Here's a Contemporary Hall of Fame Ballot that Makes Sense
Before getting into the Contemporary Ballot I would have made … I was re-reading a Bill James essay from a few years ago about how to fix the Hall of Fame, and I would recommend reading the whole thing if you haven’t, but there was something in it that struck me anew: We often complain about the Baseball Writers Association of America’s Hall of Fame voting or the BBWAA voting procedures or individual BBWAA votes. I do this and I’ve been IN the BBWAA for 30 years.
But, as Bill rightly points out:
“The first thing that should be noted, about the Hall of Fame’s selection process, is that more than 99% of the shoddy work has been done not by the BBWAA, but by the various and sundry and mundry committees that have acted on the Hall of Fame’s behalf.”
There have been 130 players voted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA — and I’ll break them down for you by position to make it easier;
DH: David Ortiz; Edgar Martinez; Frank Thomas; Paul Molitor.
C: Ivan Rodriguez; Mike Piazza; Gary Carter; Carlton Fisk; Johnny Bench; Yogi Berra; Roy Campanella; Gabby Hartnett; Bill Dickey; Mickey Cochrane.
1B: Jeff Bagwell; Jim Thome; Eddie Murray; Tony Perez; Rod Carew; Willie McCovey; Harmon Killebrew; Ralph Kiner; Hank Greenberg; Bill Terry; Jimmie Foxx; George Sisler.
2B: Craig Biggio; Roberto Alomar; Ryne Sandberg; Joe Morgan; Jackie Robinson; Rogers Hornsby; Eddie Collins; Nap Lajoie.
3B: Chipper Jones; Wade Boggs; George Brett; Mike Schmidt; Brooks Robinson; Eddie Mathews; Pie Traynor.
SS: Derek Jeter; Barry Larkin; Cal Ripken Jr.; Ozzie Smith; Robin Yount; Luis Aparicio; Ernie Banks; Lou Boudreau; Joe Cronin; Rabbit Maranville; Frankie Frisch; Honus Wagner.
LF: Tim Raines; Jim Rice; Rickey Henderson; Carl Yastrzemski; Willie Stargell; Billy Williams; Lou Brock; Stan Musial; Ducky Medwick; Ted Williams; Al Simmons.
CF: Ken Griffey Jr.; Kirby Puckett; Duke Snider; Willie Mays; Mickey Mantle; Joe DiMaggio; Tris Speaker; Ty Cobb.
RF: Larry Walker; Vladimir Guerrero; Andre Dawson; Tony Gwynn; Dave Winfield; Reggie Jackson; Frank Robinson; Henry Aaron; Al Kaline; Paul Waner; Harry Heilmann; Mel Ott; Wee Willie Keeler; Babe Ruth.
SP: Mike Mussina; Roy Halladay; John Smoltz; Pedro Martinez; Randy Johnson; Greg Maddux; Tom Glavine; Bert Blyleven; Nolan Ryan; Don Sutton; Phil Niekro; Steve Carlton; Tom Seaver; Gaylord Perry; Ferguson Jenkins; Jim Palmer; Catfish Hunter; Don Drysdale; Juan Marichal; Bob Gibson; Robin Roberts; Bob Lemon; Whitey Ford; Warren Spahn; Early Wynn; Sandy Koufax; Bob Feller; Dazzy Vance; Ted Lyons; Dizzy Dean; Herb Pennock; Carl Hubbell; Lefty Grove; Pete Alexander; Cy Young; Christy Mathewson; Walter Johnson.
RP: Mariano Rivera; Trevor Hoffman; Goose Gossage; Bruce Sutter; Dennis Eckersley; Rollie Fingers; Hoyt Wilhelm.
Look at that — suitable for clipping! We are all about customer service here at JoeBlogs. By the way, the players are listed in the reverse order of when they were elected. So the first player listed at each position was the most recent player elected at that position and then the next recent and so on and so on.
Now, there are two ways to look at this list. The first is: How many MISTAKES are on the list? That is to say — how many players did the BBWAA vote into the Hall of Fame who are probably not qualified Hall of Famers? For this, let’s look at the player at each position with the fewest WAR.
Designated hitter: David Ortiz (55.3 WAR). Yeah, Papi is a Hall of Famer, no mistakes here. He’s one of the most iconic players in baseball history.
