, Tony Gwynn.
Talked about: None.

In the Hall: None.
Talked about: Don Mattingly.

In the Hall: None
Strong cases: None.
Best of the rest: Devon White, Darryl Strawberry.

In the Hall: None.
Special category: Mark McGwire.
Talked about: Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff.
Best of the rest: Lenny Dykstra.

In the Hall: Barry Larkin
Special category: Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro.
Talked about: Will Clark.

In the Hall: None
Talked about: Craig Biggio

In the Hall: None.
Talked about: Larry Walker

In the Hall: None
Talked about: Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel.

In the Hall: Frank Thomas, Robbie Alomar
Talked about: Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield, Jeff Kent, Bernie Williams.
Best of the rest: John Olerud.

In the Hall: None
Going in: Ken Griffey.

In the Hall: None
Will be talked about: Jim Thome, Jim Edmonds

In the Hall: None
Going in: Ivan Rodriguez.
Best of the rest: Jason Giambi, Brian Giles.

In the Hall: None
Going in: Chipper Jones.
Special category: Manny Ramirez.
Best of the rest: Carlos Delgado.

In the Hall: None
Going in: Ichiro, Todd Helton.
Best of the rest: Nomar Garciaparra, Johnny Damon.

In the Hall: None
Going in: Derek Jeter.
Will be talked about: Bobby Abreu, Miguel Tejada.

In the Hall: None.
Special category: Alex Rodriguez,
Will be talked about: Scott Rolen, Vlad Guerrero, David Ortiz.
Best of the rest: Torii Hunter.

OK, did you see it? What about that crazy year: 1968? Based on the way the BBWAA has voted, there was not a single Hall of Fame hitter born in 1961 (Mattingly cannot get any traction), 1962, 1963 (maybe Edgar Martinez gets some love over time), 1966 or 1967.

But in 1968, there are EIGHT viable Hall of Fame candidates (nine if you consider Olerud, whose career does demand consideration).

And then, before you say, “Well, that’s just the steroids,” go on to the next year, 1969, only Ken Griffey will get elected. In 1970, there were two Hall of Fame candidates born, and I’m not sure either Thome or Edmonds will get the support I think they deserve. Go to the next year, 1971, only Pudge Rodriguez will get elected from that group.

Wo what the heck happened in 1968? How do you explain so many amazing players being born in one year? How do you deal with it?

Look: In February, Roberto Alomar was born in Puerto Rico — son of a developing Major League baseball player, little brother to a future Major Leaguer. A month later, Jeff Kent was born in a suburb of Los Angeles. Two of the greatest offensive second basemen born within a month of each other.

Most baseball fans know about May 27, 1968 — that was the day that Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas were born. The fact that they grew up to become two of the best right-handed first basemen in the game’s history is just one of those wonderful baseball bits of serendipity.

John Olerud was born in Seattle in August — he went on to become a dominant hitter and pitcher at Washington State University, recovered from a brain aneurysm, and went on to a career that was a heck of a lot better than Steve Garvey’s — though Garvey keeps popping back up in Hall of Fame discussions.

A month later, near Philadelphia, a used car and real estate magnate named Vince Piazza had a son he called Mike. Vince loved baseball so much that, in time, he would have Ted Williams give his boy batting tips and he would ask his friend Tommy Lasorda to do him a personal favor and draft the boy.

A week or so after that, in Puerto Rico again, Bernie Williams was born, and he would grow up playing baseball and music with equal brilliance.

Sammy Sosa was born two months later in San Pedro de Macoris, that famous baseball town in the Dominican Republic. He grew up poor and hungry and in love with the game. Finally, one week after that, Gary Sheffield was born in Tampa — almost four years to the day after his uncle, Dwight Gooden.

That’s nine amazing hitters born within 10 months of each other. It’s crazy.

I do wonder if this is crazy boom of super players has a subtle impact on voters’ mentality. Here’s what I mean: Part of what makes the Baseball Hall of Fame the most discussed in all of sports is that it is perceived to have the highest standard. The BBWAA hardly votes in anybody. Yes, there are a hundred or more players are in the Hall of Fame that most people have never heard of, but they don’t come up much. The Hall of Fame, to most people, is Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron and Ted Williams.

Point is, a historic rush of talent like what happened in 1968 doesn’t compute easily. It just doesn’t FEEL right. Imagine you work in a charity office, and on average you get one or two calls a day for donations — some days you get none, some days you get three. Then, one day, you get NINE calls with donations, You would think: Something must be causing this.

