So, in my last post, I had a Posterisk about John Olerud and The Hall of Not Famous Enough. I’ve gotten quite a lot of email about it, and based on some of that I’m not sure I explained the concept quite as well as I would have liked. In fact, I know I didn’t explain as well as I would have liked. So I’m going to try again, with a little expansion.
The idea is this: There are players who are very clear Hall of Famers in just about everybody’s mind. We know the players. Tom Seaver. Willie Mays. Babe Ruth. Roberto Clemente. Those sorts of players.
There are players who are not quite as self evident, but over time become viewed more and more as Hall of Famers, players whose Hall of Fame cases for various reasons build up momentum, players like Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven and Jim Rice.
Then there are players who split the vote, players who many think ARE Hall of Famers and many think ARE NOT Hall of Famers. Some get in. Some do not. I would call these players Hall of Fame Cause Celebres because their cases become about as famous as they did as player. Jack Morris … Ron Santo … Dick Allen … Pete Rose (of course) … Joe Jackson (of course) … Don Mattingly … these are just a few of the cause celebres, they are talked about all the time, they are FAMOUS enough to get in the Hall of Fame but there is heated and passionate discussion about whether they belong.
I put Santo in my original Hall of Not Famous Enough … and I realize that was a mistake. Santo is a clear-cut cause celebre. His Hall of Fame case has been been banged about more than just about anyones. He’s plenty famous enough to get into the Hall of Fame. His career successes have simply not convinced enough people (which is a shame … Santo belongs in the Hall of Fame).
In any case, when I talk about the Hall of Not Famous Enough, I’m talking about something different: I am talking about players who upon close examination at around the level of the average Hall of Famer at his position but still got almost NO Hall of Fame consideration, not just from the voters but from the fans too. It’s the second part that matters as much as the first. The point here is that these players got almost no Hall of Fame support, and there were barely a peep about it from the general public.
John Olerud really is the perfect example. Olerud got just four Hall of Fame votes. And almost nobody cared. I have seen that on Twitter someone has tried to get a #OlerudForHoF hashtag going, though at the moment he seems to be the only one using it. Olerud’s career is not just underrated — it’s quietly underrated. And I do believe, for reasons mentioned in the last post, that Olerud played baseball about as well as the average Hall of Fame first baseman.
I’m going to break this down position by position, and I’m going to use Baseball Reference’s version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) as my guidepost. I realize that people have their problems with WAR, and I don’t think it’s perfect. But for a quick reference point, which is what I’m looking for here, it’s awfully good. It’s especially good at Baseball Reference because of the search capabilities.
OK. Let’s start with first base. There are 12 first basemen in the Hall of fame. The middle range for Hall of Famers is about 56 WAR — Hank Greenberg had 56.8 WAR, Bill Terry had 55.4 WAR.
John Olerud had 56.8 WAR, placing him above that line. So he was a good enough player. And he was CLEARLY overlooked. So he fits. He belongs.
There are three first other basemen who meet the Hall of Not Famous enough criteria. I am not including Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro for what I hope are obvious reasons, and I’m not including Jeff Bagwell because I believe he will start to get a lot more support. At least I hope so.
First basemen in the Hall of Not Famous Enough:
— Keith Hernandez (61 WAR). It amazes me that Hernandez, who won an MVP, played a prominent role for a championship team in in New York and starred both in Seinfeld and those I Can’t Believe this gloop is Hair Dye commercials* is not famous enough to go to the Hall of Fame. But that seems to be the case. He’s widely acknowledged to be the best defensive first baseman ever. And yet, he never got even 11% of the Hall vote, and he disappeared from the ballot without much fanfare, and it seems like the New York lobby group got behind Don Mattingly instead.
*I guess this is not what the product is actually called.
— Will Clark (57.6 WAR). He spent one year on the ballot, got 23 votes, disappeared and nobody seems to be fighting for him even though you could make an argument that for about three years in the late 1980s he was as good as anybody in baseball.
— John Olerud (56.8 WAR). The poster child for the Hall of Not Famous Enough.
