The Hall of Fame Percentage
Tango comes up with a great point — he notes that every player but one who received at least 50% of the Baseball Hall of Fame vote was eventually elected into the Hall of Fame. The one player who has not made it yet is Gil Hodges … more on him in a couple of minutes.
I’ve written before about Bengals owner Mike Brown negotiating with a first round quarterback. The quarterback’s agent, Leigh Steinberg, made an offer. Brown made a significantly lower counteroffer. The two sides fought and threatened and wrangled for a long time. In the end, they came to an agreement — EXACTLY in the middle of the two original numbers.
When we mentioned to Mike Brown that this seemed kind of ridiculous — to go through that whole process only to meet exactly in the middle anyway — he nodded and said: “It’s unfortunate. But it’s the fact.”
That’s how the Hall of Fame voting seems now. Unfortunate. But the fact. If every player who achieves 50% gets into the Hall of Fame anyway, why are we making them wait three, four, five, sometimes 10 years or more before getting elected? What’s the point of that? Couldn’t we make the Hall of Fame voting so much cleaner and neater (without sacrificing the high standards) by lowering the percentage?
I thought it might be interesting to go year by year, look at the players when they first reached 50% and see how quickly they made it into the Hall of Fame. Well, I don’t know if it is interesting, but I did it:
— Nap Lajoie, 64.6%, elected by BBWAA next year.
— Tris Speaker, 58,8%, elected by BBWAA next year.
— Grover Cleveland (Pete) Alexander, 62.2%, elected by BBWAA next year
— Wee Willie Keeler, 57.2%, 57.2%, elected two years later by BBWAA.
— Eddie Collins, 57.2%, elected two years later by BBWAA.
— George Sisler, 52.7%, elected two years later by BBWAA.
— Rube Waddell, 56.5%, elected eight years later by Old Timers Committee.
— Frank Chance, 50.8%, elected eight years later by Old Timers Committee.
— Ed Delahanty, 50.4%, elected seven years later by Old Timers Committee.
— Rogers Hornsby, 64.2%, elected by BBWAA in 1942.
— Ed Walsh, 55.5%, elected next year by Old Timers Committee.
— Johnny Evers, 54.3%, elected next year by Old Timers Committee.
— Miller Huggins, 53.8%, elected by Veterans in 1964.
— Roger Bresnahan, 53.8%, elected that year by Old Timers Committee.
— Mickey Cochrane, 50.6%, elected by BBWAA in 1947.
Nobody seemed to know what to do with Huggins, whose real claim to the Hall of Fame was as a manager. The Baseball Writers have never voted for managers, per se, and so a group tried to vote in Huggins as a player (he was a good player) in an effort to get him into the Hall of Fame, where he obviously belonged.
— Frankie Frisch, 51.5%, elected by BBWAA next year.
— Carl Hubbell, 50%, elected by BBWAA next year.
— Pie Traynor, 73.9%, elected by BBWAA next year.
— Charlie Gehringer, 65.2%, elected by BBWAA in 1949.
— Rabbit Maranville, 56.5%, elected by BBWAA in 1954.
— Dizzy Dean, 54.7%, elected by BBWAA in 1953.
— Herb Pennock, 53.4%, elected by BBWAA next year.
This was kind of a crazy year. The war was over, and there was this sense that it was time to start filling up that Hall of Fame. Pie Traynor had never received even moderate support but he jumped all the way up to 74 percent and was elected the next year. My suspicion has been that the voters really wanted to elect a modern third baseman into the Hall (the only third baseman elected had been Jimmy Collins, who started his career in 1895). Traynor was a likable fellow and he was often called the best third baseman ever. He went from 20% to 74% to election in two years.
Herb Pennock skyrocketed at about the same pace, but his story was more emotional. Pennock was well-liked by writers but he received just 20% of the vote in 1946. Then in January, 1948, he collapsed from a hemorrhage and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. He sailed into the Hall of Fame that year.