It just doesn’t seem possible for that many terrific hitters to have been born in one year. So, we look for reasons why it can’t be true. PEDs are the obvious reason — Sammy Sosa’s 609 home runs are written off as steroid creations. Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza are put in ballot purgatory until the voters can make sense of what is being whispered in the wind. Gary Sheffield admitted using steroids, and I suspect his case will be summarily dismissed. Meanwhile Jeff Kent and Bernie Williams and John Olerud do not seem to have any PED whispers around them, but their numbers — which in other years would have put them very much in the center of Hall of Fame conversations — seem to fall a bit short when compared with the bulked up hitters of their time.

In other words, I suspect four of the nine will get elected to the Hall by the BBWAA, though Bagwell’s support did take a dip last year. Four Hall of Famers in one birth year is still a lot, but I don’t think it quite captures just how remarkable a year that was.

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47 Responses to Shakedown 1968

  1. Dave says:

    Maybe it was Mt. Oympus’ response to the “Year of the Pitcher?”


  2. Crout says:

    Random chance? Why would that be the answer to so many other things, but not this?

    • MikeN says:

      Yea. Nothing statistically unusual I think. Even Bagwell and Thomas being born on the same day. Any group of 23 has a 50% chance of 2 with the same birthday. For the same year, it is still likely given that the years are not going to be evenly distributed.

  3. EnzoHernandez11 says:

    That’s why it’s so important to have a (good) Veterans Committee system to sort through the players of historical stature who may have been overlooked due to the anomalies of a given era. When you have Mays and Aaron and Mantle and Robinson and Clemente all peaking at more or less the same time, it might be harder to see the greatness in a Ron Santo or a Richie Ashburn or an Orlando Cepeda. Sometimes it takes 30 or 40 years to gain the proper perspective.

    I think we’re seeing something like that right now with pitchers. Between 1961 and 1971, some of the greatest pitchers in history were born (Maddux, Unit, Pedro), as well as others of clear HoF quality (Glavine, Smoltz). That leaves guys like Schilling and Mussina, not to mention Kevin Brown, looking second-rate, even though, by historical standards, they have pretty strong cases.

    But consider this: between Pedro (1971) and Verlander/Greinke (1983), the only pitcher who would seem to have any sort of argument for the HoF would be Doc Holliday (1977). That’s it: one Hall of Famer in 11 years. Pitchers can be late bloomers, and I may have missed someone (C.C. Sabathia, anyone?), but it does seem like the BBWAA and Veterans Committee voters in 2025 may look at things a lot differently than we do.

    • PhilM says:

      I’d put Johan Santana (born 1979) in there as well — he had a peak like Koufax (all those concentrated ERA+, SO, and WHIP leaderships), but if he’s done for good, the tail of the career looks too short for the voters.

    • otistaylor89 says:

      The lack of pitchers between Pedro and 1983 is crazy. In some years there were very few All-Star caliber pitchers let alone HOF pitchers. 1976 Javier Vazquez has highest WAR at 43, 1975 Kevin Milwood at 30. Did the “Live Ball”, post strike to 2003 era kill a lot of those pitchers or is it just hard to be a HOF pitcher? Or both? Or something else? If it wasn’t for Pedro and Rivera in 1969 you would have 15 years between Mike Mussina in 1968 to 1983 with nothing more than Holliday and Sabatha.

      • Patrick Bohn says:

        And that’s why I firmly believe that Mike Mussina will be elected to the Hall of Fame, despite his low vote totals in year 1. There’s going to be a few years where he’s simply going to be the best pitcher on the ballot. Now, I believe Mussina deserves to be in, but clearly, he’s going to need help. Maybe his birthdate will be just that

  4. Rob Smith says:

    Whenever you gather data points over a long period of time, there are outliers. I don’t see any significance of 1968 being responsible, somehow, for great hitters. It’s just a statistical outlier.

  5. My question is “What was in the water in 1947?” Bench, Fisk and Munson all born in the same year? Munson won’t make the HOF but only because he died too soon. But to have three such outstanding catchers all born in the same year…

  6. Clayton says:

    Joe can’t possibly think Todd Helton will get in, can he? I’m a life-long Rockies fan, Denver native, and huge Helton admirer, but even I don’t think he’ll get in. He deserves to be in, but I don’t think he’ll make it…especially if Larry Walker doesn’t make it.

    • Brian says:

      That was my takeaway from this as well.

    • Breaker says:

      I thought the exact same thing. Nice player, nice guy, nice career. But HOF? I’d be very surprised.

      • Joseph Cool says:

        Of all the interesting tidbits that Joe put in this article, the Helton “HOF lock” thing was the one that stood out. To me, he pretty much defines the typical “Hall of Very Good” ballplayer. And he has three major things working against him:
        1-Played his whole career in the mile-high hitting palace.
        2-Peaked at the peak of the steroid/offensive circus-numbers era
        3-Was not as good as his teammate Larry Walker, who gets almost no love from the voters (and at this point, is in danger of dropping off the ballot).

