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How the Hall Failed

How the Hall Failed: The Roaring Twenties, Thirties, and Veterans Committee

This may or may not be all of the players the Hall's Veterans Committee inducted from 1970-1984

This may or may not be all of the players the Hall’s Veterans Committee inducted from 1970-1984.

One of the tenets of the HoME, which certainly hasn’t applied to the Hall, is that we strive for balance by position and by era. We can debate, as Eric and I have and will, whether balance by era is a relatively equal number of players or if it’s an even distribution in terms of plate appearances and innings pitched. What can’t be argued is that the Hall’s balance makes any sense.

In the past in this series, we’ve looked at individual players and tried to explain how they found their way into the Hall. Today, we’re going to consider some selections of the Hall’s Veterans Committee for the fifteen years starting in 1970. When the Hall makes a mistake with individual players, it’s upsetting. However, when the Hall makes a mistake with a generation of players, it’s even worse.

In a story that’s been told many times, Frankie Frisch, and to a lesser extent Bill Terry, ran the Vets Committee for years, and they helped to enshrine many of their less-than-deserving teammates and other contemporaries. But it wasn’t just Frisch and Terry who helped to over-represent the era. This craziness continued even after Frisch’s death in 1973.

Anyway, rather than play the blame game, let’s check out the chart below and then discuss impact.

Year  Player          Career      Teammates                             Comparable
1970  Earle Combs     1924-1935                                         Al Oliver
1970  Jesse Haines    1918-1937   Frisch, 1927-1937                     Mike Hampton
1971  Dave Bancroft   1915-1930   Frisch, 1920-1923; Terry, 1923        Bert Campaneris
1971  Chick Hafey     1924-1937   Frisch, 1927-1931                     Rico Carty
1971  Harry Hooper    1909-1925                                         Jack Clark
1971  Rube Marquard   1908-1925                                         Mike Boddicker
1972  Lefty Gomez     1930-1943                                         Mark Gubicza
1972  Ross Youngs     1917-1926   Frisch, 1919-1926; Terry, 1923-1926   Bobby Murcer
1973  George Kelly    1915-1932   Frisch, 1919-1926; Terry, 1923-1926   Derrek Lee
1974  Jim Bottomley   1922-1937   Frisch, 1927-1932                     Cecil Cooper
1975  Earl Averill    1929-1941                                         Fred Lynn
1976  Fred Lindstrom  1924-1936   Frisch, 1924-1926; Terry, 1924-1932   Terry Pendleton
1979  Hack Wilson     1923-1934   Frisch, 1923-1925; Terry, 1923-1925   Brady Anderson
1980  Chuck Klein     1928-1944                                         Ken Singleton
1982  Travis Jackson  1922-1936   Terry, 1923-1936                      Nomar Garciaparra
1984  Rick Ferrell    1929-1947                                         Jason Kendall

What you see above is a bunch of undeserving Hall of Famers, all from about the same era. Quibble if you will about Harry Hooper’s incredible defense. Or maybe you’re a Chuck Klein guy. It doesn’t really matter. The argument here isn’t about individual players for whom you could make a case. Rather, it’s about an era being way over-represented in Cooperstown.

We either see a Hall bloated by a dozen and a half players, or we see a Hall that has misrepresented several different eras in the game’s history.

What would the Hall be like if we subtracted those guys and added Bob Boone, Frank White, Don Money, Greg Luzinski, Amos Otis, Dave Parker, Vida Blue, and Jon Matlack? It would probably be a little better. And the representation across eras would improve.

Take a look at the chart below. It shows the number of Hall of Famers who made plate appearances in a given season. We should expect a relatively even distribution. Maybe the recent years should have fewer representatives because the voters are still sorting out their careers and because AL pitchers basically didn’t hit from 1973-1996. Otherwise, the distribution should be relatively even, right?

How the Hall Failed, Frisch and Terry, IIDon’t have the eyesight of Ted Williams? Click here.

There’s nothing close to an even distribution. What you see, I think, is astonishing. Every year from 1923-1937 there are at least 40 Hall of Famers coming to the plate. In no other season in baseball history do we see that many, even though we had integration, expansion, more expansion, even more expansion, and additional groups of players who were scouted. Were players just better from 1923-1937? Hardly.

By adding Vida Blue, Don Money, and company, I’d just be shifting the problem, right? Actually, by one way of looking at things, that’s not even true. A better way to consider distribution, perhaps, is the percentage of trips to the plate each season by Hall of Famers. It can be argued that we shouldn’t see the same raw number of Hall of Famers in a season. Rather, we should be equally likely to see a Hall of Famer playing in an individual game at any point in history.

How the Hall Failed, Frisch and Terry IIIStop squinting, click here.

Let’s look at some select seasons to see the problems the Veterans Committee has caused.

Year    Percentage of PA     Comments
          in the Hall   
1871        3.19%            The first season of the National Association.
1880       10.40%
1890        8.46%
1900       21.59%            NL collapsed from 12 to 8, increasing the % of HOFers.
1910       10.28%
1915        7.41%
1920       13.06%            The spike is getting started.
1925       20.56%            The spike is here and lasts for a decade.
1926       21.78%
1927       22.01%
1928       22.73%
1929       23.97%
1930       21.36%
1931       21.26%
1932       22.32%
1933       23.16%
1934       21.25%
1940       14.07%            The return to normalcy begins.
1945        4.96%            The best players are off at war.
1950       12.54%
1955       13.62%
1960       13.40%
1965       10.67%
1970        9.36%
1975        8.10%
1980        7.15%
1985        7.84%
1990        6.33%
1995        3.57%
2000        1.13%

Clearly there’s a tremendous peak from 1925-1934. And if we shifted some of their plate appearances to the 1970s via guys like Bob Boone and Frank White, we would actually improve the historical distribution by plate appearances.

Our historical norm is 8.93%. If we eliminate plate appearances after 1995, which aren’t yet properly represented in the Hall anyway, we see that 11.15% of all plate appearances are enshrined. And if we eliminate our decade from 1925-1934, we see 10.22% of plate appearances in the Hall. That’s the real baseline, 10.22%. And that number is higher than any year after 1968.

Basically, fans in the 20s and 30s were incredibly lucky – they were seeing Hall of Famers twice as frequently as we are. And fans after 1968, well, they haven’t really seen so many great players.

Of course, I jest.

What this means for the construction of the HoME, as we’ve already seen, is that a bunch of guys who played in 1931, for example, aren’t going to make it. We’ve already killed off people like Jesse Haines, Ross Youngs, Earle Combs, Jim Bottomley. And there are more still to come. What this also means, since we plan for the HoME to have the same size population as the Hall, is that players of a more recent vintage will take their place.

No, I’m not talking about Greg Luzinski and Jon Matlack, but I expect plenty from that era to enter the HoME. Who? Well, you’ll have to check back here to find out.




2 thoughts on “How the Hall Failed: The Roaring Twenties, Thirties, and Veterans Committee

  1. Hadn’t seen this post before. I might quibble about adding Ross Youngs, but then I was a big Bobby Murcer fan.

    Posted by verdun2 | June 3, 2015, 8:53 am
  2. If you’re an absolute maniac for peak, there’s reason to like Youngs and Murcer. But they both had peaks of two seasons. Actually, Youngs had seven nice seasons, while Murcer just hung on. Youngs might have become Roy Cullenbine if he’d have improved on those seasons in his prime.

    Posted by Miller | June 3, 2015, 11:20 am

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