The Test: Framing Baseball’s Hall of Fame Debate

THE DEBATE

Let’s talk about America’s national pastime.

Baseball was dubbed America’s “National Pastime” before the Civil War, but I don’t mean baseball. I mean arguing. Arguing about baseball. Arguing about baseball is as American as apple pie; it combines the best features of America’s longest-running spectator sport (baseball) with America’s longest-running participation sport (arguing).

We love to debate, and we will debate about anything. Name any two items, and you have a debate. Two people were just debating the relative merits of heads or tails while you were reading the words “heads,” “or” and “tails.” It doesn’t even have to be heads or tails. A cursory web search for which “Olsen twin is hotter” generated 1,510 hits.

We especially love unsettled debates. Ginger or Mary Ann? Peanut butter or chocolate? Are you a little bit country, or a little bit rock-n-roll? I may be dating myself with my pop culture references, but you get the point. Debating has been around for a while.

What is Hamlet’s soliloquy but a man engaged in an impassioned debate with himself? Julius Caesar’s debate partners disagreed with a whole lot of sharpened steel. Original sin might have been the first debate. Good? Evil? Let’s discuss. Want an apple?

We love a good contrarian argument. If there’s an angel on your left shoulder, sure as a nun with a stiff wooden ruler there will be a devil on your right shoulder, picking his teeth and waiting. You need the devil’s input, too, because two angels would be boring and a one-sided argument is about as satisfying as a stifled sneeze.

If we don’t have an argument at hand, we’ll make something up. What is a county fair but a series of organized debates? Which tomato is the reddest? Which pie is the sweetest? Which future side of bacon has the shiniest coat? Do one of you gullible yahoos think you can toss this 4-inch ring around this 5-inch spike? Would you rather have the plastic key chain or the little rubber ball?

One debate inspires another. We will debate the relative merits of a plastic key ring versus a rubber ball – combined value 3 cents – and forget the 40 bucks we blew trying to win the 75-cent stuffed giraffe.

We don’t need to know anything to get in on a debate, either. I don’t follow Belgian comedians, but if I heard two of them I’d have an opinion about which one I liked, even if I didn’t understand a word they said. I have no idea what cereal brands are popular in Uzbekistan – I don’t even know if they eat cereal –but show me two boxes and I’ll tell you which one I like, even if I have no idea what’s inside. If you don’t believe me, watch an episode of “Let’s make a Deal.”

As we mature we tend to gravitate toward a few favorite subjects. I can live with a pinkish tomato, I lost my 40 dollars at the fair decades ago, and the cast of “Gilligan’s Island” won’t be coming to my birthday party. Peanut butter and chocolate make everything taste better except maybe cabbage, the Olsen twins have a little sister who is way hotter than either one of them, and every pie is better than no pie at all.

Other than the occasional digression into a passing fancy (anyone interested in half-a million words about American Idol?) I like to concentrate my debating chops on our culture’s three ongoing, perpetually unsettled Great Debates: politics, religion, and baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Why do I love to debate about baseball? Why do I love to debate over the contents of some dusty old museum about baseball? I’m not alone; there are millions of people who love to debate about baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Why do otherwise normal human beings, who really should have better things to do, care so much about baseball’s Hall of Fame? It’s just a list of names. Why do sports news outlets waste so much space on baseball’s Hall of Fame? It’s only in the news a couple of times a year. Why are so many people still yelling about Pete Rose not getting into baseball’s Hall of Fame? He hasn’t played a game in over 30 years. Why do they care?

Why do I care?

To answer that, I need to explain a couple of things. First, I need to explain what I mean when I say baseball’s Hall of Fame, or “the Hall.” Second, I need to explain how all the little Hall of Fame debates around the country melded together and became one great national debate – a never-ending, unsolvable debate at that. Finally, once I have convinced you beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are no final answers – that the Hall of Fame’s Great Debate can never be settled – I’ll present you with a template you can use to settle it.

I’m just kidding; it really can’t be settled. Frankly, I don’t think it should be settled, but I designed a template that you can use to carve out and organize your section of the greater Debate. My template – grandiosely named “The Test” – shapes and frames the Great Hall of Fame Debate into a simple, logical format with a common language. The Test won’t definitively solve anything – nobody “solves” music, either – but it’s more fun to play a song together if our instruments are in the same key.

We are getting ahead of ourselves, though. Before we can organize the Debate, we need to know what all the fuss is about.

***

Cooperstown Village sleeps at the end of a two-lane road, nestled comfortably within the boundaries of Otsego County in upstate New York. The village lies partially in the town of Otsego, partially in the town of Middlefield. Otsego and Middlefield combined have a population of just over 6,000 people. Cooperstown village is home to a hair under 2,000.

The village, founded by the family of 19th century author James Fenimore Cooper, has long been known for its historical attractions. The Clark family – half-owners of the Singer sewing machine patent – established a family foundation in Cooperstown shortly after the end of the Civil War. The Clarks built most of the village’s attractions.

Cooperstown was home to Civil War general Abner Doubleday, who reportedly fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter and played a prominent role in the battle of Gettysburg. It was believed for several decades that Doubleday invented baseball in a Cooperstown cow pasture in 1839. The myth was later debunked, but the Clark family opened the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 1939 as part of a centennial salute to Doubleday’s invention.

The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is home to the Hall of Fame library, research center, gift shop and theater. It is home to dozens of rooms full of baseball artifacts and memorabilia. And it is home to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

It can be confusing, keeping baseball’s Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum straight. It might be easiest to think of them as “the Hall” and “the museum.” Baseball’s Hall of Fame is a roll call, a list of names. The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is the brick-and-mortar home of a gallery, built to honor and exhibit baseball’s Hall of Fame. Nearly 300,000 visitors a year come to see the exhibits, because they care about the list.

Why do they care so much about a list?

The United States Constitution is a list, a list of rules – and one apparently so boring that most of the millions of people who purchase and devour novels like “50 Shades of Gray” and “The Scarsdale Diet” have never taken the time to read it. Having never read the Constitution doesn’t keep us from arguing about it, though. Like I said, we will debate anything – and American politics debates center on the Constitution like Christianity centers on the Bible.