— Al Simmons, 58.2%, elected by BBWAA in 1953.
— Jimmie Foxx, 55.6%, elected by BBWAA in 1951
— Bill Terry, 52.9%, elected by BBWAA in 1954
The Hall of Fame voting got noticeably tougher after 1948. If there was a desire to fill up the Hall of Fame after the war, there was a pretty powerful backlash that followed as people worried the Hall was getting watered down. When you consider how baseball players were judged in the 1940s, it’s hard to understand how Simmons, Foxx and Terry all had to wait to get elected. And Hank Greenberg did not even crack 50%.
— Mel Ott, 68.5%, elected by BBWAA next year.
— Paul Waner, 56.5%, elected by BBWAA in 1952.
— Harry Heilmann, 51.8%, elected by BBWAA in 1952
— Bill Dickey, 52.2%, elected by BBWAA in 1954
— Dazzy Vance, 53.8%, elected by BBWAA in 1955
— Ted Lyons, 52.7%, elected by BBWAA in 1955
— Joe DiMaggio, 69.4%, elected by BBWAA next year
— Gabby Hartnett, 59.9%, elected by BBWAA next year.
The Joe DiMaggio Hall of Fame vote is one of the stranger BBWAA voting situations. DiMaggio retired after the 1951 season, and while everyone obviously saw him as a Hall of Famer, there apparently were voters who thought he (and everyone else) should wait five years before being elected. That rule was not added until 1955, so DiMaggio began appearing on the ballot just two years after he retired. His voting percentages:
DiMaggio was technically not eligible to be on the ballot in 1955 with the new five-year rule, but he was grandfathered in. Even so, he got less than 90% of the vote. I can only guess that was a protest vote against him going in early.
— Hank Greenberg, 62.5%, elected by BBWAA next year.
— Joe Cronin, 53.8%, elected by BBWAA next year.
— Red Ruffing, 50.3%, elected by BBWAA in 1967
Ruffing had a crazy Hall of Fame history. He went from 4.3% to 9.1% to 11.5% to 23.9% to 50.3% in five years. I’m not entirely sure why Ruffing skyrocketed like that but then he stalled (when everyone stalled — the BBWAA did not elect anyone between 1957 and 1962). Then in 1964, there was a runoff, and he appeared on 91.5% of the runoff ballots. But that was not good enough (Luke Appling appeared on 94%) and he had to wait two more years after that.
— Max Carey, 51.1%, elected by Veteran’s Committee in 1961
Best I can tell, Carey is the first player who got 50% of the vote from the BBWAA but was elected by the Veteran’s Committee. Miller Huggins got 50% but was elected as a manager. Needless to say, Carey would not be the last (see 1960)
— Edd Roush, 54.3%, elected by Veteran’s Committee in 1962
— Sam Rice, 53.2%, elected by Veteran’s Committee in 1963
— Eppa Rixey, 52.8%, elected by Veteran’s Committee in 1963
Another weird year. Nobody was elected and for some reason, the voters suddenly and inexplicably fell in love with the cases of Roush, Rice and Rixey. They were all good players and certainly deserved Hall of Fame consideration — but the BBWAA had never thrown much love at any of them. Roush had been on the ballot since 1936 wand only in recent years had managed even a quarter of the vote. Rice had been on since 1938 and in 1953 got just three votes. Rixey had been on the ballot since 1937 and he got less than 5% of the vote TWELVE STRAIGHT YEARS. Suddenly, there was some love thrown their way and it led to them getting elected by the Veteran’s. They are certainly not three of the worst players in the Hall, but all are somewhat marginal Hall of Famers.
— Luke Appling, 70.6%, elected in a runoff vote that year.
