By In Baseball, History, Joe Vault

Vault: The Willie Mays Hall of Fame

Today’s Vault addition: For Brilliant Reader John Williamson, who requested it.

Bob Costas on Wednesday said something I’ve heard a lot of people say through the years. But because he’s Bob Costas, and I think the world of the guy, his words inspired this post. Bob thinks the Baseball Hall of Fame is too big. He did not go into detail, but he made it very clear — and I believe the reference point was Bert Blyleven– that the Hall of Fame was supposed to be for the “great” and, over the years, it became for the “very good.” He did not elaborate out of respect for the very good players who are already in the Hall of Fame. But I suspect that if it could be done clandestinely — that is to say if it could be done without anyone noticing and without hurting anybody — Bob and a lot of other people would throw a lot of players out of their Baseball Hall of Fame.*

*I think we could probably throw out a bunch of Franklin Pierces and Chester Arthurs right now without anyone noticing because nobody knows they’re actually in the Hall of Fame. Doubt the Jesse Haines’, Freddie Lindstrom and High Pockets Kelly fan clubs would storm the gates.

Bob did not go into details, but many people do — ALL THE TIME. I cannot tell you how many times in my life, much less in the last month, I have received emails that basically say something like: “Willie Mays — now THAT is a Hall of Famer. That is who I have in mind when I think of the Hall of Fame not (Player X) who you wrote about.”

So, that’s my mission here — to create The Willie Mays Hall of Fame.

To get in, a player:

1. Has to achieve a consensus of greatness. I like those words. Could make for a good book title: “Consensus of Greatness.” The player had to be viewed as an all-time great by the majority of people, more, the VAST majority of people. This is by far our No. 1 goal here, to find those people who are viewed as legends.

2. Has to be so good that there’s no one precisely comparable. This is very important. One of the most annoying parts of the Hall of Fame to those people who want it reduced to the core is that people keep saying: “Well if Bill Mazeroski is in the Hall of Fame the n Frank White has a case to be in there” or “Well if Catfish Hunter is in the Hall of Fame then Luis Tiant has a case to be in there.” The truth of these statements seems to annoy the hell out of them. They would rather Maz and Catfish were OUT rather than putting other people IN. So, we need players without annoying comps.

3. Should pass what Tom Verducci calls “the eyeball” test. We’re talking gut feeling here.

4. Had to be in the same league with Willie Mays as an all-around ballplayer.

And here we go.

First thing we do is eliminate everyone who was not a first ballot Hall of Famer. As I’ve written before, by my estimation — and adjusting a bit for era — there have been 50 first-ballot Hall of Famers. This includes Mel Ott, Joe DiMaggio, Rogers Hornsby and Carl Hubbell who, technically, were not voted in on their first ballot appearance but the eligibility rules were pretty confusing in those early days. I think you start with those 50.

Now, it should be said that this excludes many, many, many great players — including a great player like Arky Vaughn who was actually NEVER voted in by the writers. Vaughan is almost certainly the second-greatest hitting shortstop in baseball history, behind only Honus Wagner. His omission by the writers — he never got more than 29% — is one of the real black marks on our voting record (I say “our record” though, of course, Vaughan was off the ballot the year after I was born). Lefty Grove is another black mark — guy has a powerful case as the greatest pitcher who ever lived, and he got in on fourth ballot (though there were some extenuating circumstance on the first three) and he only BARELY made it on that ballot — he got the fourth most votes that year. Yogi Berra — more on him in a minute — did not get in first ballot either.

But, again, remember, we’re not exactly trying to build a Hall of Fame of the BEST players by any statistical measure or any historical standard. We’re trying to build a consensus Hall of Fame, a Hall where every member in it would be widely viewed as a true Hall of Famer. We’re shooting for a 90 to 95% approval rating here. For that, we can only have first ballot Hall of Famers.

So we start with those 50 players (a list that does not include Roberto Alomar since the voters had to get in their “tsk tsk” for the spitting incident and not vote him in until the second ballot). That means we have already cut out 243 people! We are off to a roaring start.

But 50, I would say, is WAY too many for this kind of Hall of Fame. The 50, for instance, includes Kirby Puckett. And there’s way too much controversy about Puckett because of his short career and because some view him as pretty wildly overrated and because he inspires way too many Don Mattingly comparisons. He’s obviously out.

So, there are a couple of ways to cut out all the Pucketts. One is to not only choose first ballot Hall of Famers, but resounding first-ballot Hall of Famers. That is to say, we’re looking for those players who received a vast majority of the vote. Let’s say minimum 85%. We’ll have to massage this a little bit, as you will see, but this is a good way to start cutting out some people.

Mel Ott is out — his first ballot credentials were always shaky. He didn’t get in until his third, and he got only 68.5% on his second ballot when he had been MOSTLY retired for four years. Not good enough. Robin Yount is out. More than 100 writers did not vote for him. Can’t have it. Lou Brock (80 no-votes) is out. Kirby Puckett (92 no-votes), Dennis Eckersley (85), Dave Winfield (80), Willie McCovey (79), Paul Molitor (75), Willie Stargell (75), Eddie Murray (73), they are all out.

But by eliminating players who did not get resounding vote totals, we have a few challenges.

— Jackie Robinson received only 77.5% of those vote. I’m going to assume that most of the 36 people who did not vote for him (there were many fewer voters then) were racist slime bags and so I’m going to ignore them for now.

— Eighty-one people did not vote for Joe Morgan. I’m not exactly sure why Morgan would get an exemption that the players above did not get … but I also have this gut feeling (and this is the Hall for gut feeling) that people DO consider Morgan an inner-circle, no-doubter, 95% approval rating Hall of Famer. I think the reason he didn’t get a higher percentage of the vote is because many voters simply looked at his .271 career batting average and said: “That’s not a Hall of Famer.” I’m going to keep Morgan on the list for now, but he’s teetering.