  7. otistaylor89 says:

    I would have thought that the year I was born (1963) would have more than average HOFs since it was at or near the top of the Baby Boom, but no batters and only Randy Johnson as a sure thing (maybe David Cone).

  8. Nathan says:

    Harold Baines was born in 1959. He’s talked about. Just wanted to point this out.

  9. invitro says:

    “Based on the way the BBWAA has voted, there was not a single Hall of Fame hitter born in 1961 (Mattingly cannot get any traction), 1962, 1963 (maybe Edgar Martinez gets some love over time), 1966 or 1967.

    But in 1968, there are EIGHT viable Hall of Fame candidates (nine if you consider Olerud, whose career does demand consideration).”

    This is an obvious false comparison of the kind that journalists make all the time. I might respond by noting that in 1967, there are two viable HoF candidates, and in 1968 there are also two HoF hitters, so the years are actually identical.

  10. MikeN says:

    Maybe the riots of 1968 pushed more people towards baseball.

  11. mvandermast says:

    Maybe people born in 1968 are just extra special all the way around. 🙂

  12. Dan England says:

    It’s interesting to me that someone like Bernie Williams doesn’t get much of a sniff of consideration because his numbers don’t compare to others in the inflated era, and yet we refused to vote in the standard-bearers of the inflated era because they used steroids. We’re essentially punishing people for not using steroids as much as we are the ones who did.

    • Bpdelia says:

      That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking through this whole era. We don’t accept the steroid numbers. We don’t accept Larry walker because of park effects.

      But then we look at Bernie Williams or any number of other great great hitters of the era and discount then because their numbers (especially the league adjusted “+” numbers) just aren’t as good as everyone else’s.

      This whole situation is a cluster $#%& and the only rational way to handle it, imo, is to vote in the players with the best stats, make note of any ped rumors on the plaques, and for admitted or convicted users not have an induction ceremony.

      Seems like a fair way to handle it.

      I understand people getting queasy about a day to honor Clemens and bonds (i have no problem with that, their creator can judge their actions I’ll just judge their Baseball skill) but i cannot understand a hall of fame without these players.

      And if we ARE going to keep out the ped guys then subtract three stats of anyone the voters suspect and recalculate wrc+ and woba and ops+.

      Make new leader boards without those players and let’s at least vote in the best of the rest.

      Having an entire generation gap in the hall of fame is beyond absurd.

  13. Mark Daniel says:

    I think birth year is interesting, but what may be more interesting is the year the players turned age 7. This was the year that I first became totally obsessed with baseball. It’s possible that something dramatic happened in baseball that turned a lot of kids onto the sport.
    If you look at the 1968 group, they turned 7 in 1975, the year of the consensus greatest game ever (Fisk HR).
    If you look at some of the other big years (3 or more HoFers born), you have 1940, 1954, and 1960.
    1947 was Jackie Robinson’s first season.
    1961 was the year Roger Maris broke Ruth’s HR record.
    1967 is less interesting, however it did have a 3 team pennant race until the last day (in the AL), Yaz won the Triple Crown, and Bob Gibson pitched 3 complete games in a 7 game world series.

    Based on this, if you want to extend it forward, 1998 was a great season for MLB fans – the year of the McGwire/Sosa HR duel. It would stand to reason that some future HoFers were about 7 years old at this time. Sure enough, Mike Trout was born in 1991.

    Of course, this is probably a bunch of bunk.

    • PhilM says:

      I turned 7 in 1976, the year the Yankees (my Dad’s team) finally returned to the Series after a long drought with the dramatic Chris Chambliss homer off Mark Littell . . . so if it’s bunk, I’m buying!

    • otistaylor89 says:

      Probably since Mike Trout’s WAR is higher than the rest of his birth year combined.

      • Mark Daniel says:

        True, but Trout is also only 23 years old. There hasn’t been much time for players born in 1991 to accumulate WAR.

  14. tosmolskis says:

    Hey, what are the chances that you’d get two HOF members born on November 21 in Donora, Pennsylvania?

  15. Joe says:

    Roger Clemens was born in 1962. He is probably worthy of mention. 🙂

  16. Marco. says:

    Thome is going to sail in.
    Plenty of WAR for the statistically inclined. 600 HR for the traditionalists. Clean cut country boy persona without a whif of steroids for the moralizers.
    Who says no?

  17. Strum Thurmond says:

    “Bernie Williams was born, and he would grow up playing baseball and music with equal brilliance.”

    Surrrrre he did. And Curt Schilling would grow up to play baseball and sell video games with equal brilliance.