WAR requirement: 60 (between Billy Herman’s 55.6 and Ryne Sandberg’s 62)
— Lou Whitaker (69.7). Perhaps the biggest omission by the baseball writers in the last couple of decades. He got just 15 votes in his one year on the ballot and disappeared from sight. There is an effort to make Whitaker a cause celebre, but with his name long gone from the ballot it seems unlikely that his real Hall of Fame case will ever take off.
— Bobby Grich (67.6). He IS a cause celebre among a very small circle of sabermetrically inclined people, largely because his skills (great defense, power, walked a ton) were wildly under-appreciated. He got just 11 votes his one year on the ballot, which was 30 less than Pete Rose got write-in votes. He also got almost 100 fewer votes than Maury Wills though he was a clearly superior player. Wills, of course, is a pretty famous cause celebre.
— Willie Randolph (60.5). Randolph is such a perfect candidate for the Hall of Not Famous Enough that I actually left him off my original list. (Leading to the zen-like question: Can someone be not famous enough for the Hall of Not Famous Enough?) I guess at the time my thinking then was that I would make the WAR requirement 62, same as Sandberg. But 60 is more representative of the Hall of Fame second basemen, and Randolph — another famous New York player who for some reason has just not captured the imagination of the masses — got just five Hall of Fame votes, though his .373 career on-base percentage is superb. He is absolutely one of the best second basemen ever even if people don’t remember him that way.
WAR requirement: 60 (between Lou Boudreau’s 56 and Joe Cronin’s 62.5)
— Alan Trammell (66.9). Trammell and Barry Larkin are the only two non Hall of Fame shortstops with a 60 WAR or better and Larkin will go next year. Trammell does have a chance to become a bit of a cause celebre once Larkin goes in, but I don’t think it will happen. Trammell and Whitaker, one of the most famous double play combinations in baseball history, figure to stay together in the Hall of Not Famous Enough.
WAR requirement 65 (between Home Run Baker’s 63.7 and Brooks Robinson’s 69.1)
I originally put the WAR at 60, to match shortstop and second base, and that list would have included Graig Nettles (61.6), Buddy Bell (60.8) and Sal Bando (60.6). But upon further review I see based on the third basemen in the Hall of Fame that the WAR standard for third basemen is higher.
Should the WAR standard for third base be higher? I don’t think so, but this is reality. There are more cause celebre third basemen (Santo, Ken Boyer, maybe even Darrell Evans) than any other position. I suppose this is because third base is a tweener position — the players generally don’t field like shortstops, and they don’t hit like corner outfielders — and as such the Hall of Fame has been tough for third basemen to crack.
So, at this time, I don’t think I’m putting any third basemen into the Hall of Not Famous Enough. it’s almost like the WHOLE THIRD BASE POSITION belongs in the Hall of Not Famous Enough.
WAR requirement: 60 (between Dave Winfield’s 59.7 and Goose Goslin’s 63.0)
There are a lot of outfielders in the Hall of Fame with very low WAR scores. There are the famously bad choices like Lloyd Waner (24.3) or Chick Hafey (29.5). More to the point, though, there are players of a more recent vintage like Jim Rice (41.5) and Andre Dawson (57 … I mistakenly put 43.6 earlier). So it’s tough to say — are Jim Rice and Andre Dawson, as the last two Hall of Fame choices of the writers, the new Hall standard? You certainly could make that argument. Or are they (as I suspect) players voted into the Hall based on the romance of memory?
Rice is obviously the key here. There are 38 non-active outfielders with a 41.5 WAR who are currently not in the Hall of Fame. And while some of them have drawn some cause celebre consideration (Tony Oliva, Minnie Minoso), most have not (Cesar Cedeno, Ellis Burks, Augie Galan, etc.).
I went with 60 as as WAR requirement to keep things simple.
— Tim Raines (64.6). I am desperately hoping that his case is gaining steam and that people are beginning to realize just how great a player he was. For now, though, I get the sense that he still belongs in the Hall of Not Famous Enough.