— Rogers Hornsby is widely viewed now as one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game, but he had a very shaky Hall of Fame election experience. He did not make it until his fifth ballot, though admittedly he was still playing (barely) for the first two votes, and had only just retired the second two (which is why I still qualify him as a first-ballot guy). HOWEVER, the thing I cannot overlook is that he still only got 78.1% of the vote when he actually made it in. Fifty one of the 233 writers did not vote for him.

I don’t know about you — but I never saw Rogers Hornsby play. I take his greatness on faith, based on the remarkable statistics I’ve seen and the stories I’ve read and the research I’ve done. But more than 20% of the people who saw Hornsby play did not vote him into the Hall of Fame his FIFTH TIME ON THE BALLOT. Rogers is out. And, anyway, he apparently was a jerk.

— There are four others players who did not get 85% of the vote. I want to keep all four of them on for the same reason I want to keep Morgan on because I have this gut feeling that people do view them as all-time, inner circle guys. They are:

Bob Gibson (84%)
Walter Johnson (83.6%)
Ernie Banks (83.8%)
Warren Spahn (83.2%)

Unfortunately, I can’t keep on all four. We still have some trimming to do, and this is basic stuff getting 85% of the writer’s vote. Walter Johnson gets to stay because his 83.6% was actually achieved in the first year of Hall of Fame voting, when — as you might imagine — there was a rather crowded ballot. And for now, Bob Gibson gets to stay too because I suspect none of the 64 people who did not vote for him would publicly admit it and face a potential fastball to the head. Banks and Spahn, sadly, don’t make the cut because I can’t think of a good enough reason to keep them on. Hey, you want a Willie Mays Hall of Fame, you have to make some vicious choices.

So now we’re down to 37.

Now, we try to eliminate the comps problem. What we want to do here is drop all the players who create comparison player headaches. For instance: Tony Gwynn is one of our 37. Well, Gwynn’s contemporary Tim Raines reached base more times than Gwynn in almost precisely the same number of at-bats, and of course he was one of the two or three greatest base stealers in baseball history. When it comes to value, Raines’ peak was probably higher and even over a career it was about as high. Well, you can see the chart for yourself.

In the old days, you could argue: “Yeah but Gwynn hit .338 for his career while Raines only hit .294” but even the most stubborn and crotchety “The Hall is way too big” zealots are beginning to understand the absurdity of measuring a player by batting average. There just seems very little separating Gwynn and Raines as players. This means Tony Gwynn has to go.

Ozzie Smith may have been the greatest defensive shortstop in baseball history. But he already is encouraging too many Omar Vizquel fans, and so he’s out.

Brooks Robinson is a very tricky case. Everyone loves Brooks Robinson, as well they should. He’s one of my fathers two or three favorite players, and so one of mine. But, let’s not kid anybody: He really was a subpar hitter for much of his career. His career numbers of .267/.322/.401 are kind of an eyesore as is his career 104 OPS+. Of course, he was a marvelous defensive third baseman — most would argue he was the greatest defensive third baseman ever. But we can’t have all the great defensive third baseman lobbyists — the Graig Nettles lobbyists, the Clete Boyer lobbyists, the Billy Cox lobbyists — hammering on our door. Brooks is out.

Carl Hubbell has kind of been holding on for dear life for a little while now. He did not, technically, make it into Cooperstown on his first ballot. He survived that round because we were being very liberal with our definition of “first ballot,” but, no, I don’t think he’s going to make it this round. His career record was 253-154 with a 2.98 ERA. He had three great years, three or four more very good years. He finished out the career 83-60 with a 3.45 ERA his last seven years. But here’s the big problem: His No. 1 comps are Juan Marichal (who did not get in first ballot), someone named Charlie Buffington and a deadball era pitcher called Iron Joe McGinnity. Sorry Carl.

Jim Palmer’s No. 1 comp? The barely survived Bob Gibson. Bob Gibson’s No. 1 comp? Jim Palmer. Are these two trying to sneak into the Willie Mays Hall of Fame together? Gibson’s No. 2 comp is Jack Morris, and Morris appears on Palmer’s comp list as well, and though Morris has a bizarre level of support among the supposed “Willie Mays Hall” type people, it’s not anywhere near the level of support that we are talking about here. If Jack Morris is on your comp list, you are out. That means Palmer and Gibson are out*.

*There is an exception to this rule — the War Exemption. Because Jack Morris also appears on Bob Feller’s comp list. But Feller missed three years during World War II and so remains on our list.

Eddie Mathews is causing us some major problems here. Here’s why: Mathews is not on our list. The writers did not vote him in until his fifth ballot — that means he clearly falls way, way, way below our standard of entry. But Mathews is the highest-rated comp on three of our remaining players: Mike Schmidt (a 920 similarity score), George Brett (an 854 similarity score) and Mickey Mantle (also an 854 similarity — shouldn’t this make Brett and Mantle, like identical twins?). This is problematic because we do not want Eddie Mathews fans shouting about how he belongs in our Hall when we so clearly know he does not. So … Schmidt and Brett are out. We hate to lose ’em — this means we will not have a third baseman in our Hall. But you know, third base is kind of a minor position anyway. If they could play defense, they’d be shortstops, right?

Mantle provides a different challenge — he didn’t play third and he was a switch-hitter and George Castanza wanted to name his child after Mantle’s No. 7. For now, he stays.

Christy Mathewson’s 905 similarity score to the Pete Alexander disqualifies him — Alexander did not get into Cooperstown until third ballot and he was an alcoholic and if he threw anything like Ronald Reagan, who played him in the movie, then he couldn’t have been very good at all. Christy Mathewson is out.