We love to argue about who should be on the list. We quibble over who gets in now, and who gets in later. We argue about how long the list should be. We fight about how the list should be sorted. Every argument, every debate, every fight about baseball’s Hall of Fame is part of one gigantic Debate.

The Hall of Fame Debate sprang into existence in 1939, about 15 minutes after the Hall of Fame list came into existence, and it has been resonating off the walls of barrooms, libraries, restaurants, construction sites, offices, convention halls and living rooms ever since. Where baseball fans meet, the Debate lives.

Here is an example:

“Hey, did you hear? The Veterans Committee just elected Joe Shlabotnik* to the Hall of Fame!”

“The Hall is meaningless now, man. They’ll let anybody in.”

“Are you kidding? It’s harder than ever to get in. Look at Harold Baines – 2,866 hits, 384 homers and he hardly got a vote. What about Rusty Staub? La Grande Orange got almost 3,000 hits, too, and he was a hero in the 1973 World Series for the Mets, and they laughed at him, too. Tommy John? They named a freakin’ surgery after him. He won 288 games, played for 27 years, and he’s still not in.”

“The Hall of Fame ain’t for the good players like those guys, it’s for the great players. Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Stan the Man – those guys. You put Rusty Staub in with the Babe, all you are doing is insulting the Babe.”

“So there should be what – ten players in the Hall of Fame?”

“Naw, maybe a hundred. We can elect guys like Harmon Killebrew and Gaylord Perry, guys who hit over 500 homeruns or won 300 games, but Don Drysdale? He only won 209 games. He shouldn’t be in.”

“So we should kick him out?”

“Well, I dunno about that … maybe they should have two rooms. They can put the Babe and Willie Mays in a fancy room, guys like Drysdale and Tony Perez in another one, not so fancy.”

“What about the guys who got elected by the Veterans Committees? Some of those guys were bad picks. George Kelly, Freddy Lindstrom … maybe we need three rooms.”

“Maybe … how many should be in the main room? Should Stan the Man be in the same room with Killebrew? Musial hit .331, Killer only .256. And we haven’t even gotten to Ty Cobb. Cobb’s batting average was over a hundred points higher than Killer’s. They can’t be in the same room.”

“Fair enough, but do we put Killer in with Drysdale? He hit 573 homeruns and Major League Baseball modeled their logo after him.”

“Yeah, if he’s good enough for MLB’s logo, he shouldn’t be in the cattle car. Maybe we need four rooms.”

* – Joe Shlabotnik, Charlie Brown’s favorite player, is not in the Hall of Fame. Not yet, anyway.

***

Individual debates like this one are united into one, overarching Debate by a pair of basic questions:

In or out?

Big or small?

The in or out argument invariably flares into the argument about big or small. The small Hall advocates – the exclusivists – want the Hall of Fame to be limited to the greats of the game. They think the Hall of Fame is supposed to be for guys like Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, but they are usually willing to erode the standards enough to include players like Harmon Killebrew and Gaylord Perry. They aren’t happy about it, though.

The other side of the argument comes from the big-Hall advocates – the inclusivists – who want everyone to get in. Where the exclusivists want a modest little cocktail party, with Norah Jones whispering her way through her latest album at the piano bar, the inclusivists want a luau of a Hall-a-Palooza with six pigs in the ground, a keg of beer on every table and a Jimmy Buffet tribute band blaring from the main stage.

Like religion and politics, everybody picks a side of the argument and sticks to it. The inclusivists want Harold Baines and his 2,866 hits in. The exclusivists want Pud Galvin’s 361 wins out because he only led the league in ERA once and he threw underhand. Inclusivists love Willie McGee; exclusivists laugh at Willie McGee. Inclusivists see the Hall of Fame as a big tent. The exclusivists see the Hall as a secluded tower.

It seems impossible to satisfy everyone. The exclusivists are in a permanent state of depression because the old-timers committee elected Tommy McCarthy and Roger Bresnahan in 1946. I’m not making that up; it’s been 70 years, but the curtains are still drawn and they keep replacing the candles. The inclusivists, on the other hand, want to replace the voters with rubber stamps and load them into cattle cars because the place isn’t filling up fast enough.

To satisfy everyone, the Hall of Fame needs to be small yet large, full of famous yet underrated players held to demanding yet forgiving standards. The Hall can induct several players every year, as long as they don’t induct anyone. Neither side wants to give in.

***

“All those religions … Is it possible that I was searching them the wrong way? Could it be that every one of all religions is true?”

“Point to the shortest direction around the universe. It doesn’t matter where you point, it’s the shortest … and you’re pointing back at yourself.”  – Valentine Michael Smith, “Stranger in a Strange Land”

In a widely ridiculed act of accidental genius, the Clark Foundation trustees handed the human resources aspect of their Hall of Fame to the Baseball Writers Association of America without giving them specific parameters. They told the BBWAA to elect 10 original members, 5 from the 19th century and 5 from the 20th century, and hold periodic elections to populate the list. They added just two rules: a player should have played at least ten years, and at least 75 percent of an official BBWAA body should agree on his election.

I should emphasize the word “should.” In the 80 years since the BBWAA was given the authority to hold Hall of Fame elections, the Museum trustees have never told them who to elect. They have made periodic changes to control how many new members were elected at any one time, but they have never shown the slightest interest in who they were.

The confusion might seem annoying on the surface – countless writers, including Bill James, have put their kids through college complaining about it – but the ambiguous selection process is the Debate’s Golden Goose. The illogical, disorderly system is the magic potion that gives life to all the little Debates, turning them into the Debate. And perfecting the selection process would kill the Debate faster than you can say “computer dating.”

Barstool arguments about baseball are usually either “I sure wouldn’t have voted for that bozo” or “Those snooty fools didn’t vote for that hero?” Every fan knows what’s wrong, and how to fix it. If the Hall of Fame’s parameters were clearly defined, those conversations would never happen. There would be nothing to argue about.

