The Hall of Fame has always been a conversation piece for fans of baseball. Especially when it comes to who deserves and does not deserve entry. Many hours have passed between friends of mine and myself arguing the merits of certain players. I am the most exclusionary, my friends, less so.
My friends argue what is, I argue what should be. They argue from the perspective of the BBWAA and VC, I argue from an elitist perspective. I find the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) and especially the VC (Veteran’s Committee) too lenient, to inclusive, not rigorous enough in its choices, my friends don’t have this arrogance.
My thoughts are quite simple, my criteria is quite easy. It still has a touch of an argument and opinion to it, but it is definitely not as lenient as the BBWAA or the VC.
In order for the reader t get a better idea of what I speak, let’s give a basic criteria of what the BBWAA thinks merits a player to enter the Hall. Although it is not an exact science, you can, if you review selections over the decades, see a tendency, a loose but still limited criteria, that the BBWAA use as a whole, to allow entry into the Hall. Here are what seems to be the minimum points:
1) Don’t cheat or gamble – See Pete Rose, Roger Clemens, and Joe Jackson on this point.
2) Become the best or thought of as the best at a particular part of the game over a long period of time (at least 7 years usually) – See Ozzie Smith, Nolan Ryan, and Rickey Henderson as examples.
3) Be good enough to stay in the game for a long period of time gaining 300 wins, 3000 hits, 500 Home Runs etc. or coming very close to it – See Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, and Bert Blyleven as examples.
Now if you include the VC you can expand that further to include the players who fit this criteria but were not thought great enough by the BBWAA. Guys like Ron Santo, Joe Gordon and Bill Mazeroski are examples of this.
Now that we have a pretty good idea of what the BBWAA and the VC consider worthy, I’s time to show what my criteria involves. Mine is much simpler. The starting point, the default point of view so to speak, is no one deserves entry. It’s like a driver’s licence, it’s a privilege, not a right.
My first point is the same as the BBWAA. If you cheat or gamble you stay out. My second point is you must be thought of as the greatest at your position in either or both leagues for your generation of ball players. If it can be argued that you were the best, then you are in.
Since about 35-40% of the league is pitchers, they fall under a different criteria. For starting pitchers, did they rise above the winning level of the teams they played on, and did they do it over a long period of time (around a decade or more). For relief pitchers, return to the criteria of the players in that if they were considered the best in their league, or both leagues, for their generation then they enter.
Different people have different opinions on what is great. What I mean by great is those abilities that directly lead to an increase in wins for the team. For example, if you steal 200 bases in a year which leads to your team scoring an extra 100 runs for the year, which created an extra 10 wins for the team but you also got caught stealing 200 times which cost your team 10 wins, then you, in this particular category, are an average player not a great player. Another example is if you won 30 games as a starting pitcher but lost 30, and your team went 81-81 then you are, in this category, an average pitcher.
With my criteria, the Hall of Fame would shrink by almost half. Borderline players would be out. Those players who have flashy stats but never really contributed to their team’s improvement would be out.
When speaking to my friends and other who have a good, if not great, knowledge of the game, about this subject, I usually have agreement for the most part up to this point in my argument. But once I show it being implemented, I lose almost everyone. Since I am writing a post not a book, I will cut to the chase and show you how quickly I lose people (and probably you as well) by using just one example. It’s the example that will show in a bright shiny light whether you are actually in agreement with my criteria or not.
The example is Nolan Ryan. If you want to draw a line in the sand and state those that think my criteria is correct, both in theory AND PRACTICE, then the line starts with Nolan Ryan. Do you think a pitcher who doesn’t contribute anything more than what an average pitcher would contribute deserves to be in the Hall of Fame? With all of Ryan’s seemingly super-human feats of baseball greatness, the man was never more than an average pitcher with a stellar fastball. Have I lost you yet?
Ryan is in the Hall for two main reasons: his strikeouts and his no-hitters, neither of which contributed to his teams winning anymore than they would’ve if Ryan wasn’t there and an average .500 pitcher was there instead. With all of Ryan’s flash, the man was the most famous .500 pitcher in history. When Ryan won 20 games he lost 17, when he struck out 300 he walked 150. For every shutout, no hitter, one or two hitter he threw, he also would lose because of a home run or walk given up in places where the great pitchers of the game would get the out.
You might say, as dozens have said to me before, “Ryan was always on bad teams so no wonder he lost so many games.” This is the lamest argument I have ever heard. A great pitcher, one who is Hall-worthy, takes his team, puts it on his back, and carries it to the post-season, or at minimum wins at a better average than the team does generally. Ryan saw this first hand as a rookie back in 1969 when Tom Seaver brought the Mets to the World Series. If Ryan was a great pitcher his teams would have done better when he was pitching for them. They didn’t. In fact with Ryan being a strikeout pitcher, his reliance on his teammates is reduced. More strikeouts means less ground balls and fly balls that bad defensive teams might misplay into errors or extra hits.
When Ryan played he was never thought of as the greatest pitcher of his generation. Men like Seaver, Palmer, Carlton, Jenkins, Hunter, Blue, Richards, were thought of as better, and only the first three deserve Hall entry using my criteria, with Jenkins at the borderline. Lets compare what a typical season for the great pitchers of the ’70s and compare that to Ryan’s:
Compare with Nolan Ryan
As you can see all the pitchers stats are comparable, but only Palmer and Seaver stand out. But Ryan, with a better strikeout count, a better hits to innings pitch percentage than all the others still couldn’t rise above those pitchers in wins. It was the walks and untimely home runs. Even Jenkins, also on a bad team, pitching in an offensive park (Wrigley) managed to win on a more frequent basis. It was because of his lower walk total and tenacity. Ryan, with his 3.19 E.R.A. should’ve won many more games than he did, if he is a great pitcher. If his team scored 1 run He should find a way to pitch a shut out. If his team scored 2 runs then he should find a way to give up one. The greats do this with much more frequency.
Ryan is on a level below these pitchers. Here are four more Hall of Fame pitchers:
Compare with Nolan Ryan II
Again Ryan fails to achieve what they achieved, although he is coming closer.
How about some non Hall of Famers:
Compare with Nolan Ryan III
All the pitchers above had had some Hall of Fame interest from the VC, some may make it in the future. But even these pitchers looked over and rejected by the BBWAA win at a better rate than Ryan. We didn’t even include comparisons to many other pitchers during the ’70s who were considered better than Ryan but did not last long enough to reach the Hall. Pitchers like J.R. Richard, who played on an awful Astros team yet won 60% of his games for a decade. Ryan couldn’t do that with the Angels or the Astros.
Ryan was a fan favourite, his longevity was amazing, especially because he didn’t need to change from a power pitcher to a control pitcher later in his career (he was unique in this). His strike out totals and number of no-hitters is also great (better than every pitcher mentioned in this post, better than every pitcher in the history of baseball). But those feats are meaningless if they don’t translate into an improved team winning percentage. Ryan was the Vince Coleman of pitchers (if Coleman lasted another decade). If Coleman stayed in the league longer, was less injured, and stole 100 bases each year for 15 years, it still wouldn’t merit Hall entry because his lack of hitting skill and low walk totals always more often than not cost his team as much or more than the stolen bases added.
In the end, who would you rather have pitching on your team for a pennant run, Seaver, Palmer, Koufax, Gibson, Marichal, Drysdale, Ford, Spahn, and the list goes on and on, or Ryan? It’s a simple and obvious answer and makes what I said in my criteria have merit. If I still haven’t lost you anyway.