By In Stuff

The BBWAA Project

So, I’ve been doing this kind of fun Hall of Fame project — well, it’s fun if you’re a complete nut job. Fortunately, I am that complete nut job. I started to think about something the other day: There really ARE two different Baseball Halls of Fame.

Just a few days ago, I wrote about how I really wished the Hall of Fame had this “inner circle,” you know, this Hall of Fame within a Hall of Fame, that separates the Willie Mayses and Babe Ruths and Hank Aarons and Walter Johnsons from the Jesse Haines and High Pockets Kellys and Tom Yawkeys and Candy Cummings and others you either didn’t know were in the Hall of Fame or didn’t care.

Then, one morning I woke up and thought: It’s already true. There are two Hall of Fames. There is:

1. The BBWAA Hall of Fame.
2. The other Hall of Fame.

Of course, I’ve long known this to be true. But I have to say, I have never really thought about it as two Halls of Fame. As you almost certainly know if you are reading this blog, the Baseball Writers of America (the BBWAA) have been electing players into the Hall of Fame since 1936. That year, they elected Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. A pretty good class.

The year after that, the BBWAA elected Napoleon Lajoie, Tris Speaker and Cy Young. Another pretty good class.

But in 1937, a couple of other things happened. A Veterans Committee elected the great manager John McGraw. And a group called the Centennial Commission elected four people who helped establish baseball — Morgan Bulkeley, Ban Johnson, Connie Mack and George Wright.

And, really, right then, there were two Halls of Fame — one for players of recent vintage, the other for a mishmash of old-time players, managers, executives, sportswriters, you name it.

The BBWAA has voted for the players ever since. The voting rules have been adjusted and tinkered with through the years, and certainly limitations (such as having Pete Rose’s name pulled from the ballot and not voting for players who started pre-1900) have been imposed. But all in all, the BBWAA’s role has been pretty consistent.

The other voting bodies for the Hall of Fame, though, have had more characters than The Office. There was this Centennial Committee, then there was an Old Timers Committee charged with electing and inducting Hall of Famers from before 1900, and then the Old Timers Committee met in 1944 just to put in Kenesaw Mountain Landis, then World War II ended and the Old Timers Committee put in 10 players right away, which was almost as many as the BBWAA had put in the previous decade (13).

Then in 1953, the Old Timers Committee became the Veterans Committee and now they were not only in charge of executives and players from before 1900 — they were also given the power to elect more recent players who they felt the BBWAA had not given enough respect. They determined that year that Chief Bender, who had never gotten more than 39.4% of the vote, was a Hall of Famer. In 1955, they met again — this time to elect Home Run Baker (who had never gotten more than 30.4%) and Ray Schalk (who had topped out at 45%).

Over time, there were various forms of Veterans Committees — there was a panel of experts, and then the living Hall of Famers voted, then there was some other mishmash of a Veterans committee. There were also a couple of different efforts to elect Negro Leagues players — one of those led by the Veterans Committee and another by a Special Negro Leagues Committee put together in 2006 (they elected 17 people — as many as the BBWAA has elected the previous decade … but somehow couldn’t find the votes for Buck O’Neil. Ah, but I digress).

Point is, we now have two quantifiably different Hall of Fames. When Hank O’Day, Jacob Ruppert and Deacon White are inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer, that will make exactly 300 total Hall of Famers (not including the “Hall of Fame” writers and broadcasters, who are award winners and in a different part of the museum).

Of these 300, only 112 were elected by the BBWAA. The rest are executives, managers, umpires, Negro Leaguers, players from before 1900 and — perhaps most significantly — players who could not garner the necessary 75% from the BBWAA. There are, unquestionably, some excellent players the BBWAA ignored. I’m a big Hall of Fame guy and so I like that they found their way into the Hall of Fame. But if you are a SMALL Hall of Fame person — as I know so many of you are — then you probably would much prefer the Hall of Fame to be ONLY BBWAA choices.

Here, let me show you: Here, by WAR, are the best players in the Hall of Fame NOT voted by the BBWAA.

