It doesn’t take much effort to find a blog, a sports-radio show, a TV segment or an ESPN article that is currently bashing the BBWAA voting for the Hall of Fame, or bashing the Hall itself for its methods. In fact, it’s much more difficult to find anyone who doesn’t have a problem with the system.
I have plenty of issues with the way things are done too, but I wanted to take a quick look back at past ballots and see if things are worse than they were, or if the system has just never been that great. In doing so, I hoped to maybe discover a few ballplayers of the past that I had never heard of, the guys that never quite made the cut… the Kenny Lofton and Lou Whitaker of our fathers’ time.
In this first part, I want to take a look at the voting itself, not so much the comparison of today’s players to yesterday’s. I chose 1970 as a starting point; it’s long enough ago that many of us reading this weren’t around for it, but not so long ago that we don’t recognize some of the names.
Right off the bat, I found something interesting. Who was Marty Marion?
1970 Hall of Fame Votes
Boudreau (with over 75% of the votes) was the only one to get in that year. Those in italics are players who later got into the Hall.
|Pee Wee Reese||97||32.3|
|Johnny Vander Meer||88||29.3|
Marty Marion was a slick-fielding shortstop for the successful Cardinals teams of the 1940’s. He was a team leader, was central to three World Series championships, and was elected NL MVP in 1944. He never would get in to the Hall.
We see that, in 1970, Marion got more votes than 10 other players who eventually got in, including Duke Snider, who received only 17% of the vote. We also see poor Gil Hodges, lodged in the no-man’s land of 48.3%, somewhat similar to Tim Raines today.
The part that jumped out at me was the fact that Marty Marion finished higher than brother shortstop Pee Wee Reese. Can you hear the Sabermetrics community screaming? “Reese had (literally) twice the career WAR as Marion!” Can you hear the old-school voters? “Reese was good, but Marion lead the league in Fielding % more times and has an MVP Award!”
Looking at it now, it does look like they would have been considered pretty even at the time. They literally went back-and-forth throughout the 1940’s leading the league in fielding, and alternated who started the All-Star Game for the NL. Perhaps more importantly for the voters in 1970 though was that Reese would have eight more years of eligibility after that vote, whereas Marion would be down to his final three.
So we can see that politics was front-and-center even in 1970. Duke Snider, with his 407 homers, high WAR and loads of fame from the Dodgers’ pennant runs barely got any votes at all. But that was his first year on the ballot. Reese was likely a better player than Marion, but Marion was running out of time. And seven other guys on that list (besides Reese and Snider) would also eventually get in, when the voters felt it was right.
The next year (1971), Yogi Berra appeared on the ballot for the first time. Even with his 3 MVPs, 13 World Series rings and 18 All-Star Game appearances, Berra fell short of election. Apparently the “first ballot HOFer” title was a very elite thing at the time. Only a select few made it in on the first try.
On the flip side, the excellent pitcher Billy Pierce was eliminated from the ballot for good, in just his second year. He received just 1.9% of the vote, while eventual Hall of Famer Bob Lemon received 25% that year. While Lemon had quite a few more 20-Win seasons than Pierce, if we look at the things that matter (and even total Wins), they look nearly identical (and they played in the AL at almost the exact same time). Take a look at their numbers:
World Series appearances: 2
World Series ERA: 1.89 (in 19 innings)
World Series appearances: 2
World Series ERA: 3.94 (in 29.2 innings)
So even 45 years ago, the Hall of Fame voting was wrought with politics and subjectivity that didn’t do justice to many great players. I will look further back (1960-61) next time, and see if it was the case then as well.