More and more often, I’m asked about my “personal Hall of Fame”. The “personal Hall of Fame” is a simple concept—what would the Hall of Fame look like if you were able to start from scratch and populate it however you want?
One might think the Hall of Stats is my personal Hall. It’s close—but it’s not. There are players that the Hall of Stats removes that I don’t agree with. There are also several players in the Hall of Stats that I wouldn’t put in the Hall of Fame.
I’ve talked a lot about certain players belonging or not. For example, you know I supported Deacon White and continue to support Alan Trammell (and others). You also know I don’t think Tommy McCarthy belongs. But those are easy ones. There are still a lot if players I need to commit to, one way or another, before I can establish my personal Hall.
This is part one on that process. And I need your feedback to help me along.
The “Automatic” Level
The first step is to identify my automatic cutoff. What’s the level at which I’d enshrine anyone who exceeds it? I found out recently that’s a 130 Hall Rating. Why only recently? I just went digging and came to the conclusion that I fully support Rick Reuschel for the Hall. He was the only player over 130 I had yet to completely commit to.
Additionally, I also support all upcoming (there are ten) and active (there are six) candidates who exceed 130.
In all, 96 currently eligible players have a Hall Rating of 130 or better.
- 17 are not in the Hall of Fame.
- 8 will be on the ballot next year.
- 5 were unceremoniously dumped from the ballot after one try (Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, Kevin Brown, Rick Reuschel, and Kenny Lofton).
- 2 played before the turn of the 20th century (Bill Dahlen and Jack Glasscock).
- 2 are banned (Pete Rose and Joe Jackson), but I would put them in my Hall.
So, right away, my personal Hall is at 96 members.
The “Near-Automatic” Level
For step two, I drew a line at 110 Hall Rating. I’ve long assumed that my personal Hall cutoff would be right around there—with a few adjustments.
There are 68 additional eligible players with a Hall Rating between 110 and 130.
- 25 are not in the Hall if Fame.
- Of the 68, I’m still on the fence about 16 if them (to varying degrees—I’m not classifying any of them as “no” just yet).
- None of the 16 are in the Hall of Fame.
- That means that all 121 Hall of Fame inductees with a Hall Rating of 110 or better are fine selections in my book. The other 87 Hall of Famers? We’ll see in Part 2 of this series.
There are plenty of players in this group that I support without question—including non-Hall of Famers like Tim Raines, Dwight Evans, and Dick Allen. In fact, I’ll put 52 of the 68 in right away. That brings my personal Hall to 148 members (121 Hall of Famers and 27 on the outside).
On the Fence
Finally, I’m going to focus on the 16 players I’m still “on the fence” about. I’ll include their status in the Hall of Merit and an idea of which way I’m leaning.
Willie Randolph (125)
Hall of Merit: Yes. Leaning Towards: No. Randolph is the top player on this list, but still has me leaning towards no. Most players I strongly support have their legions of backers. I can’t find that with Randolph—except that he was interestingly elected to the Hall of Merit. Randolph’s offense was modestly above average (nearly Trammell-esque) and his defense really dazzled—according to Total Zone. He never won a Gold Glove, though. Generally, I probably over-trust Total Zone. But when a guy’s case relies on those numbers being right, I try to make sure they’re legit. You just don’t find people fighting for Randolph like you do Trammell, Whitaker, Grich, or even Lofton. Anyone want to fight for him? I can be swayed.
Graig Nettles (124)
Hall of Merit: Yes. Leaning Towards: Yes. Nettles is one of four third baseman on this list. All of them rank among the 16 best third basemen ever (by Hall Rating), but none are enshrined. Nettles actually ranks ninth, which should be an automatic induction. Nettles’ .248 average would stick out in the Hall like a sore thumb, but he more than made up for it with power and defense. The defense is backed up by only two Gold Gloves, but Nettles’ defense is widely revered (and Brooks Robinson won nine of his Gold Gloves while sharing the league with Nettles).
Reggie Smith (124)
Hall of Merit: Yes. Leaning Towards: Yes. I think the only thing holding me up about Smith—like Reuschel and Randolph—is that I never considered him a Hall of Famer before I discovered WAR. But he’s a classic all-around player in the Whitaker mold. He just played lower value positions. What he accomplished in less than 2000 games is pretty remarkable. With more full seasons, he probably would have been in long ago.