16th all-time: Kid Nichols, 111.6 WAR (pitched before 1900 and so was not BBWAA eligible; elected by Old Timers Committee)
34th all-time: Cap Anson, 91.0 WAR, (played before 1900, elected by Old Timers)
43rd all-time: Eddie Plank, 85.3 WAR (started before 1900, elected by Old Timers)
48th all-time: Tim Keefe, 82.3 WAR (pitched before 1900, elected by Veterans)
50th all-time: Roger Connor, 80.6 WAR (played before 1900, elected by Veterans)
53rd all-time: George Davis, 79.8 WAR (started pre-1900, elected by Veterans)
54th all-time: John Clarkson, 79.6 WAR (played pre-1900, elected by Veterans)
64th all-time: Dan Brouthers, 75.8 WAR (started pre-1900, elected by Old Timers)
73rd all-time: Bobby Wallace, 71.6 WAR (started pre-1900, elected by Veterans)

You see the trend? Every single 20th century Hall of Famer in the Top 75 in all-time WAR was elected by the BBWAA. The best non-BBWAA inductee was Arky Vaughan, who is 76th all-time … after that you have to go to Johnny Mize who is 87th all-time … and then there’s Ron Santo, who is 93rd all-time.

Don’t misunderstand: I think it was a big oversight on the part of the BBWAA to not induct Vaughan, Mize and Santo and I’m glad the Veterans Committees elected them. But it’s still true that my wife, a moderate baseball fan who took a baseball course in college (she got a B), has probably never heard of Arky Vaughan or Johnny Mize and would only know Ron Santo from his announcing.

You can also do it the other way: Lowest ranked everyday players in the Hall by WAR:
960th: High Pockets Kelly (veterans)
896th: Ray Schalk (veterans)
829th: Rick Ferrell (veterans)
812th: Freddie Lindstrom (veterans)
756th: Chick Hafey (veterans)
657th: Ross Youngs (veterans)
635th: Roy Campanella (BBWAA)
605th: Bill Mazeroski (veterans)
597th: Jim Bottomley (veterans)
572nd: Pie Traynor (BBWAA)
553rd: George Kell (veterans)
550th: Lefty Gomez (veterans)
484th: Hack Wilson (veterans)
464th: Phil Rizzuto (veterans)
439th: Red Schoendienst (veterans)
422nd: Hughie Jennings (old-timers)
416th: Roger Bresnahan (veterans)
414th: Earle Combs (veterans)
411th: Huge Duffy (veterans)
384th: King Kelly (old-timers)
382nd: Chuck Klein and Heine Manush (veterans and veterans)

You more than get the picture. It is different with pitchers — will get to that in the series — but the point is that the players most people think of when they think Hall of Fame are BBWAA selections.

All of this got me thinking: What is the BBWAA standard for the Hall of Fame? I have studied the Hall for years now, but I must admit I’ve always looked at it as one Hall of Fame — I think that’s the way the folks in Cooperstown want it to be viewed. But I have now done some research and I have realized: It’s not one Hall of Fame. It’s two. And the bar for the BBWAA Hall of Fame … well, it’s MUCH HIGHER than I had previously realized.

So, for the next couple of days, I’ll go through the BBWAA inductees — position by position using WAR to see where the BBWAA standard is — and then look and how the players on this year’s ballot match up. Like I say, I’ve been pretty surprised. It won’t change my voting because, like I said, I’m a big Hall guy. But I do think it might help clarify what happened this year with the BBWAA. I think the steroid mess was only a part of it.

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18 Responses to The BBWAA Project

  1. clashfan says:

    Hard to argue with Traynor and Campy, even if their WAR was pretty low compared with the rest of the BBWAA electees.

    Looking forward to more of your thoughts on the Hall.

  2. Joe says:

    I don’t think it’s that simple. BBWAA has Tony Perez, Vets has Johnny Mize. BBWAA has Aparicio, Vets has Arky Vaughan. There is more overlap, and the BBWAA missed more than most think. Grich, Whitaker, Santo etc, just a few from recent times. BBWAA missed Goslin, but gave us Puckett. These aren’t isolated examples.

    • JRoth says:

      I don’t think Joe (or anyone) would argue that the BBWAA always gets it right – the Hall was obviously correct to backstop them with the various committees. But it looks like the writers are much more consistent than people give them credit for – of the top 100 HoFers by WAR, BBWAA elected every eligible player save 3 (and everyone knows that Vaughn was almost literally overshadowed by Wagner – apparently even Pittsburgh fans were unimpressed by him).

    • “of the top 100 HoFers by WAR, BBWAA elected every eligible player save 3”

      Why wouldn’t they? They get 15 years to deliberate before the player can be considered by the Veterans Committee (or whatever they are going to call it now).

      It doesn’t take any special insight to elect Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, or Mike Schmidt. Of course, the BBWAA is going to select nearly all of the elite players.