What to do about Sandy Koufax? His No. 1 comp is Ron Guidry who is CLEARLY not going into the Willie Mays Hall of Fame since he’s not even in the liberal Hall of Fame. But it’s also true that Koufax’s peak was much higher than Guidry’s, and was, in fact, one of the best peaks in baseball history. And Koufax scores like a 1,048,384 on the gut factor, many people would argue he’s the greatest pitcher of all time. But that Guidry comp makes it tough. And while some see his retirement at 30 because of arm troubles as sad, another way to look at it is that he didn’t last long enough. He’s out.

Reggie Jackson has the three-homer World Series game, and he was undoubtedly one of the bright lights of his era, and he had the candy bar named for him. But his No. 1 comp is Gary Sheffield. I don’t think I need to say anything more. He’s out.

I have no idea how Steve Carlton lasted this long, by the way. His No. 1 comp is Don Sutton which, obviously, means immediate banishment.

Al Kaline’s No. 1 comp? Harold Baines. Gone. … Carl Yastrzemski’s No. 1 comp? Dave Winfield. Didn’t we just eliminate Dave Winfield? Yaz gone. And take Cal Ripken with you since his No. 1 comp is also Dave Winfield. … Joe Morgan, I stayed with you as long as I could. I really wanted you in there. But your No. 1 comp? Lou Whitaker? Do you know what Lou Whitaker did on his one Hall of Fame ballot? Sorry. Gone. …

Joe DiMaggio is lucky he has the war exemption because his No. 1 comp is Larry Walker.

Robert Clemente. Oh, man, this is a tough one. Clemente obviously was not only a great player, but he was also a hero and one of the great forces for good in baseball history. But his No. 1 comp is the so-clearly-not-Willie-Mays-great Zack Wheat. There is a great debate about Roberto Clemente and Al Kaline, which one was the better player. I suppose that argument should be held outside the Willie Mays Hall of Fame because Kaline has already been pushed out. Sorry Roberto. Usted esta fuera.*

*Four years of Spanish talking … there is absolutely NO DOUBT I got that wrong.

One more — this is the trickiest one of all, I think. Johnny Bench. He is similar to Yogi Berra, who did not make it into Cooperstown on his first ballot which suggests that the writers did not see Yogi as a slam-dunk, no-doubt Hall of Famer. Of course, this could just be because the writers had lost their minds. Many people — Bill James included — think Yogi Berra was actually the greatest catcher of all time, and he’s one of the two or three most famous wordsmiths in the history of the game. So having Yogi Berra as a comp shouldn’t mean immediate expulsion. That said, if Yogi Berra is out — as he must be — then I don’t see how we can keep Johnny Bench in.

OK, the 19 players remaining are unique enough, I think, that we can generally avoid the “Well, if he’s in, then he should be in” kind of arguments. Now comes the second-toughest test of all — the gut test. I can tell you that right away Rod Carew and Wade Boggs are out. Fine players. But there is no way that the gut has them as Willie Mays Hall of Famers. Out.

I’ve got to be honest with you … I’m not too comfortable with Honus Wagner being in the Willie Mays Hall. Sure, he was an amazing player in his time, and a great person, and all that. But the guy began his career in the 1890s. Baseball wasn’t even baseball then. He began playing before shinguards, before the sacrifice fly, before the baseball had a cork center, when baseball gloves were about as useful as raw steaks. Sure, he dominated his time, but baseball’s nothing like that now. Put up an exhibit of him in the museum. But as for Willie Mays Hall? He’s out.

And, you know, Walter Johnson has similar issues. He started in 1907 and pitched most of his time in the Deadball Era which, well, look at the name of the era: “Deadball.” He was super great for his time. So was Johnny Weissmuller. He’s out.

I don’t know what to do with Nolan Ryan — he was great fun to watch, and he undoubtedly threw a ball as hard as anyone, and he had all those strikeouts and no-hitters and all. But in truth, he kind of wasted his talent too. He’s the most unhittable pitcher who ever lived, and his ERA was a bland 3.12 and his .526 winning percentage is kind of brutal and he walked almost ONE THOUSAND more batters than any man who ever lived. He is, I feel certain, the most unique pitcher of all-time. But is he truly one of the best? There’s too much static here. He’s out.

Now, we have to look hard at the war guys — lower case “war” — Joe DiMaggio and Bob Feller. There is no question they were both great when they played. And then they served our country with distinction during World War II — during which time they lost prime years of their careers. Had Feller pitched, he might have won 100 more games. Had DIMaggio played, he might have reached 3,000 hits and won a total of five or six MVP awards. But we are dealing with the world of imagination now. They also might have gotten hurt and not been able to complete their careers. If we are to assume one thing, what is to prevent us from assuming the other? It hurts to say it but we must judge their careers on what they did and their careers were not very long and … they’re both out.

And then … Jackie Robinson. He’s the most important figure in baseball history. He’s one of the most important American figures of the 20th Century, I believe. Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson includes a quote on the bottom of his emails from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Jackie Robinson made it possible for me in the first place. Without him, I would never have been able to do what I did.”

That said, the Hall of Fame can and should have a giant display explaining the impact Jackie Robinson had on baseball and America, but the Willie Mays Hall of Fame is only for those players who as players feel like no doubt Hall of Famers. I overlooked Robinson’s low Hall of Fame vote total. I overlooked that his No. 1 comp was someone named George Grantham. But he was not quite as good as Joe Morgan or Rogers Hornsby, and neither of them is in. Jackie Robinson is out.

OK, this is fun and … oh, wait. We just knocked Bob Feller out, didn’t we? Well, Tom Seaver’s No. 1 comp is Bob Feller — and not only that, they have a stunning 988 similarity score. They’re almost identical. If Feller is out, Seaver has to be out too.