Buddy Bell (123)
Hall of Merit: No. Leaning Towards: Yes. As a kid in Massachusetts obsessed with the Texas Rangers (blame Nolan Ryan), I assumed Bell was a decent candidate because of his hit total (more than 2,500). But it’s really his defense that allowed him to provide Hall of Fame value. That defense is backed by six consecutive Gold Gloves after Nettles won his two. Bell also had to deal with sharing a league with Nettles and Robinson, likely costing him several more. Bell and Nettles are each other’s #1 most similar player. Both were defensive wizards. They were similarly valuable with the bat, though Nettles did it with a low average and power while Bell collected a lot of hits with moderate power. The only thing holding me back about Bell is that hardly anyone advocates for him. From a value perspective, the only difference I see between him and Nettles is the fact that Nettles’ prime came in New York while Bell toiled in Texas. Perhaps I should become the advocate he lacks.
Bret Saberhagen (121)
Hall of Merit: Yes. Leaning Towards: Yes. When Saberhagen was healthy, he was incredible. It’s just a matter of whether or not he lasted long enough. I’m pretty sure he did. Saberhagen’s peak was so high that he had seasons with 9.2 and 7.7 WAR. I was curious how many pitchers reach those levels (a 9+ WAR season and a 7+ WAR season, since 1901) without being Hall of Famers. Five eligible pitchers have. One is obviously Roger Clemens. The others are Saberhagen, Wilbur Wood (who had 11.5, 10.3, and 7.2 WAR seasons), Kevin Appier, and Teddy Higuera. All but Higuera are in the Hall of Stats. Saberhagen has the best career value of each of them (besides Clemens, of course). I’d probably argue Wood had the better peak. What really makes Saberhagen particularly compelling to me is that he has to be in the conversation for the best pitcher outside of the Hall.
Sal Bando (116)
Hall of Merit: No. Leaning Towards: Yes. Already our third third baseman—they get no respect. I wasn’t always high on Bando, but ranking 14th all time at your position (11th among Hall-eligibles) has to put you in the conversation. It’s easy to see why he was underrated—he played in an offensive-depressed era, hit for low average (.254), drew much of his value from walks (.352 OBP) and modest power (242 home runs), and played a historically underrated position. The top four third baseman outside of the Hall of Fame (Nettles, Bell, Bando, and Ken Boyer) are all very similar in value. I used to wonder how you could put any of them in without putting them all in. Now, I’m just about ready to put them all in.
Ken Boyer (116)
Hall of Merit: Yes. Leaning Towards: Yes. Like Nettles and Bell, I find it hard to draw any difference in value between Bando and Boyer. They are each other’s #1 comp. Boyer was more decorated, winning an MVP and five Gold Gloves (backed up by nice Total Zone numbers) while starting a half-dozen All Star Games and appearing in five more (Bando appeared in four, starting one). Also, while Bando received three total Hall of Fame votes (0.7%), Boyer stayed on the ballot for 15 years, maxing out at 25.5%. My only hangup about putting Nettles, Bell, Bando, and Boyer all in is that they all came from roughly the same era. That’s a small concern, though.
Sammy Sosa (116)
Hall of Merit: No. Leaning Towards: No. I don’t take PEDs into consideration much with my Hall of Fame research. Basically, I support players linked to PEDs, but I don’t fight for them. I support Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. They were great players. But Sosa I have trouble with. Perhaps it’s because he actually falls below the Hall of Fame median (by Hall Rating). Even (allegedly) assisted by chemistry, he still would decrease the average value of the Hall. I guess that’s where my problem lies. On the other hand—we praised the hell out of him for saving baseball. Now we’re turning our backs on him. That feels wrong.
Keith Hernandez (115)
Hall of Merit: Yes. Leaning Towards: Yes. Keith Hernandez is here because I can’t think of any reason to say no. I’ve looked into why he’s been overlooked. Reasons include the fact that his skillset didn’t match the first base profile (walks and defense over power), his part in the cocaine scandal of the 1980s, and apparently accusations from Whitey Herzog that he didn’t hustle. He had good offensive numbers—surprisingly good—in a relatively short career. His incredible defensive numbers are backed up by 11 Gold Gloves and some great research by Bill James about Hernandez’s assist totals. It’s hard to believe the New York spotlight didn’t help him get in. He probably deserves it.