Catcher: Roy Campanella (41.8 WAR). Obviously Campanella, a three-time MVP, is not only a Hall of Famer but an inner circle one. He spent many years in the Negro leagues.
First base: Tony Pérez (54.0 WAR). I think Doggie is a Hall of Famer — I wrote about this so extensively when I was a columnist in Cincinnati, that he actually called me to thank me after he was elected, which was very nice. But I could see the argument against him, the main one being that most of the comparable players are not in the Hall.
Second base: Jackie Robinson (63.8 WAR). If the Hall of Fame had only five people, Robinson would obviously be one of them so, yeah, not a mistake.
Third base: Pie Traynor (38.5 WAR):. Looking through a 2022 lens, yes, Pie Traynor might have been a mistake. But can we really do that? I mean he was elected in 1948, when there weren’t that many third basemen to choose from, In fact, he was (1) the first third baseman elected and (2) widely regarded at the time as the greatest third baseman in baseball history. I mean, he was a .320 lifetime hitter and had a reputation as a defensive wizard. Sure, in retrospect, his defensive numbers do not really hold up and his hitting, in context, was not all that special. Stan Hack was probably the better player. Still, in historical context, Traynor was probably not a mistake.
Shortstop: Rabbit Maranville (43.9 WAR). Maranville was one of the great characters of his day, as well as the leading defensive shortstop. At the same time, he couldn’t hit. I think his legendary status makes him a legit Hall of Famer — particularly considering he was elected in 1954 — but you may differ.
Leftfield: Lou Brock (45.3 WAR). WAR is not kind to Brock because he was not a good leftfielder and did not walk much or hit for much power. But WAR underestimates his greatness. Obviously, he’s a Hall of Famer — 3,000 hits, 938 steals and a World Series superstar? Of course he belongs in Cooperstown.
Centerfield: Kirby Puckett (51.2 WAR). I’m not sure it would have made a difference, but some ugly things came out about Puckett AFTER he was elected to the Hall of Fame. As a borderline candidate (because his career was cut so short) those allegations might have given BBWAA voters pause. As it turns out, Puckett’s entry into the Hall has sparked the argument for other players with brilliant but short careers, such as Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy.
Rightfield: Vladimir Guerrero (59.5 WAR). I suppose someone could make a passionate argument against Vlady … but I don’t really want to know that person.
Starting pitcher: Catfish Hunter (36.3 WAR). He benefited from great timing. He became eligible for the Hall in 1985, before a flurry of 300-game winners and all-time superstars took over the ballot. In his three years on the ballot, Hunter’s greatest competition among pitchers was Jim Bunning, Mickey Lolich, Lew Burdette, guys like that. Bunning was the better pitcher, certainly, but he was not popular and Hunter raced by him. I wouldn’t vote him into the Hall, no. But mistake? Harder to say. He definitely was an icon of his time.
Relief pitcher: Bruce Sutter (24.5 WAR). This is probably the weirdest choice in my time on the BBWAA. As I’ve written many times, if Bruce Sutter was a Hall of Famer then Dan Quisenberry was a Hall of Famer. But Sutter was elected and Quiz never even came close, and that bugged me a lot. The BBWAA has long had a weird love of dominant relief pitchers (I mean, Mariano Rivera was elected unanimously).
OK, so all in all, I don’t think the BBWAA has made too many mistakes on the players it has elected. You can certainly pick at the edges, but I’d say Bill is right: The players elected by the BBWAA are NOT the problem. The problem comes with the players NOT elected by the BBWAA … and the Hall of Fame’s various and ever-changing efforts to right those wrongs.
This year’s effort to right those wrongs is called the “Contemporary Era Players Committee.” That committee will be given a ballot of eight players whose careers were mainly from 1980-on and who were not elected by the BBWAA. My first reaction to the ballot was something along the likes of, “Yikes, this is going to start a lot of fights.” But the longer I’ve studied it, the more I think it’s actually an atrocious ballot and reflects the sort of thinking that has led these sorts of committees to make mistake after mistake after mistake through the years.
First I’ll break down my problems with the ballot and then I’ll tell you what my ballot would have looked like:
Albert Belle: Now, look, I can wax poetic all day long about what a phenomenal hitter Albert Belle was, particularly in Cleveland. He’s one of the best I’ve seen. But