So, finally, we are down to the 10 players in the Willie Mays Hall of Fame. And they are …

Hold on. I forgot something. Let me go back up and look … oh yeah. I forgot the fourth qualification for the Willie Mays Hall. They have to be in Willie Mays’ league as players. Well, that’s going to be tough, isn’t it?

Ted Williams couldn’t field or run with Willie. He’s out.

Stan Musial couldn’t field or run with Willie. He’s out.

Frank Robinson was a terrific player. But he wasn’t quite as good as Willie Mays in just about anything.

Lou Gehrig. Iron Horse. Great player. Great man. But the standard is Willie Mays. Gehrig played first base, and he wasn’t fast.

Mickey Mantle … how did he get through with Eddie Mathews as his No. 1 comp? Oh yeah: The Seinfeld Exemption. Mantle was the fastest thing anyone had ever seen before he hurt his knee. But he did hurt his knee, and after that he could not run or field with Willie Mays. He also did not endure like Mays, who was still a great player at 37 and 38. Those late nights got him.

Rickey Henderson had a different kind of greatness from Mays. But different, in this case, doesn’t help him. He didn’t have Mays’ power or his batting ability and he certainly didn’t play centerfield like Mays.

And we are down to four. The four players in the Willie Mays Hall of Fame are …

Babe Ruth … though now that you mention it, there are persuasive reports that Ruth corked his bat throughout his career. It is true that some science has shown that corking the bat does not really make any kind of different. But … cheating is cheating.

OK, so, make it three. The three players in the Willie Mays Hall of Fame are …

Ty Cobb … oh, come on, how did he get in here? Are you kidding me? We’re really going to have an avowed racist who at one point in his career was charged with being involved in a gambling scandal in the WILLIE MAYS HALL OF FAME? No. We’re not.

OK, so, make it two. The two players in the Willie Mays Hall of Fame are …

Henry Aaron. I love Hank Aaron. He was, as the line goes, Willie Mays without having his cap fly off. Of course, he did not play center field like Mays. And, now that you mention it, he has actually admitted using amphetamines once when they were vaguely against the rules of baseball and ….

Well, it ends where it had to end. The one player in the Willie Mays Hall of Fame is …

Willie Mays.

So, congratulations to Willie for … what’s that? Willie also may have used amphetamines? But there’s no real proof and … what’s that you say? Mays was once suspended from baseball after his playing days for his involvement at a casino? And Mays was on the 1951 Giants team that, it has been proven, rigged up some sort of sign-stealing system that undoubtedly helped them come back and win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant? And he didn’t turn himself in? He didn’t turn in any of his teammates?

Ah well. Come visit the Willie Mays Baseball Hall of Fame. It is in a desk drawer in my office.

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92 Responses to Vault: The Willie Mays Hall of Fame

  1. Justin says:

    I think you forgot about Dane Iorge.

  2. Ben says:

    I love most of what you write, Joe, but this is one of my favorites.

  3. Dave V. says:

    Wow…just wow. Amazing column, Joe.

  4. Jimmy says:

    Over under on the number of columnists who fail to recognize this as satire?

  5. RickyB says:

    I didn’t think Willie would make that Hall of Fame. Too many questions!

  6. James says:

    Greatest. Post. Ever. You’re the best, Joe.

  7. kingabaloney says:

    Nice article, but you gave it away in the beginning with “4. Had to be in the same league with Willie Mays as an all-around ballplayer.” Which, as you noted, is a category of one.

  8. tGP says:

    Saying “Willie Mays–now THERE’S a Hall of Famer!” is like saying, “Cholera? Pfft. Smallpox–now THERE’S a deadly plague!”

  9. Tracy says:

    I want to take this blog post home and make sweet love to it.

  10. Your says:

    Isn’t A-Rod the best hitting shortstop?

  11. Brad says:

    It took me ’til the “no third basemen” bit to get it. Tremendously fallacious, tremendously hilarious post. Glad you saw it through, Joe.

  12. Luke1800 says:

    ::slow clap::

    I figured this out when you gave the thumbs down to Koufax. Needless to say… hilarious piece, loved every word of it. You are honestly the finest baseball (or anything?) writer I’ve ever read. The fact that there are no ads on this blog, and I don’t have to pay to read this amazes me.

    The best things in life are free.

  13. Rational Fan says:

    That. Was. Fantastic.

  14. Mark Daniel says:

    I love all of these Hall of Fame posts.

  15. UnHoly Diver says:

    Someone asked the over/under on other writers not understanding this brilliantly worded essay as satire. I’ll say most of them, Costas included.
    You’ve outdone yourself again, Joe. I didn’t know that was even possible.

  16. Mark Coale says:

    You can’t exclude Sandy Koufax. He’s the hero to the Jews for not pitching on Yom Kippur. Only an anti-semite boots him, right?

  17. SL says:

    I’m deeply embarrassed by how long it took me to catch on. You committed to this like Dick van Dyke to a pratfall, and the result was spectacular. Well done indeed.

  18. Anthony says:

    Brilliant. The problem is that you’re assuming people will come to see your point because they’ll follow their own logic.

    Joe… there IS no logic. These people might have their nuts melt just be reading this. Good effort, though. The rest of the world appreciates your work.

  19. LargeBill says:


    Great column as always. A little sloppy with facts, but I assume that was half intentional and half out of rushing.

    Feller & DiMaggio were both in the military. They didn’t both serve with distinction. Feller enlisted right away and saw combat. DiMaggio fought going in for as long as he could and then just played baseball and bitched about being homesick. With his bitching he developed an ulcer and was mustered out for medical reasons.