Case in point … barstool pundits can argue about whether the Supreme Court would work better with seven members – or that the justices should have to take a shot every time somebody mentions Roe v. Wade – but those arguments never build up any steam because the Supreme Court has specific rules. It takes a lot of hubris to claim to know how to design the Supreme Court better than the Founding Fathers. The Hall, on the other hand, is a big herking mess that every drunk knows how to fix. And they don’t mind sharing, either.

The Ladies Professional Golf Association’s Hall of Fame eligibility process has a list of 27 criteria that need to be met before a player becomes eligible for a vote. The standards are so high that few players ever make the ballot, and every player who has made the ballot has been immediately voted in. There has never been a debate, let alone a Debate about the LPGA Hall of Fame. Even a hard-core debater would have trouble getting that argument off the ground.

Subjectivity is the very lifeblood of baseball’s Hall of Fame. Without subjectivity, the arguments end. Without the arguments, the Hall of Fame’s lofty pop culture status goes up in smoke faster than a lazy mosquito on a barbecue grill. Without its overly subjective, endlessly confusing, perpetually annoying lack of definition, and the Hall would just be a list. And the Cooperstown museum would be nothing more than a dusty, out of the way storage bin for the game’s discarded past.

The Hall’s voting protocol needs to be flawed; it needs the human element. The arguments bring life to what would otherwise be a staid, somnolent list of names. Besides, what if they are all correct? What if every baseball argument is a vital piece of the Debate? Baseball’s Hall of Fame is a subjective list, not a stone tablet. All the arguments can be correct, just like all of Valentine Michael Smith’s religions can be correct. What if the Debate is the thing? What if the Debate about the Hall of Fame is more important than the Hall of Fame itself?

If the Debate is the thing, then every argument becomes its own Hall of Fame. Make your own list; we have room for endless lists now. If you believe the Hall of Fame should be limited to 30 players, then your list will hold 30 players. If you think the Hall of Fame should include 1,000 players, then your list will hold 1,000 names. The Hall is whatever your side of the Debate wants it to be. It’s your Hall, your rules.

If you think Maury Wills was the greatest shortstop in history, put him at the top of your paper. If you think Ray Oyler was the greatest shortstop in history, you can – well, there are limits. But even if you aren’t always right, you always have the right to your opinion. I’m sure there can be a universe where Ray Oyler was the greatest shortstop ever.

Maybe in yours. Let’s go see how lists are made.

*** 

THE LINE

Every Hall of Fame list needs a line at the bottom, whether it’s drawn under the 30th name or the 300th name. Your bottom line will be defined by how you answer the in-or-out question for a pool of players large enough to represent a meaningful sample. Meaningful to who? Meaningful to you. It’s your Hall, your rules.

There are as many ways to make an in-or-out argument as your imagination can conjure up. Here are a few I like to use:

  1. He should be in because he had more hits than that preening schmo who got in last year.
  2. He should be in because he has a high WAR1 total.
  3. He should be out because he was never great.
  4. He should be out because nobody thought he was great.
  5. He should be in because he had one of the highest batting averages ever.
  6. He should be out because other players at his position are more qualified.
  7. He should be in because his type always gets in.
  8. He should be in because everybody knew who he was.
  9. He should be out because nobody remembers who he was.
  10. He should be in because the Hall of Fame would look silly without him.

Let’s mold those ten arguments into ten questions:

  1. The baseball card: Where does he rank on the counting stat lists?
  2. The number crunch: Where does he rank according to the popular analytics?
  3. Peak value: How good was he at his best?
  4. Established value: Where was he in the pecking order during his prime years?
  5. Rate value: Where does he rank in the percentage stats?
  6. Position value: Where does he rank at his position?
  7. Respect: How did the Hall of Fame voters treat him?
  8. Prominence: How newsworthy was he?
  9. Impact: How will the history books treat him?
  10. Relevance: How would the Hall of Fame look without him?

If all the arguments are true, then theoretically a yes answer to any one of the questions means “in.” Conversely, if all the arguments are true, then theoretically a no answer to any one of the questions means “out.” I have a sneaking hunch this is how government works, but we don’t have to limit ourselves to a single yes or no question for every snowflake – or baseball card – that drops from the sky.

Should Harold Baines be in because he had 2,866 hits and 384 homeruns? Question one is designed to give long career compilers like Baines a chance. Should Bobby Grich be in because he has a really high WAR total? Question two gives him his due. Roger Maris? Questions three, seven and nine. Riggs Stephenson? Question five. Charlie Bennett? Questions eight and nine. Who is Charlie Bennett? Charlie Bennett was a 19th century catcher, known for his defensive wizardry, who lost his legs when he fell while trying to board a train. Bennett Park in Detroit (later Tiger Stadium) was the only major league stadium ever named for a player.

Is Bennett in the Hall of Fame? Nope. But he’s in mine.

***

Remember, the Debate is the bastard lovechild of these two questions:

  1. In or out?
  2. How big?

“In our out?” invites the innies in and puts the outies on a bus. To answer “how big?” I designed a multiple choice quiz to sort the innies into clubs. My theoretical Hall of Fame consists of four clubs and a bar. Let’s take a look.

***

The top floor will house a private “Pantheon club” of 30 original members, with one new member elected every few years. Downton Abbey’s wait staff will pour corked wine out of dusty bottles and serve hors d’ oeuvres, made out of snails and fish eggs, on crystal platters. The napkins will be silk, the chairs upholstered in aged leather.

The VIP club’s original 90 can add a new member every other year. Off-duty White House staffers will pour the best craft beers and serve seafood appetizers on the good China plates. The napkins will be linen, the chairs upholstered in crushed velvet.

The restaurant will seat the All-Star club’s 180 original members, with plenty of space to accommodate the one new member brought in each year. Retired flight attendants will pour capped wine and ice-cold light beer to wash down artichoke pizza bagels and deep fried zucchini, served on Martha Stewart commemorative plates. The napkins, like the chairs, will be made out of freshly bleached game-worn uniforms.