    • Bpdelia says:

      Hey I’m a musician. And one who has been in a few excellent national touring bands. I’m a punk/indie rocker and i don’t LIKE Bernie Williams music but he IS a FANTASTIC musician. There is simply no debate on that fact. It’s not a matter of opinion. Fact. Bernie Williams is a BRILLIANT guitar player.

      Someone who doesn’t play music may not appreciate the effort that goes into becoming a master musician but let me tell you with total confidence that Bernie Williams has practiced the guitar for literally thousands upon thousands of hours.

      You’re wrong.

  18. The Professor says:

    1967 “The Summer of Baseball Love” made most those beautiful baseball babies of 1968. You have to be even keel to play the long season, maybe the THC in there systems from their mothers was the answer.

  19. Jaunty Rockefeller says:

    Sweet Smashing Pumpkins reference in the title, Joe.

  20. Dr. Baseball says:

    Now I know why I never made it to the Major Leagues (or even my high school varsity team).

    I was born in 1968. Those players got all the skills. There just wasn’t enough baseball skills left for me to get any.

  21. sdsuffron says:

    I’m not sure why people think Pudge sails in, since he was directly named by Canseco. That’s more than anything against Bagwell.

    • Clayton says:

      I’d be shocked if Pudge doesn’t get in by his 3rd time on the ballot. He was a rockstar from basically age, what, 19 or 20, through the next 15 years or so. Canseco mentioned him, sure, but even if we discount his offensive production, he’d still get in on the strength of his defense…

      Frankly, I think Piazza should be in, too, and should’ve been a first-ballot guy. Pudge, in my mind, should be an 80% shoo-in.

    • Bpdelia says:

      Because still nobody wants to believe conseco or give him credit because we don’t like his naked effort to get money.

      We like our Heros to be obscenely rich while pretending not to care about money but still making sure to compile add much as possible.

      Though i actually agree with you. If he gets in it will take years because the second he goes on the ballot the articles start and this articles will make note of his teammates:

      Palmiero, canseco, Gonzalez, Rodriguez… Hell even Dean Palmer now that I’m thinking on it.

      And admittedly that’s persuasive.

      People’s ideas of morality are HEAVILY if not mostly informed by their peer group.

      Seems to me that a player with those peers would probably feel that NOT taking steroids was a selfish act. That if he really wanted to do everything possible to help his team win he’d take steroids and work out.

      This is the huge problem with the whole steroids narrative. I’m willing to bet that Many, if not most guys who took steroids didn’t see it as a selfish act.

      They saw it as selfless. Something unpleasant they had to do to compete at the highest level.

      That Texas group isn’t just steroid users. That’s a group if vocal, respected leader types
      Guys who i imagine would DEMAND that their teammates take steroids for the good of the team.

  22. I hate the hall of fame.

  23. NevadaMark says:

    Besides players not yet eligible, are there any Yankees who have played more career games than Roy White and are not in the Hall of Fame?

  24. hardy says:

    I think this is exactly the answer – great teams (Big Red Machine, Yankees, Pirates), great games (Fisk and Bucky Dent HRs) when the 68 kids were in their formative years in the 70s. Much more compelling baseball than in the 80s.

  25. dja says:

    The year after the Summer of Love. It makes sense.

  26. Brett Alan says:

    Hey, Abe Lincoln and Charles Darwin, two of the most influential figures in modern history, were born on the very same day.

    Here’s my oddball takeaway. From 1942 through 1946, there are (among both the Hall guys and the ones Joe considers “talked about”) 8 African-American guys, 2 Latinos, and only one white guy (Graig Nettles). Look at any other group–even those right before and right after–and there’s a lot more whites and fewer blacks. Just coincidence? Something related to WWII (subtract nine months for gestation, and basically this is the cohort conceived while the US was fighting that war)? Based on the other comments here, maybe it’s being at the right age to be totally awed by Jackie Robinson, although I certainly hope that doesn’t explain why Nettles was the best white hitter born in those years when he wouldn’t be the best in most individual years. Still, it may well explain why there were so many great African-American players in those years, and I wouldn’t have thought of that, so props to those who proposed the what-was-going-on-in-MLB-when-they-were-7 theory, mostly @Mark Daniel.

    Let me be perfectly clear that I’m not saying that this is a good or bad thing, or even that it matters, just that it’s another interesting statistical quirk.

    Oh, and agreed with @Marco. that Jim Thome seems like “Going In” to me.

  27. MikeS says:

    Does no one else think Vlad Guerrero is getting in? Yes he didn’t walk at all, but his numbers are still viable for a non-steroid guy playing in the steroid era…

  28. Ira Fuse says:

    Tom Seaver isn’t in the HoF?

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