    I hope you were just kidding with your claim that racism was the only possible explanation for Robinson not getting 36 votes. He had a very short career due to WWII and playing college football and then retiring early because he refused a trade to the Giants. I think the notoriously liberal writers didn’t vote for Jackie just because he campaigned for Nixon in 1960.

    Love the predictable finish even Willie Mays wouldn’t qualify for the Hall of Fame that Bob Costas envisions.

    I have to think some of these guys are stuck in a childlike mindset that only the guys that were glorified when he was a little kid are worthy.

    • Karyn says:

      Random aside, it turns out that stomach ulcers are caused by a particular bacterium. They can be cured pretty simply these days. So, DiMaggio’s ulcer was not caused by his ‘bitching’.

  20. jwiscarson says:

    Thank you, Joe, for writing the baseball HOF equivalent of “A Modest Proposal”.

  21. Rob says:

    As someone mentioned earlier, above all else you have to love the absolute commitment to the bit.

  22. Joshua says:

    Joe, you’re currently my favorite writer in any medium on any subject, but though I thought the piece was extremely well-executed and witty, I don’t think it actually makes much of an argument against those of us who favor a smaller Hall of Fame. This piece is really just the inverse of the point you made a few weeks ago about Ron Santo–a line has to be drawn somewhere, and there is always going to be someone very good who is the best player not in the Hall of Fame. Moreover, there will always be a relatively small difference between the top guy below that threshold and the bottom guy above it. But that’s not an argument for not drawing a line somewhere. Costas favors drawing the line in such a way so as to make the club more exclusive (as would I). You make the argument that if we make the criteria too exclusive, utimately no one will qualify. But the reductio ad absurdum of your critique runs in both directions–you can reverse the same logic and conclude that anyone who’s ever made a JV squad in high school deserves admission. So this doesn’t tell me why I shouldn’t continue to believe that the Hall of Fame is for Greg Maddux, not Bert Blyleven (or Catfish Hunter, Jack Morris, or a bunch of others).

  23. NMark W says:

    Early on, when Spahn wasn’t getting in I was about to bust – Then I caught on. Hey, I’m an old man when it comes to this blogging age. Joe, you are an absolute wonder. Do you conjure this stuff up in your sleep? How many hours are in your day? Simply remarkable…

  24. Lee H. says:

    “But the reductio ad absurdum of your critique runs in both directions”


    I think you hit the nail on the head, but maybe didn’t realize it.

    If I had to guess what was going on in Joe’s head (which is a Greinkian task, in and of itself) I would say he was sitting around thinking about baseball, as usual, and the HoF in particular, and just laughed. It’s all batshit crazy. You have so many people who care so deeply about this abstract but very real honor of being inducted, who go so far in their rants to make you feel like the honor and integrity of the game is at stake with every ballot, yet everything about the hall and the process itself is just so goddamn amorphous. There are so many opinions and loud arguments you could build an army with people on any side, for or against, anyone on the ballot every year.

    I didn’t read any subtext at all from this article in any pointed direction, except to say:

    “Baseball hall of fame voting? Hahahahahaha.”

    Which is exactly what I did when I read this.

    As usual, truly the best sports writing in existence.

    Thanks, Joe.

  25. amie says:

    Took me way too long to see what you were doing there Joe. Circle me embarassed.
    And I do wish there was a Pyramid Hall of Fame (stolen from B Simmons)
    Top tier is just a starting lineup and 4 starting pitchers.
    When Pujols is up, voters have to decide if he can knock Gehrig down to the 2nd tier.
    2nd tier is full of all time greats, just not the best at their position. Think: Hank Aaron
    3rd tier is for best of their time players. Think George Brett
    4th tier is for guys like Robin Yount
    5th tier is for guys like Jim Rice
    Bottom tier is for contributors, umpires, writers, managers, owners, people that didn’t play the game. Guys like Joe Posnanski.

  26. Alejo says:

    But this post is brilliant: “small Hall” people usually are “My own judgements and prejudices Hall”, only they talk about people like Mays.

    Baseball is not only stats, but the sport would certainly be impossible to understand without them.

  27. Tiger says:

    Clearly the solution to this small Hall bigotry is to let ALL players into the Hall. That’s right, every player EVER, whether they got a cup of coffee or had a 22-year career. That way we don’t have to deal with these thorny moral issues that we all hate, we don’t have to go through this obviously outdated voting process, and, most importantly, we don’t have to leave anyone out. (Perhaps we could let the fans put their own plaques in the Hall, too! Why should only players get that honor?) What could be more fair than that?

    It also will help jumpstart the struggling Cooperstown economy by making the Hall expand their buildings into the surrounding neighborhoods, and the plaque industry will experience unprecedented growth. Sure, the NFL Hall of Fame already lets *most* players in. We can be the first sport to let them ALL in. You want a more relevant Hall, this is your dream come true. No matter who your favorite player was — juicer or saint — he will get his place beside Willie, the Babe, and the Mick.

    Now that’s a Hall we can all agree on!

  28. Monty says:

    Man, it took me until the final 10 to get it. I’m not having a good day.

  29. Will there be an admission fee to visit your desk drawer? And what are the visiting hours?

    This will make for a great family vacation!

  30. stephen says:

    I’m glad Joe wrote this article. I mean, the Hall of Fame is for the fans, is it not? It’s so we can go to the museum and relive memories and learn about the game and the players. The sanctimonious and *extremely* arrogant stance that the guys at the Hall are taking (mainly that they’re fine with excluding tons of players because of the nebulous morality clause) is absolutely ridiculous. I mean, the majority of the fans want these players in. The Hall is a place of business that depends on the customer’s money to stay open, and yet they’re telling the customers what the customers want to see. It’s nuts.

    So thanks for this article, Joe!