The cafeteria will have room for several hundred people, but they will only be allowed to add new members by permission of a special committee. Lunch ladies will serve meatloaf every Tuesday and new members have to bring boxed wine and do the dishes. Diners are encouraged to wear long sleeves and thick pants; the benches have exposed nails and somebody keeps stealing napkins from the bathroom stalls.

The rest of the candidates have to wait in the bar next to the lobby (there’s a 2-drink minimum) or stand in line outside, behind the velvet ropes. We encourage hopeful candidates to bring food for the doorman. It won’t help you get in, but he gets surly when his blood sugar tanks.

Once the place is built, we will need a way to sort the members into the appropriate clubs. After years of experimenting with tarot cards, tea leaves and Ouija boards (don’t ask) I settled on a modified scholastic system.

I designed my system with 6 grades. The A grades should follow Babe Ruth’s entourage to the Pantheon while the B grades are escorted to the VIP club. One of our trusty guides will lead the C grades to the All-Star club, and directions to the Old Timers Cafeteria are prominently posted in the lobby. The E grades can drink in the bar or loiter in the parking lot, but they have to stay behind the ropes.

The F grade stragglers, if they refuse to leave, will be chased off with a hose. Well, except for Ray Oyler. He can drink in the bar for free, as long as he helps clean up after last call.

***

Now that we know where they go, who are they? How do we tell them apart? What makes a grade A Hall of Famer an A, and a grade D Hall of Famer a D?

Welcome to the Test.

THE TEST

Like peanut butter and chocolate, the Test combines my in-or-out questions with my graded club system to create a product superior to the sum of its parts. The ten-question, multiple-choice Test will spit out what you really think in the form of a scholastic grade-point average.

The Test is designed to separate the men from the boys, but it also gives the boys a chance to play. The greats of the game compete for the A and B grades while the more rank and file stars compete for the C and D grades and jostle for position in the Hall candidate pecking order. The Test will help you define your in-or-out line, but it won’t make you live on one side of the line like most in-or-out debates do, continually rehashing the merits of the -outs while the –ins rot in obscurity.

You can use the Test to analyze everyone from the Babe to the peanut vender, giving each his due without denying others theirs. The system is designed to have both vertical and horizontal integrity, so if you wind up careening into the Test-ational woods it’s fairly easy to figure out where you lost your bearings.

The Test works vertically for individual players and horizontally for groups, generating a grade point average for each player and collating groups on each question into the proper numbers for the respective grades. I use a specific set of numbers that you will see next to the grades in my template, but you can use your own. Just replace my numbers with yours.

The Test works on a grading curve. Baseball itself is one giant curved grading system, if you think about it. There is one champion every year, and teams are sorted from top to bottom. The top half of each subset, whether it’s a league or a division, is called the first division. And last place is always last place.

Let’s see how the grading works before we go over the rules and tackle the questions:

THE GRADES

  1. A. One of the top 30 players ever. He was a winner. He was the best of the best. He was the MVP favorite every spring, and either the MVP or the guy who got shafted in the MVP voting every fall. He lasted long enough to rank near the top of the cumulative lists, and his rate stats were as impressive as his counting stats. He reached the top of the game and he stayed there for years.

He was a household name and the face of the game. No history of baseball could be told without him. When he became eligible for the Hall of Fame he was voted in immediately by virtual acclimation, and the sports magazines were flooded with angry letters, demanding to know why some arrogant writer refused to vote for him. Baseball spits out a grade A player about once every five years.

  1. B. One of the top 90 players ever. The grade B grade player was king of the playground when there wasn’t a grade A player around. He was a grade A player, but with a weakness. He was the wise guy pick to knock off the reigning grade A player (Frank Robinson), or he was a grade A player with a short career (Sandy Koufax), or he dominated a comparatively weak group of players (Hal Newhouser).

He wasn’t a household name, but he was universally known within the sporting world. The Hall of Fame voted him in quickly, usually within 2-3 years. Nobody would picket Cooperstown if he wasn’t elected right away, but there would be letters. Baseball spits out a grade B player every couple of years.

  1. C. One of the top 180 players ever. The grade C player might have been the star on a bad team, like Richie Ashburn with the 1950s Phillies, or just one of the guys on a great team, like Tony Perez with the Big Red Machine in the 1970s. A grade C player couldn’t win without help from at least one A or B player. A grade C player was a perennial all-star who could win an MVP in a career year, but not a consistent MVP contender.

He was a big name in the baseball universe, but anonymous elsewhere. The BBWAA voted him into the Hall of Fame, but it took a while. Grade C Hall of Fame bandwagons generally start out slowly, as the Debate splits on the merits of his case, and gain steam towards the end of the player’s eligibility.

  1. D. One of the top 400 players ever. The D players can be sorted into three groups: grade C producers who had really short careers, grade E producers who had really long careers, or star players with an obvious weakness. The grade D player might have never put up that one big year, or that one big second year to “prove” the first one. His career might have been interrupted by a rash of injuries, or truncated by substance abuse issues. He might have been a grade C offensive player but a terrible defender, or a tremendous defender but a god-awful hitter.

A grade D player would have been known to the hometown fans, hard-core fans and fantasy baseball fans. Baseball spit out about one grade D player per year before expansion, or about one per 16 teams. With 30 teams, the number is up to about two per year.

The E players are the rest of the regular players. If a player survived for ten years and played regularly for five years he was an E player. A total of 741 pitchers have thrown at least 1,500 innings and 1,548 position players have played at least 1,000 games since the National Association opened for business in 1871.

According to the Baseball-Reference database, 16,982 players have gotten into a major league baseball game. Out of that pool 2,579 position players played at least 600 games, 958 starting pitchers took the ball for at least 125 games and 796 relief pitchers got into at least 250 games. That’s 4,331 out of 16,982, a little over 25 percent. If a player manages to get onto a major league field – make it to the show – he has about a one in four chance of establishing himself as a regular player.

THE RULES

Before we go over the individual questions, I need to explain the grading rules:

  • Rule one: It’s your Test, your rules.
  • Rule two: There is no second rule.

If you think Willie McGee was better than Willie McCovey, mark it down. If you think Roger Maris was more famous than Stan Musial, grade accordingly. If you are absolutely convinced that Ray Oyler was a better hitter than Ted Williams, knock yourself out. It’s your Test, your rules.