      • John Gale says:

        This is an excellent point. I guess the argument is that most of the non-deserving players have come from the Veterans Committee, as opposed to the BBWAA. But then again, if the writers were consistently whiffing on all-time greats, the Veterans Committee may not have made many of their dubious choices because they would be so busy fixing the writers’ mistakes. Something to think about.

  3. Phil says:

    Looking forward to the pitchers: I’ve posted here before what the (unconscious) BBWAA criteria are — 300 wins for career (or maybe 287, given Blyleven), or most wins over a five-year period for peak. That captures all the HOFers except Don Drysdale, and it includes all the likely inductees except Schilling and Mussina.

  4. Scott says:

    Funny, it’s immediately obvious from looking at this that the “Hall in the Hall” that we all thought of as a concept is real and has been staring us right in the face all along. This explains a lot of why certain players who look “Hall-worthy” don’t ever seem to get over the top. If you compare them to all players at their position in the Hall they may look good, but if you look only at BBWAA voted members they may be a bit more of an outlier.

  5. No need to repeat the full month comparison by WAR, it was done last month BEFORE the election.

  6. I have a recollection, though not with details, that someone has looked at the Hall of Fame in this way, BBWAA-elected vs. other. Perhaps Keri at Grantland, or someone else. I’ll see what I can find.

  7. Unknown says:

    Jay Jaffe had a similar thought looking at his JAWS system and focusing on the BBWAA selections.

  8. John Thorn says:

    Might be interesting to look at “Rumblings in the Pantheon,” written thirty years ago as Chapter 15 of “Hidden Game of Baseball.”

  9. JRoth says:

    I’ve said in a few places over the past week that, near as I can tell, baseball writers have been pretty consistent – and basically correct – in thinking that, on average, there’s only one new HoFer per ballot, and that number – 113 BBWAA – confirms it. The writers have never faced a ballot that looked like the 2013 ballot – not since the early decades of the Hall, when there was a ~40 year backlog. It’s hardly surprising that they didn’t rise to the occasion.

  10. David says:

    Just curious, what was Traynor’s rank overall and among third baseman at the time he was elected?

  11. rmtaylor12 says:

    I am a small HOF guy. I like the fact that its exclusive. That being said, I think the Veterans Committee does serve a purpose. I just find myself cringing when the announcement of their inductees is made. For every Johnny Mize or Arky Vaughan there seems to be half a dozen Freddie Lindstrom’s. I believe that a lot of the mistakes the committee makes could be avoided by making the process more transparent. For example: Who is on the Veterans committee? How did they vote? How are the candidates put before them selected? Why is the meeting held in secret? (Don’t tell me it’s to protect the feelings of those who fail to be elected, as most of these people are dead and those that aren’t are old enough that they are probably happy to be talked about at all.) With all the consternation about the BBWAA and the talk of reforming its rules I think the most beneficial changes sould come from reforming the Vets. And lets hope they are reformed before they get a chance to enshrine Jack Morris in 2020.

  12. David in NYC says:

    @David —

    Traynor’s last season was 1937; he was elected in 1948. Depending on whether you measure from 1871 (all players) or 1901 (BBWAA-eligible players), he ranked, using BB-Ref WAR:

    3B Only
    1871-1937: 9th
    1901-1937: 5th
    1871-1948: 12th
    1901-1948: 8th

    All non-pitchers
    1871-1937: 116th
    1901-1937: 74th
    1871-1948: 141st
    1901-1948: 99th

    Way back when I first started paying attention to stuff like stats and the HoF, meaning eons before things like WAR, Traynor was widely, if not universally, considered the greatest 3B of all-time.

    Now, whenever I look at any stats (such as the ones above), I wonder who he had the dirt on, because he sticks out like a sore thumb.

    He has the 2nd-lowest WAR of any BBWAA-elected member; however, that should really be considered the lowest given that Campy had a reason — completely beyond his control — that his MLB WAR was smaller than it should have been.

  13. I’ve done similar studies, trying to rank the Hall of Famers. I did one where I looked at the average WAR/year of a player versus the average WAR/year for his Hall of Fame position. You can find more here:

  14. It is different with pitchers — will get to that in the series — but the point is that the players most people think of when they think Hall of Fame are BBWAA selections.


  15. RW says:

    In the case of Bender, his totals had been going up in the BBWAA vote, despite the fact that he wasn’t even eligible to be considered under the rules at the time, having last played more than 25 years before the elections of the early 50’s. That so many writers were voting for a guy they longer had jurisdiction over must have sent a clear message to the VC.

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