  31. Adam says:

    Joe, where do you find the time/creativity/information/stats to come up with this stuff? You’re the best, man. Simply the best. Thank you!

  32. David says:

    this is probably the greatest article you’ve ever written. not only substantively – it’s clear that what this amounts to is a “best players ever” list – but lyrically. this is written exactly the way that a bunch of drunk buddies sit around a table and try to talk about sports. i also like the fact that you simultaneously make a very strong case for the great risk in trying to cut down the HOF.bravo.

  33. melodyjbf says:

    I really enjoyed this… as for the “small-hallers” defending their position, what I took away from this was a tongue-in-cheek recognition that a hall everyone can agree on is impossible. And not only that, but some of the standards we carry around in the back of our minds (that “Hall of Fame” players are golden gods who are incomparably better than the competition, play the game right, and set an unfailingly good example for the kids) are perhaps relics of our own childhoods, or at least ridiculously unfair.
    I like the idea of considering what a Hall of Fame really is, and what it represents. We know the people in it will still have flaws, and I think maybe that was one of the messages of this post.

  34. Burke5134 says:

    Brilliant. I will share this widely. I wished you had shared with us, though, how you dispatch Gary Carter. An addendum on him would be appreciated.

  35. Nathan says:

    I don’t think that the spitting incident had anything to do with Roberto Alomar not making the hall on the first ballot…I think it was because of writers who are Mets fans who just couldn’t let go of 2003.

  36. Gary says:

    I think someone hacked Joes account and posted this article

  37. Andrew says:

    Well done Joe. Unfortunately it took me until the point when you ejected Ted Williams to realize what was going on.

  38. Omniart says:

    There should be one person in the Willie Mays Hall of Fame: Oscar Charleston.

  39. nightflyblog says:

    Fantastic. Reminds me (in a good way) of an old, powerful Bill Cosby routine where he talks about all the different groups of people he hates. He concludes with, “What I am, is a bigot. There’s only two of me left in the world – and I don’t much care for the other one.”

    You’re in the Joe Posnanski Hall of Writing, for sure.

  40. Graham Gray says:

    There are things that I really like about Bob Costas, but he certainly has his biases. I watched The Future of Sports discussion on YouTube and something Costas said really annoyed me. Everyone on the panel was talking about the speed of a baseball game, and Bill James mentioned that you can play a game in 90 minutes. James went on to explain that 90 minute games were common in 1915 (for example).

    Anyways, Costas took exception to James’ comments. He implied that 90 minutes was too fast for him. Bob Costas loves to talk about embracing baseball’s past, but he really just wants it to be the way he remembers it as a child. (Like Mr. Posnanski says, “Baseball is perfect when you’re 10.”) Costas does so many things well, but he can’t see outside his own perspective.

    Also, this piece was great!

  41. Nick says:

    So here’s me reading this article:

    “Wow, Christy Mathewson missed out, interesting. But Joe knows more than me, so I’m on board.”
    “Koufax is out too? I guess it was the longevity issue. Damn, that means Pedro probably won’t make it in once he’s eligible.”
    “No Walter Johnson? Really, I think Joe’s going too far here.”

    Joe, thank you for this article. I absolutely loved it.

    Also, it’s really interesting to compare the comments here with the comments attached to the same post over at SI. A lot of (presumably non-Joe fans) never got it and ripped him for cutting Musial, Seaver etc.

  42. pumpkino says:

    LOL! too cool.

    Touche, Joe.

  43. Dave V. says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  44. mattraven1 says:

    I didn’t get the point until the last 10, at which point I facepalmed. Great, great piece of work Joe. Epic.

  45. Susan says:

    Great satire, powerful response. But in all seriousness I doubt Costas was saying we needed to go from 300 to 10, but perhaps 300 to 50, or even 100 ( no more than 1 per year of the game …). That list probably already exists somewhere, and you’ve given us your top 32 I think. So not much fun in that post. But the fair response to Costas is, should we distinguish the Roberto clementes from the Jim rices, the Warren spahns from the (don’t shoot me) Bert blylevens in that light it’s a serious question deserving a thoughtful response. But I’m glad you gave us your satire regardless!

  46. I got suspicious when you started questioning Joe Morgan, and then cut Clemente and Nolan Ryan, but the greatest injustice here is how long it took to cut Wade Boggs. Good lord.

  47. patrick says:

    Dude, you make me laugh so hard! Rogers Hornsby–CLASSIC! Please never stop!

    –loyal reader

  48. Jon says:

    I loved this article, and thought it was hilarious throughout. A couple of people above have read into this piece that they believe Joe’s intention was to lambaste the general absurdity that is the Hall of Fame voting procedure, but I really didn’t get that sense at all. I think the piece was trying to take the hot air out of an Exclusionist point of view of the Hall. But honestly, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere, and I don’t see how one can really argue that one’s own line placement is better than anyone else’s.

    Grand scheme of things, I think the voting is fine the way it is, because a player gets voted in when a preponderance of the BBWAA thinks that he is better than the line they’ve personally drawn in the sand, wherever that line may be.

  49. timmy! says:

    Is that Ken Tremendous standing over Joe’s shoulder?

  50. cardsibc says:

    This is why you’re the best Joe.

    And to whoever pointed out DiMaggio’s “war” service thing, good job. Everyone else was in danger, but not Joe D, he was stateside being a PE teacher

  51. Kent says:

    What happened to Cy Young? Was he, somehow, not a first-ballot HOFer? Not that he would have survived the Deadball cut anyway.

  52. Tonus says:

    This might be the best response to a lot of the nonsense being flung around about the Hall of Fame lately.

  53. Lee H. says:

    I think the piece was trying to take the hot air out of an Exclusionist point of view of the Hall.


    Ah… but isn’t this comment just more of the same – holding your own imaginary, albeit thoughtful and informed, standard of the hall against someone elses?