You may be thinking to yourself, “but what’s the point in that?” Call it step one in the process. Give all your favorite players A’s, give all your sworn enemies F’s, and get it out of your system. Share your results with your friends and have a good laugh. It’s your Test, your rules. There are no wrong answers in love and the Test.

Are you ready to take your opinions to the Debate stage? Not so fast, Batman. There is, of course, a catch.

An opinion, in and of itself, ain’t worth the air your lungs gave up to push it past your teeth. You can say Eleanor Roosevelt was a beauty queen, but sooner or later somebody is going to produce a picture. You can claim the Pittsburgh Steelers won the 1936 World Series, but it only takes a couple of mouse clicks to make you look foolish. You can claim Abner Doubleday invented baseball, but even gum salesmen aren’t buying that one any more.

Courtrooms feed on evidence, not opinion, and an opinion without supporting evidence is as worthless in the bar as it is in the courtroom. Your argument will be as toothless as a band saw in a blast furnace.

If your opinions are too far from reality they will be worthless in a serious Debate – Test or no Test – but the Test can mold and refine your opinions into strong, defensible stances. The Test can’t tell you if Willie Mays was better than Mickey Mantle any more than a systematic grading system for music can tell you if Beethoven was better than Bon Jovi, or a feminine allure scale can tell you if Raquel Welch was hotter than Kate Upton. But it will tell you if you think Willie Mays was better than Mickey Mantle, and by how much.

Let’s take a look at the questions.

THE QUESTIONS

  1. Baseball Card – Where do his career totals put him?
  2. In the Top 25
    b. In the top 75
    c. In the top 150
    d. In the top 300
    e. In the top 1,000
    f. In the Navy

“Roger “Doc” Cramer played for 20 seasons … and had 2,705 lifetime hits. If he doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, I don’t know who does!” – Scott Lehman, Delta, Ohio in a letter to Baseball Digest, March 1981, published in The Politics of Glory.

I try to look at everything and grade the players on a balance of statistical evidence. Some players rank about the same in everything, but you have to strike a balance for the rest.

Doc Cramer ranks 67 in hits, 105 in runs scored and in the top 200 in doubles and triples. Most outsider arguments (“my guy should be in because”) focus on the player’s best feature. If a player has one attractive statistic, that’s the one that gets perfumed, buffed and presented in a low cut dress.

If the rest of Cramer’s statistical profile was as good as his hit total, he would have been put on the list decades ago. And if Phyllis Diller could sing she wouldn’t have owned so many ugly hats.

  1. Baseball Reference – According to the metrics, where is he?

In the Top 25

  1. In the top 75
  2. In the top 150
  3. In the top 300
  4. In the top 1,000
  5. Standing next to Waldo

“Bobby Grich’s 125 OPS+ (OBP+SLG adjusted to his era and ballpark) is higher than eight second basemen who have plaques in Cooperstown.” – Dan Holmes, 10 most deserving players who are not in the Hall of Fame

“In a career that spanned from 1970-86, Grich compiled a 70.9 Wins above Replacement score — per Baseball-Reference — that ranks eighth all time at his position. His .371 on-base percentage is higher than 12 other Hall of Fame second basemen. And his OPS-plus of 125, a stat that adjusts for league and park effects, is better than 15 second basemen in Cooperstown.” – MLB.com

There are people, especially in the SABRmetric crowd (SABR is the Society of American Baseball Research, baseball’s Comic-Con) crowd, who think question two is the only question that matters.

“For a whole generation of fans and fantasy players, stats have begun to outstrip story and that seems to me a sad thing. Even the unverifiable hogwash that passed for fact or informed opinion in baseball circles not so long ago seems today wistfully enticing, for its energy if nothing else.” – John Thorn

  1. Peak – At his best, he was
  2. The best of the best
  3. The best, other than that one guy who ruined the curve
  4. One of the best for a while
  5. One of the best for a moment
  6. One of the best of the rest
  7. One of the rest

“He was Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Albert Pujols all wrapped into a solid 5’11”, 185 lb. frame.” About Pete Reiser, by Joseph Del Grippo, POG

Peak value is a slippery concept that often provokes good, lively debates. Why ruin the fun by defining it?

Pete Reiser was a truly great player, but for a moment so short that he could be reasonably given any grade. There has to be some minimum length requirement, though, or the greatest player in history was Jon Paciorek*.

*- Jon Paciorek retired with 3 hits in 3 atbats, the only player with as many as 3 atbats who did not make an out. His brother Tom played 18 seasons, retiring with a .282 career batting average in 4,121 atbats. What a schlump.

  1. Prime – Pick one:
  2. He should have won the MVP award in every good year
  3. He could have won the MVP award in every good year
  4. He should have been an all-star in every good year
  5. He could have been an all-star in every good year
  6. He could have been an all-star in a career year
  7. He could have saved a ton of money on his car insurance

Until Barry Bonds nobody had won more than three MVP awards, and until Roger Clemens no pitcher had won more than four Cy Young awards. The writers don’t like to vote for the same player every year.

The first MVP award wasn’t invented until 1911, and it wasn’t a permanent part of the game until 1931. Several players who might have won several MVP awards either played when there weren’t MVP awards or weren’t eligible because the rules at the time excluded them.

The first MVP award, called the Chalmers award after the automaker and given out from 1911-1914, could only be won once. The League award, given out by the American League in the 1920s, could only be won once and could not be won by a player who was also a manager.

Honus Wagner was 37 years old when the first MVP vote was held. Babe Ruth, who won the League award in 1923, wasn’t eligible again until 1931, when he was 36 years old.

Ty Cobb, whose bitter, controversial battle with Napoleon Lajoie for the 1910 batting title led Chalmers to create the first MVP award, won in 1911 – the only year he was eligible until he was past 40 years old. Cap Anson, whose career ended in 1897, was never eligible for an MVP award.

