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.