    Considering the intro to the article, it’s easy come away with the feeling that Joe is criticizing small hall/exclusionist points of view, and this is exactly why I think he is not. I believe Joe too wise to cast aside categorically an entire view point on an issue as broad and undefined and passionately defended as the baseball HoF. There are many valid, logical, defensible reasons for a “small hall” (none of which involve comparisons to Willie Mays) and while Joe has said as much that he doesn’t agree with most of them, he wouldn’t lampoon the idea itself, just the methodology some misguided fans use to defend it.

    There is a very fine line between this and your comment, but I think it’s an important one. He is merely reminding us of how absurd and entitled some fans (and writers) act around this time of year. And whether it’s comparing players to Willie Mays to claim they don’t belong in the Hall, or to a Bill Sutter to leverage them INTO the hall, there are no lengths at which people will stop to find threads of logic to make their case for the hall. It is an endless and sometimes hilarious discussion, where the only winners are those who can see the big picture and can agree to disagree. And when someone with a hard headed set of ideals for the hall comes around, claiming all Franks should be banned, or all muscle men over 257 lbs shouldn’t get votes… you just have to laugh and hope there are enough thoughtful people out there who will make good decisions on ballot day.

  54. bugw24 says:

    Fine post.

    Spahn had 363 wins, and lost several years to WWII.Arguably the best lefty ever,and very underappreciated. He was remarkably consistent and played in small markets spare a cup of coffee with the Mets at the end. And early “Honeymooners Era”tv wasn’t covering Braves games in the 1950s like they were the NY teams. And when a franchise moves twice, obviously there were problems.

  55. John Ling says:

    Fantastic, Joe. Thank you for this wonderful piece.

    — The poster formerly known as John in Philly

  56. NMark W says:

    I just re-read this after flying thru it yesterday…Absolutely fabulous.
    Joe, I loved the bit about Walter Johnson being super good in his time (the dead-ball era) “but so was Johnny Weissmuller” – GREAT!! Do you drive your wife and girls crazy with quick, almost snide remarks like this? The Posnanski residence must be a remarkable place!

  57. Thile says:

    Late to the party but Joe Pos really channeled his inner George Carlin on this one – sans seven little words.

    Effin’ Awesome!

  58. I understand Willie Mays not making the Willie Mays Hall of Fame.
    But Honus Wagner?
    He was Willie Mays without the amphetamines suspicions and the sordid Las Vegas connection!
    Great post.
    I like that Joe said the other day (or sorta said) – in a HOF post – that he thinks of himself as a “small hall” guy, and then proceeded to cast a ballot for 10 players. It makes perfect sense to me.
    It seems that some folks – in their nostalgia for those “slam dunk Hall of Famers” – forget how awesome these players accomplishments and careers are.

  59. Great stuff…achievement inflation is a rampant problem in our world. You noted that some great ones have used amphetamines. This is what drives me crazy about the hypocrisy of the steroid era stuff. Not sure if this true or not, but I heard a story about John Kruk being chastised by a fan for his less than pure actions.(He was eating a hot dog and smoking a cigar at a meet the fans event). Rumor has it that he told the disgruntled fan “ma’am, I’m no athlete, I’m a ballplayer.”

    There have been a lot of really great ballplayers over time. They’re not saints…they don’t get paid to be saints. If they entertain us well,give us a nice afternoon at the ballpark, and can be, at least, minimally sociable, I’m good with that.

    Thanks, Joe for entertaining and informing us all.

  60. allan says:

    I have also seen — in B-Ref’s This Day in Baseball History — several mentions of Hornsby refusing to play sometimes simply because he didn’t feel like it. (I have not looked into it more than that, though.)

    How many players would be no-doubt Hall of Famers? 30-40?

  61. mockcarr says:

    This reads like a Walt Kelly commentary featuring Pogo.

    I like the debate. Since it’s a “hall of fame”, Costas’ argument is a little more agreeable. When it takes you ten minutes to explain why a guy is in there, he probably shouldn’t be. But I’ll be the first to admit that’s not the hall we have.

    It drives me crazy that the assumption is that hitters must be the only ones benefiting, when plenty of pitchers achieved great success too. If you realize pitchers likely used just as much, then it’s also a bit too convenient to mark 1995 or 1998 as THE date when we start adjusting the stats just because that’s when the offensive numbers begin to increase too much. The factors used to explain more runs being scored before the Mitchell Report aren’t less valid just because we know there were steroids too. People have always used drugs, and the benefit they bring along with the obvious detriment to health is always subjective. Look at how much time McGwire missed, can we say that’s not because of supplement use, but his home run percentage is because of steroids? Seems like he paid a price, and got crapped on for admitting it too, when there are plenty of good reasons to keep his mouth shut and not be the jerk who has to talk about his teammates and raise a stink about something perhaps a majority of players were doing. I agree with Joe that it’s not conducive to hearing anyone’s story ever again.
    We’ll get a bunch of Albert Belle interviews.

    I’d start looking at the period in the early 80s after Brian Downing, Nolan Ryan, Carlton Fisk, and few others took weight training off the taboo list for ballplayers to look at steroids. But everything is context. We don’t know how many times guys corked their bats, scuffed or loaded up the ball, stole signs, etc. either. Then there’s the LEGAL stuff, like watering the infield, fudging the distance signs on the fences, turning the fans off and on in the Metrodome. Everything in baseball has been negotiable. You have to threaten to ban a guy to make them stop anything.

  62. Mike says:

    Perhaps we all have to come to grips with the idea that no one really belongs in the Hall of Fame. It’s just an illusion to keep sportswriters employed and fans distracted. Tragic that it took Joe to point this out-the decades of history, the plaques, the building, the caps and bats, the worn woolen uniforms, faded black and white pictures and flickering newsreels. All a fraud, like a Potemkin Village. Joe has ruined my weekend. Don’t have the heart to tell my children.