  1. Rate – Ignoring volume, he is
  2. In the Top 25
  3. In the top 75
  4. In the top 150
  5. In the top 300
  6. In the top 1,000
  7. Alarmingly concave

The fifth question helps counterbalance the first question. By rate I mean the slash statistics: batting average, onbase percentage and slugging. Babe Ruth “slashed” .342-.474-.690 over his 22-year career. He ranks, respectively, tenth, second and first on the career lists. For contrast, Ray Oyler slashed .175-.258-.251 in his 6-year career. He ranks lower than Babe Ruth on the career lists. Ruth isn’t the only pitcher who ranks ahead of Oyler.

  1. Position – He was in (or on) his position’s
  2. Throne
  3. Mt. Rushmore
  4. Sweet 16
  5. American Top 40
  6. Hot 100
  7. Do not resuscitate list

“Bid McPhee qualifies for Cooperstown ad nauseam. In just about everyone one of his eighteen years before 1900, he ranked as the best second baseman around. – Bob Carroll, “For the Hall of Fame: Twelve Good Men” – The National Pastime, Winter 1985 (POG)

There are any number of ways you can to sort the candidates by position. You can use one of the various forms of WAR, the career methods from question one, or you can invent your own. You can lean on Pete Palmer’s linear weights formulas or you can lean on the positional top 100 rankings published in The New Bill James Historical Abstract in 2001.

You can rank them by shoe size, or you can rank them by salary adjusted to the stock market index. Rank them phonetically, genetically, frenetically – whatever suits you. Repeat after me: It’s your Test, your rules.

Be prepared for a little blowback, though. Your friends might not consider shoe size an official statistic.

  1. Precedent – How did the Hall of Fame voters treat him?
  2. They voted him in immediately by acclimation
  3. They elected him within 2-3 years
  4. The BBWAA elected him
  5. An old-timers committee elected him
  6. He got at least one vote from somebody
  7. Like a fool, mean and cruel

If you are grading an old timer you can just use his own Hall of Fame voting history. If a player hasn’t been on the ballot yet, or has only been on it a short time, you need to find a comparable player (comp) to argue his case.

Be careful, though. Baseball Reference lists Sammy Sosa as Mike Schmidt’s second closest comp. Their raw numbers might be similar, but they weren’t comparable players. Sosa was a right fielder. Schmidt was a third baseman. Sosa never won a gold glove award. Schmidt won 10. Sosa hit at least 60 homeruns three times without leading the league, while Schmidt won eight homerun titles, seven of them with less than 40 homeruns.

  1. Prominence – What would this player have to do to make the news?
  2. Throw out his garbage
  3. Throw out a runner
  4. Throw out his back
  5. Throw out his wife
  6. Throw out his probation officer
  7. Throw out a Kardashian

I designed the Test with the more objective questions towards the top and the more subjective questions toward the bottom for a reason. By the time you get to question eight you will have a pretty good idea where you think the player ranks. If you think he was more (or less) famous than his stats indicate, you can make an adjustment. If not, you can simply match his fame grade to his body of accomplishments. There is no reason to overthink it.

The most famous players have regular beat writers following them around, shooting pictures of their cars as they drive away, and in extreme cases sorting through their garbage.

The B players don’t get that much attention, but they are usually the first locker the writers stop by after the day’s game. The D players will get their share of postgame attention from the beat writers, but the C players will get into the magazines far more often.

  1. Impact – What would it take to explain him in a history book?
  2. A chapter
  3. A chapter section
  4. A page
  5. A paragraph
  6. A sentence
  7. A bribe

The eighth question asks if a player was famous. The ninth question asks if the player was memorable. Most players leave some sort of mark on the game, something to remember them by. For most it’s just a smudge – maybe a key hit in a pennant race or a running catch to cost some unfortunate soul a batting title – but a viable Hall of Fame contender will have left big sloppy footprints all over the game’s carpet.

  1. Relevance – If he isn’t in the Hall of Fame, the Hall of Fame is:

a- Pointless

b- Deluded

c- Exclusive

d- Behind

e- Discerning

f- Closed

Again, don’t overthink it. If museum visitors take selfies in front of his plaque, he’s an A grade. If he’s one of the guys whose name always comes up during the in-or-out section of the Debate, he’s a D grade. You can probably tell the B’s from the C’s once you sift out the A’s and the D’s.

Once you grade a player on all ten questions, simply divide by ten and that’s his grade point average.

Technically, anyone who receives even a single D grade is a Hall of Fame candidate. I added the F grade as insurance against the occasional clubhouse lawyer who might want to take advantage of the Test’s good nature. If a player gets a D and no F’s, he’s a viable Hall candidate. If, however, he has an F on one of the questions, he’ll need to make up for it elsewhere. This keeps Jon Paciorek and his career 1.000 batting average out of the bar.

PITCHER TEST DIFFERENCES

The position player Test and the pitcher Test use the same basic template, but there are a couple of minor differences that need to be addressed.

The pitcher-to-hitter (position player) Hall of Fame ratio is roughly 3-8 – three pitchers for every eight position players – a handy ratio because there are eight position players on one full team. This means for every Hall of Fame “team” there should be roughly three pitchers. The hitter template, for example, has 25 A grades while the pitcher template has 10 a grades.

I’ll explain it all in a table to show my work. The rounded numbers are the ones I used for the Test template. Major League baseball is about to begin its 147th season; I rounded up to 150 to make the math a little easier to follow. Here is the ABCD logic again, for reference:

A – One every five years (30)

B – One every other year (75)

C – One every year (150)

D – Two every year (300)

E – You can hang out in the lobby (Don’t touch anything)

Grading Table.

Grade Hitters

(exact)

Pitchers

(exact)

Total

(exact)

Hitters

Rounded

Pitchers

Rounded

Total

Rounded

A 22 8 30 25 10 35
B 54 21 75 75 30 105
C 109 41 150 150 60 210
D 218 82 300 250 100 350
E 727 273 1000 750 300 1050

 

I should explain why I rounded up so much. Unless you are the type who would be willing to slam the gruel-pot lid down on Oliver Twist’s bony little fingers when he’s two minutes late to dinner, your curve is going to get stretched. Having a hefty fudge factor built in allows you do draw your lines ruthlessly, without feeling like you left an empty seat on the last chopper out of Saigon.