— Dwight Evans (61.8). I’d say that Keith Hernandez is the most baffling member of this Hall of Not Famous Enough — I have no idea why he was not more famous and why his case has not been taken on by more people. But Dewey is close. He was a prominent player in a famously passionate baseball city. Everyone knew he was terrific. He had a nickname. He had the great arm. He made famous plays. He made one of the most famous catches in World Series history. It’s fascinating to me that Rice and Dawson became cause celebres when each of them had a teammate who was, in my view anyway, the better player and yet keeps getting very little Hall of Fame consideration.
WAR requirement: 51 (between Gabby Hartnett’s 50.3 and Mickey Cochrane’s 51.2)
No non-Hall of Fame catcher quite hits the standard — Mike Piazza, who goes on the ballot next year, is at 59.1, well above the standard. Piazza’s Hall of Fame story will be interesting to watch for various reasons that are worthy of a whole other long post.
I originally had Ted Simmons on my list, but his 50.4 WAR puts him a touch below the median, and I wanted to to be sure that the players in the Hall of Not Famous Enough were pretty clearly good enough as players. Simmons was a terrific hitter. But, right or wrong, he had a reputation as a poor defensive catcher, so when arguing about Simmons the points are usually about that and not about anything else.
WAR requirement: 60 (between Ted Lyons 58.8 and Jim Bunning 60.1)
— Rick Reuschel (66.3). Maybe the pitching version of Olerud. Didn’t get any Hall of Fame consideration (two votes his one year on the ballot). Nobody seemed to think he should have gotten any more support. And yet, he was a terrific pitcher for a long time and might have been the best pitcher in baseball in 1977. His WAR number is staggering, isn’t it?
— Kevin Brown (64.8). There was a little bit of outrage in select circles about Kevin Brown getting knocked off the ballot after one year. Mostly, though, people didn’t care because nobody really liked Kevin Brown. He actually might be in the Hall of Not Likable Enough.
— Luis Tiant (60.1). His case is a fascinating story of bad timing. He got more than 30% of the vote his first year and seemed well on his way to at least becoming a cause celebre, and maybe even earning induction. That 30% was way more than Bert Blyleven (17.5%) or Jack Morris (22.2%) or various other famous cases. Then, unfortunately for El Tiante, an unprecedented stretch of 300-game winners hit Hall of Fame eligibility all at about the same time: Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro and Steve Carlton (not to mention excellent non-300 game winners like Jim Palmer and Fergie Jenkins).
Tiant fell off the map at that point. He lasted 15 years on the ballot, but never again came close to 30%, not even in his last year of eligibility.
Meanwhile, Catfish Hunter — whose career is stunningly similar to Tiant — hit the ballot three years earlier. His timing was exquisite, and he was in the Hall by 1987.
WAR requirement: 33 (Between Bruce Sutter’s 25 WAR and Rich Gossage’s 40 WAR).
No pitchers qualify. The closest is Lee Smith with a 30.3 WAR. That But this not really a fair category because:
(1) There are only four pitchers — Hoyt Wilhelm, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers — who are in the Hall of Fame solely based on their relief pitching. You could add Dennis Eckersley, but he won 151 games as a starter which was important in his Hall of Fame case. Four pitchers is not enough to give us a decent standard.
(2) Most people will tell you that WAR is not a particularly fair way to judge relievers.
The feelings about closers is still evolving, and evolving very quickly. It blows my mind that four pitchers have won MVP awards since 1975, and three were closers. Most people do understand that a great starter is more valuable than a great closer — relievers only rarely win the Cy Young — but for a time during the 1980s and early 1990s there was this desperate desire to turn closers into rock stars. Randy Johnson never finished higher than sixth in the MVP voting. Greg Maddux never finished higher than third. But Willie Hernandez won an MVP and so did Dennis Eckersley despite throwing only 80 innings.
Dan Quisenberry, as I have written many times, had a career that is eerily similar to Bruce Sutter. Quiz got almost no Hall of Fame support. Sutter became a cause celebre and is in the Hall. I have written about this many times because I loved Quiz, and I love his family, and because he was great and too few people remember that. But, to be blunt, I don’t think Sutter was a Hall of Famer, so it’s a troubling argument. I am certainly willing to open to the doors to the Hall of Not Famous Enough, and I think Quiz would be a strong candidate. But I think the opening class should be without closers.