  63. What positions did Chester Arthur and Franklin Pierce play? I don’t remember them at all.

  64. Brian says:

    Steve Carlton? Gotta be mentioned if you’re going to discuss Jim Palmer or even Seaver.

  65. grulg55 says:

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ you haven’t got something better to do? Why didn’t we just slag Al Simmons here w/ something along the lines of ‘Well his Real name was Sysmanksi or Skyzimanzki or something like that, and we know we can’t elect people to the Hall who don’t use their real name-Kenesaw said so-so Bucketfoot is out, too-‘

  66. This post is awesome

  67. Justin Zeth says:

    This was the funniest column I’ve read all year.

    One nitpick, though: You’ll have to find a better reason to exclude Tom Seaver, because his number one comp is Tom Glavine, with a low score of 868, suggesting Seaver was unique. You quoted Seaver and Gibson’s near-perfect similarity as *hitters*.

    But if you did that intentionally, then that is awesome and you are awesome.

  68. Jeff Arnim says:

    Pretty awesome analysis, and poignant illustration that there is no one method, no particular point-of-view, no true standard by which to measure Hall of Fame entrants. The Hall of Fame is based on many elements, scenarios, personal feelings, emotions, fame (which can sometimes have less to do with simple performance and more to do with public response). Pete Rose was a ‘great’ player, but failed later after his playing career. Does that matter? Some will say no, some yes. So it goes – not even Willie Mays gets in the Willie Mays hall of fame if everything can be a reason for exclusion. Nice composition – fun to read! Thanks.

  69. C says:

    I’m sorry, did you just write that 3rd base is a minor position? And that Schmidt and Brett, arguably two of the most visible, if not radiant players of the 80s are out? Did you imply that Mantle is out as well? I was with you until that paragraph. Interesting read, but come on. Those are ALL TIME GREAT PLAYERS.

  70. C says:

    Ok, I re-read. This is satire with a point. But jeesh…..

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    • Jayvee says:

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    • Just one word for this article here.. Superb!!!awesome thoughts put up in a simple way..:)It would be really great if we can learn not to drag the relationships but to live them…:) draging would always keep on pilling the marks which would take the life out out of any relation

  72. john says:

    Im sorry but what an awful article, i am never one to do this but i want my time spent reading this back. You set up the entire piece for what? im sorry if you are offended, which i know no internet writer is but this was awful jeez

  73. […] That is sort of lame, but I suppose once you've turned off the AI voting there's nothing to be gained from the voting percentage anyway. As an aside, these discussions always make me think of Joe Posnanski's lovely article on the Willie Mays Hall of Fame. It's old but maybe some folks reading this thread might enjoy it. The Willie Mays Hall of Fame ? Joe Posnanski […]

  74. Mike S says:

    Next, I’d like you to create the Duane Kuiper Hall of Fame

  75. JaLaBar says:

    Great article. I’d have kept Brooks Robinson on longer because I don’t believe he is JUST the best defensive third baseman in baseball history, I believe he is the best defensive player in baseball history of any position.

  76. John Autin says:

    I knew roughly where this SHOULD wind up as soon as you said, “4. Had to be in the same league with Willie Mays as an all-around ballplayer.” Glad you got there.

  77. Pete says:

    If the HOF were to be reduced to one player, it would be Pete Rose.

  78. Mark says:

    “Usted esta fuera” is in fact only wrong because “esta” should has an accent like this: “Usted está fuera”.

  79. […] fellow writer*, Joe Posnanski, spent some time on a column, a few years back, where he posits that we should have a Hall of Fame, and then, for the super […]

  80. DAVID KARGETTA says:

    Joe, normally I like your writing… but you just lost me for life.

    Let me tell you why.

    The Hall of Fame is meant to uplift the Game. Pay tribute to those that didn’t just become a Big League player, but shone as a Star in doing so, playing far enough better than their peers to differentiate themselves in the eyes of those tasked with enshrining them… Clowns like you that never could play whiffle ball good enough in sixth grade to get picked to play baseball.

    Here’s the thing Joe, once they are in (and a lot of great players aren’t in, like Mickey Lolich, Bill Freehan, Lou Whitaker and others) it lacks class, it smacks of absurd hairsplitting to now postulate that those inducted don’t deserve to be there.

    I’m probably a better applied statistician and geometrician than anyone in the world. I used the science of statistics and probability to do in Industry what nobody ever did, and I did it for three decades as a troubleshooter in the safety industries… jet engines and nuclear power safety, automation, robotics and tooling. I can do Trig in my head, and I can guess probability outcomes crazy accurately before I run the Bernoulli… and I am appalled how the semi-educated hair splitters that make up the vast majority of the so-called sabermetric community (none of which could get a loud foul on a 72 mph curve-ball) have taken to bastardizing baseball evaluation to the point where even Al Kaline’s excellence in Right Field is denigrated by those that never saw it. I saw plenty.

    Baseball isn’t statistics, no matter what the clowns obsessing numbers think. Baseball is a kid’s game of beauty, and should be for the Kids that want heroes to look up to.

    You want to rail about who doesn’t belong? Rose, Bonds, and Clemens, among others, are fair game for that nonsense. Cheaters shouldn’t be placed side by side with the greats that played it square.

    Otherwise… Leave the Hall alone Joe. Sportswriters surely don’t belong there, neither do sportscasters… even the greatest of all time like Ernie Harwell would be humble enough to agree with me if you asked him. It’s for Ballplayers. As far as I am concerned, the Hall Inductees should take it over completely before any more idiots on the outside try to destroy it to get a click.

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