The sixth question on the pitcher Test is different from the hitter Test. The sixth question on the hitter Test, the position question, doesn’t make sense for pitchers. They are all pitchers. The black and gray ink question provides pitchers one more layer of context-adjusted analysis, something that isn’t always easy to incorporate into the pitcher’s records across eras, and the fact that they are pitchers makes it a fair question.

Now that we have an idea how the system works, let’s run a few players through the Test.

THE BETA TEST

Let’s meet our guinea pigs:

Adrian “Cap” Anson began his career with the birth of the National Association in 1871, and played through 1897. He was a controversial force of baseball nature who played so long ago that the statistics are almost as fuzzy as the memories. His Test will help us conjure up a mental picture of 19th century baseball.

Pete Rose played more games and came to the plate more times than any other player in the game’s history, so he’ll dominate the counting-stat questions. His Test will help us see how cumulative and rate stats interact.

Willie McGee was a good player for a long time, but he was never considered a great one. His Test will help us find the line at the bottom of the D grade.

Chuck Klein’s short, dynamic career will provide the yin to Rose’s yang in the cumulative vs. rate stats debate. The Depression-era Phillies star put up spectacular numbers, won an MVP award and earned a triple crown during his years in the hitter-happy Baker Bowl, but he became an ordinary player after he left. His Test will give me a chance to address a few extreme statistical illusions.

Willie McCovey spent the first few years of his career competing with Orlando Cepeda for the Giants’ first base job, so I let’s Test both. Cepeda will help us define the line at the bottom of the C grade while McCovey explores the boundaries of the B grade.

  1. Where do his career milestone numbers put him?
  2. In the Top 25
    b. In the top 75
    c. In the top 150
    d. In the top 300
    e. In the top 600
    f. In the Navy

Table 1.

Category

Name

Plate

App.

Hits Home

Runs

Runs RBI Total

Bases

Walks Grade
Anson 28 7 877 9 4 48 123 A
Rose 1 1 456 9 4 8 14 A
McGee 246 166 1000+ 316 409 283 866 E
Klein 393 243 141 204 152 164 493 D
McCovey 105 183 20 164 44 71 34 B
Cepeda 182 136 71 224 87 95 517 C

 

The National Association teams played just 30 league games each in 1871, and Anson didn’t play in a league with a schedule of as many as 100 games until 1884, when he was 32 years old. He played 1,993 out of a possible 2,052 official league games during the first 22 years his career, riding to wooden, lightless stadiums in horse-drawn wagons where he caught hard grounders and screaming liners without a glove.

Cepeda’s counting stats show a clear bias toward the back end of the offensive equation where the sluggers reside, rather than the front end where the table setters live. He ranks comparatively low in runs scored, walks and times on base compared to homeruns, runs batted in and total bases.

Klein was nearly 24 when he first came to the majors and his bat was dead by the time he was 35, so his counting stats are a little light in the seat.

McCovey, blocked by Cepeda at first base when he came up with the Giants, couldn’t play anywhere else without looking like a crippled tree sloth waddling off with Charlie Brown’s mitt. The Giants tried him in the outfield for 275 games from 1962-64 so they could get both bats in the lineup, and he led the National League in homeruns in 1963, but he was so bad in the field that the Giants eventually threw up their hands, traded Cepeda away and planted McCovey at first base. He played 16 more seasons, but he never played another inning in the outfield.

  1. Baseball Reference – According to the metrics, where is he?
  2. In the Top 25
    b. In the top 75
    c. In the top 150
    d. In the top 300
    e. In the top 600
    f. Standing next to Waldo

Table 2.

Player WAR Winshares Grade
Anson 23 45(35) B
Rose 29 11(13) A
McGee 412 321* E
Klein 188 273* D
McCovey 52 34(27) B
Cepeda 163 123(73) C

* – estimated

I listed the two most prominent metrics in table 2. The first is wins above replacement, commonly known as WAR. I used the version published by Baseball-Reference.com. The second metric, Winshares, is the brainchild of Bill James. James published the formulas in The New Bill James Historical Abstract (Free Press 2001) and in Win Shares (STATS 2002).

  1. Peak – At his best, he was
  2. The best of the best
    b. The best, other than that guy who ruined the curve
    c. One of the best for a while
    d. One of the best for a moment
    e. One of the best of the rest
    f. One of the rest

Table 3.

Player Grade
Anson B
Rose B
McGee D
Klein C
McCovey B
Cepeda C

 

There were a couple of moments when Cepeda might have been the best player in the league, but they were fleeting and probably an illusion.

Klein’s huge peak numbers were largely an illusion. He batted .395 and slugged .705 in the Baker Bowl, .281 and .458 everywhere else. He was Babe Ruth at home, Babe Dahlgren on the road.

McCovey’s best historical comp might be Hank Greenberg, the Tiger star of the 1930s. Greenberg won a pair of MVP awards, hit 58 homeruns one season and set the American League single-season record for RBI in another, yet he was the third best first baseman in an eight team league, behind Lou Gehrig and Jimmy Foxx. Those A grades are hard to get.

I wasn’t thinking about it when I chose my Test subjects, but each won a single MVP award except Anson, who played before MVP awards existed.

  1. Prime – Pick one:
  2. He should have won the MVP award every good year
    b. He could have won the MVP award every good year
    c. He should have been an all-star every good year
    d. He could have been an all-star every good year
    e. He could have been an all-star in a career year
    f. He could have saved a ton of money on his car insurance

Table 4.

Player Grade
Anson B
Rose B
McGee E
Klein D
McCovey D
Cepeda D

 

One of the constant balancing acts in every Hall of Fame Debate is the weighing of quantity versus quality. Klein put up huge numbers for a very short time, then played at what appeared to be a much lower level for several years after. If we didn’t know better we might think something happened to him in 1934, but we know that wasn’t the case.