Dave Stieb (114)
Hall of Merit: Yes. Leaning Towards: I have no idea. Here’s the thing with Stieb… I was preparing to write a paragraph about how I was leaning towards voting against Stieb. I opened his stats page and… got distracted. You see, all of Stieb’s value is concentrated through his age 32 season. So I looked up eligible non-Hall pitchers since 1901 to see who had the most WAR through age 32. The list was eye-opening. #1 was Roger Clemens. #2 was Stieb.
Clark Griffith (114)
Hall of Merit: Yes. Leaning Towards: No. I don’t question Griffith’s spot in the Hall. He’s in as an executive and I’m evaluating him as a player. He’s right on the borderline. But for turn of the 20th century pitchers, I need to see a bit more. He’ll make it under a different category, though.
Bobby Bonds (112)
Hall of Merit: No. Leaning Towards: No. If Dave Stieb is my borderline for pitchers, Bobby Bonds is basically my borderline for hitters. If he lasted longer, he’d be an easy choice. But after age 33, he played just 131 games, added 11 homers and 20 steals, and was worth –0.6 WAR. Even with the short career, he had 1,886 hits, 332 home runs, 461 stolen bases, and five 30/30 years. Sadly, he’ll always be remembered as Barry’s dad.
Kevin Appier (111)
Hall of Merit: No. Leaning Towards: No. On the aforementioned list of pitcher WAR through age 32 (see Dave Stieb’s entry), Appier ranks fifth. I never considered Appier anything close to Hall of Fame level when he was active. But I also wasn’t paying attention to what he was really doing. The truth is, he was remarkable in his 20s, earning 43.7 WAR. Because he pitched for Kansas City, he only had 104 victories (though he still won at a .571 clip) to show for it. His ERAs were always sharp—he won an ERA title in 1993 and had a 136 ERA+ through 1997. Yet, he was an All Star once. Appier is pretty close to Dave Stieb. Stieb is right at the borderline for me and so is Appier.
Babe Adams (110)
Hall of Merit: No. Leaning Towards: No. Babe Adams? Really? I was surprised to see him in the Hall of Stats. But then you head over to his page on Baseball-Reference and see a lot of bold numbers. What did he lead the league in? WHIP five times. BB/9 four times. K/BB four times. ERA+ once. Basically, all categories that only recently came into existence. He only won 194 games (winning 20 twice), so he isn’t well-remembered. In his mid-30s, he battled ineffectiveness and found himself in the minors. But he came back and won 81 games after that point (with 21.9 WAR). It’s not a typical career arc. I’m leaning heavily towards no, but he’s so much better than he gets credit for. I have never once heard his name mentioned in Hall of Fame debates.
Jim Wynn (110)
Hall of Merit: Yes. Leaning Towards: No. Before Kenny Lofton came along, Jimmy Wynn was the best center fielder outside of the Hall of Fame. How the heck is a .250 hitter with just 1,665 hits who was done at the age of 35 get into the discussion? Wynn’s OBP is a full 166 points higher than his batting average. He hit for some power, too. He also played in some of the worst pitchers parks in the worst era for hitters. Once you context-adjust his numbers, he leaps to the Hall of Fame borderline. While I’m tempted to throw my support behind Wynn, he’ll likely have to settle for being the best position player to never receive a Hall of Fame vote.
Sherry Magee (110)
Hall of Merit: Yes. Leaning Towards: No. It’s rather surprising that Magee isn’t in the Hall of Fame. He played during an era with very low Hall standards and he was a great player. In 1910, he managed to lead the league in batting, OBP, slugging, OPS, OPS+, runs, runs batted in, and total bases. He was a solid all around player with a 134 wRC+, 2,169 hits, 441 steals, and above average Total Zone numbers. But he was done at 34, providing 90% of his value through age 30. The short career guys just need to do a bit more to get over that borderline.
Interestingly, I’m not leaning towards selecting anyone with a Hall Rating under 115. I could still change my mind, though.
In Part 2, I’ll look at the players below the 110 threshold—both in and out of the Hall of Fame.
What Do You Think?
Update: Here are the results of the poll originally posted with this article.
For the most part, the readers agree with my initial assessment of this group. The first six are players I agree with. Then it’s Sosa, who I can go either way on (but still lean towards No). Then comes Bell, who I know I’m higher on than others. The most enlightening result was Willie Randolph. Apparently, I’m not the only one who remains to be sold on him.