— Roy Campanella, 57.2%, elected by BBWAA in 1969
— Joe Medwick, 53.7%, elected by BBWAA in 1968
Appling was another player who really flew up the charts. He was a truly sensational player — two-time batting champ, great defense at shortstop, a .399 career OBP — but he got just 30% of the vote in 1962 and then more than doubled his vote just two years later. You will recall from the Ruffing note that 1964 was the year of the runoff vote. Appling won that.
— Lou Boudreau, 51.6%, elected by BBWAA in 1970
— Ralph Kiner, 55.7%, elected by BBWAA in 1975
— Yogi Berra, 67.2%, elected by BBWAA next year
— Early Wynn, 66.7%, elected by BBWAA next year
— Gil Hodges, 50%, never elected into the Hall of Fame
There’s Hodges, the only person to achieve 50% and not get elected. He would actually get more than 50% of the vote TEN times, topping out at 63.4% his final year.
— Whitey Ford, 67.1%, elected by BBWAA next season
— Robin Roberts, 56.1%, elected by BBWAA in 1976
— Bob Lemon, 52.1%, elected by BBWAA in 1976.
— Enos Slaughter, 50.8%, elected by Veteran’s Committee in 1985
— Eddie Mathews, 62.4%, elected by BBWAA next year
— Duke Snider, 55.4%, elected by BBWAA in 1980
— Don Drysdale, 51.4%, elected by BBWAA in 1984
— Hoyt Wilhelm, 54.3%, elected by BBWAA in 1985
— Harmon Killebrew, 59.6%, elected by BBWAA in 1984
— Juan Marichal, 58.1%, elected by BBWAA in 1983
— Luis Aparicio, 67.4%, elected by BBWAA next year.
— Nellie Fox, 61%, elected by Veteran’s Committee in 1997
— Billy Williams, 50.1%, elected by BBWAA in 1987
— Jim Bunning, 54.2%, elected by Veteran’s Committee in 1996
— Catfish Hunter, 53.2%, elected by BBWAA in 1987.
— Gaylord Perry, 68%, elected by BBWAA in 1991
— Fergie Jenkins, 52.3%, elected by BBWAA in 1991
— Rollie Fingers, 65.7%, elected by BBWAA next year
— Orlando Cepeda, 57.2%, elected by Veteran’s Committee in 1999
— Tony Perez, 50%, elected by BBWAA in 2000
— Phil Niekro, 65.7%, elected by BBWAA in 1997
— Don Sutton, 56.8%, elected by BBWAA in 1998
— Carlton Fisk, 66.4%, elected by BBWAA next year.
— Jim Rice, 51.5%, elected by BBWAA in 2009
— Gary Carter, 64.9%, elected by BBWAA in 2003
— Bruce Sutter, 50.4%, elected by BBWAA in 2006
— Andre Dawson, 50%, elected by BBWAA in 2010
— Ryne Sandberg, 61.1%, elected by BBWAA next year
Sandberg actually got fewer votes in 2003 than Andre Dawson but then leapfrogged him the next year.
— Goose Gossage, 55.2%, elected by BBWAA in 2008
— Bert Blyleven, 53.3%, elected by BBWAA in 2011
— Jack Morris, 52.3%, this is his last year on the BBWAA ballot.
— Barry Larkin, 51.7%, elected by BBWAA in 2012
— Jeff Bagwell, 56%, he is on the ballot for fourth time.
— Lee Smith, 50.6%, he is on the ballot for 12th time.
— Craig Biggio, 68.2%, he is on the ballot for the second time.
— Mike Piazza, 57.8%, he is on the ballot for the second time.
— Tim Raines, 52.2%, he is on the ballot for the seventh time.
Whew, there it is. OK, so let’s try to make a little sense of all this. Let’s leave off the people still on the ballot — they will sort themselves out. Not counting them, there were 79 players (not including those elected first ballot) who received 50% of the BBWAA vote. Here’s what happened to those 79:
— 63 were eventually elected by the Baseball Writers (80%).
— 9 were elected by the Veteran’s Committee (11%).
— 6 were elected by The Old Timer’s Committee (8%)
— 1 was not elected (1%)
So, as you can see the vast majority of players who hit 50% were eventually elected by the BBWAA. all but one of the others were elected in other ways. And this leads to the Tango question: If this is the case why does it need to be 75% of the vote for election? Why isn’t it just a simple majority? Aren’t we just wasting precious time by waiting until the player reaches 75%?
Nobody really knows why the Hall of Famers decided on 75% in the first place. It seems pretty arbitrary. The reasoning seemed to be that the founders wanted an extremely high standard for the Hall of Fame. And that’s fine except there have been countless rule changes and attitude shifts. They have adjusted ruled to elect Negro Leaguers, they have constantly reviewed the 1800s to add more players, they invented an Old Timer’s Committee, several different kinds of Veteran’s Committees, a Negro Leagues Committee … all of these in an obvious attempt to make the Hall of Fame more inclusive.
And now we’re at a place where if you get 50% of the vote you will end up in the Hall of Fame. It might take years, decades, it might not happen until long after you’re gone. But you will get in. So, why go through all that angst? Why delay this thing and make players and fans and everyone else go through this excruciating process when the end is already written?
The one exception here is Hodges, who was an unusual case. He first appeared on the ballot in 1969, and he got 24.1% of the vote — somewhere between what Roger Maris and Maury Wills received in that general time period. Hodges was a beloved figure from the Boys of Summer Dodgers who hit 30 home runs six times, drove in 100 RBIs in seven consecutive seasons and was viewed as an excellent defender at first base. But there was a sense that his career was not quite substantial enough — he did not reach 2,000 hits or 400 home runs. His support seemed likely to stall out.
Then, in 1969, he managed the Miracle Mets. The voters have never come to any consensus on how to treat people who were successful in more than one way — as player and manager and scout and so on. Still, the extraordinary season by the Mets doubled Hodges support. The next year, he got to exactly 50% and then, somewhat predictably, as the excitement of the 1969 season began to fade Hodges support waned. In 1972, he dropped to 40.7% of the vote.
Then, in April of that year, Hodges died of a sudden heart attack. There was shock and sadness throughout baseball — everyone loved Gil Hodges — and the next year his Hall of Fame vote total skyrocketed to 57.4%. There was a powerful lobby of people intent on getting Hodges into the Hall of Fame, and his total climbed above 60 percent in 1976. But then, again, emotion faded and Hodges’ Hall of Fame case stalled. In his last year, after one final push, he got 63.4% of the vote. The various Veteran’s Committees have never really embraced his case.
If the 50% rule had been in place, Hodges would have been elected into the Hall of Fame. Would this have been a terrible thing? Since 1970, the Veteran’s Committees have been put in probably a dozen players who were not as good as Hodges (to name but a few: Earle Combs, Chick Hafey, Ross Youngs, Jim Bottomley, Freddie Lindstrom, Hack Wilson, George Kell, Rick Ferrell), not to mention bizarre choices like Bowie Kuhn and Tom Yawkey, 17 Negro Leaguers in one year, a bunch of 19th century players, several umpires …
… point is, you can’t tell me that Gil Hodges would in any way lower the standard of the Hall of Fame.
Bill James makes the point that, in some ways, those of us trying to fix the Hall of Fame system are like those shade tree mechanics who work day and night trying to keep a ’57 Chevy running. We can get it to run better, maybe, but it’s still a 1957 Chevy. The Baseball Hall of Fame would do itself well to build a new election process from the ground up. But, since they probably won’t do that, we must keep on tinkering and hoping to make it just a little bit better.
So I personally would like to see them make lower the Hall of Fame election percentage to, say, 60%. I’d be good with making it a simple majority vote, but I suspect that might be too big a leap for many. Make it 60%. There are many, many advantages to doing this, but the main point is that it would not CHANGE who goes into the Hall of Fame. The players would just get in there quicker and without all the unnecessary squabbling and minority filibustering.