In Klein’s case there is a handy statistic that helps tell us the story of his prime: onbase plus slugging (ops+). Klein’s ops+ with the Phillies from 1928-34 was 160. He moved to the Cubs and Wrigley Field – another good hitters park – in 1934 and his ops+ numbers over the next few years were 136, 123, 124, 130 (back in the Baker Bowl), 81 and 127. Ignoring the off-season in 1938, Klein’s typical ops+ was in the mid-120s outside of the Baker Bowl.

Rate – Ignoring volume, he is:

In the Top 30

  1. In the top 90
  2. In the top 180
  3. In the top 400
  4. In the top 1,000
  5. Alarmingly concave

Table 5.

Player Ranks BA OBA SLG OPS+ Grade
Anson 24 83 442 62 B
Rose 175 215 888 422 E
McGee 293 1000+ 1000+ 1000+ E
Klein 50 182 32 97 C
McCovey 992 220 72 43 B
Cepeda 255 658 106 134 C

 

Ops+ is a useful statistic for players – like Anson – who played in statistical conditions out of whack with the rest of baseball history.

  1. Position Rank – He was in (or on) his position’s
  2. Throne
    b. Mt. Rushmore
    c. Sweet 16
    d. American Top 40
    e. Hot 100
    f. Do not resuscitate list

 

Table 6.

Player Position* James

Rank*

My

Rank

Grade
Anson First Base 11 4 B
Rose Right Field 5 5 C
McGee Center Field 43 53 E
Klein Right Field 40 46 E
McCovey First Base 9 11 C
Cepeda First Base 17 20 D

* – according to The New Bill James Historical Abstract

The latest edition of James’ Historical Abstract came out in 2001; the past 15 years are included in my rankings.

James ranked Anson 11 in his book and there have been a couple of new 10 players since 2001, but I moved him up to the fourth spot. There are three things James incorporated in his rankings that I don’t incorporate into mine.

First, James does not count the National Association as a major league. Second, James “charges” the players from the distant past with a timeline penalty. Third, James makes no allowances for the shorter 19th century schedules. I see no reason to penalize players for when they were born, and the National Association was more of a major league than the Union Association or the Federal League, both of which James does count.

Anson is the only player affected in our Beta Test, but there are dozens of star players from the 19th century who would be affected if we let 21st century sophistry throw dirt on their legacies. Baseball is baseball, and pennants fly forever.

My top 4 at first base:

  1. Lou Gehrig
  2. Albert Pujols
  3. Jimmy Foxx
  4. Cap Anson

James ranks Pete Rose in right field, but he could have ranked him at any of several positions. Rose played at least 500 games at first base, second base, third base, left field and right field.

  1. Precedent – How did the Hall of Fame voters treat him?
  2. They voted him in right away, and somebody complained because he wasn’t unanimous
    b. They elected him within 2-3 years
    c. The BBWAA elected him
    d. An old-timers committee elected him
    e. He got at least one vote from somebody
    f. Like a fool, mean and cruel

Table 7.

Player Year

Elected

Wait

years

Comps

years

Grade
Anson 1939 42* 1-3 B
Rose N/A N/A 1 A
McGee N/A N/A N/A E
Klein 1980 35 20+ D
McCovey 1986 5 1-3 B
Cepeda 1999 25 15 D

 

Anson had been retired for nearly 40 years when the inaugural Veterans Committee election was held in 1936. He tied 19th century catching great Buck Ewing for the most votes with 39.5 out of 78 (50.6 percent), well short of the 75 percent needed to be elected.

The Hall’s centennial celebration in 1939 was set to go off without any 19th century players involved, so a small committee – Commissioner Kennesaw Landis, National League President Ford Frick and American League President Will Harridge – chose three players: Anson, Ewing and Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourne, a 300-game winner who will holds the major league record with his 59 wins in 1884.

Anson’s closest statistical comps are the high average hitters with 3000 hits, like Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn, though Anson would likely have been a power hitter had he played in another era. He was a huge man, though, and his skill set was probably more like Willie McCovey than Rod Carew. He was an unusual man, living and playing in unusual conditions.

Anson’s best comp, combining his playing record, his managing record and his longevity, might be Pete Rose. Rose is not eligible for the Hall of Fame because he is on baseball’s ineligible list. Had he been eligible and untainted by scandal, he would have been a near-unanimous selection.

The Hall of Fame rarely intervenes directly in the selection rules and they have never shown the slightest interest in who gets elected, but they made a point of telling the voters that Rose would not be eligible until he is reinstated to baseball’s eligible list. The hue and cry surrounding his candidacy, even 30 years later, tells you all you need to know.

Cepeda received 73.5 percent of the vote in 1994 – his final year of BBWAA eligibility – and was elected by the Veterans Committee ten years later. His closest historical comp is probably Tony Perez, the first baseman on the Big Red Machine. Perez was elected by the BBWAA in his final year of eligibility. The BBWAA drew a line between Perez and Cepeda – the C/D line.

McGee isn’t in the Hall of Fame and none of his good comps are in, but his case isn’t hopeless. He won two batting titles, three gold glove awards and an MVP. He was part of a famous team – the 1980s Cardinals, who reached the World Series three times between 1982 and 1987 – and he played long enough to reach a few milestone numbers, including 2,000 hits and 300 stolen bases.

  1. Prominence – What would this player have to do to make the news?
  2. Throw out his garbage
    b. Throw out a runner
    c. Throw out his wife
    d. Throw out his back
    e. Throw out his probation officer
    f. Throw out a Kardashian

Table 8.

Player Grade
Anson A
Rose A
McGee D
Klein C
McCovey C
Cepeda C

 

Anson was the face of baseball between 1880 and the 1895. He was a force of nature, dominating everyone and everything he touched, and he was a natural and enthusiastic showman. He began his career as “The Marshalltown Infant” in 1871, grew into “Cap” – for captain, managers were called captain in the early days – and eventually morphed into “Pop” near the end of his 27-year career. The Chicago team in the National League was nicknamed the Cubs because of Anson. He was Pops; they were his cubs.

The Cubs, as you may have heard unless you were somewhere in the Congo, won the 2016 World Series. Anson was in attendance the last time they had won, in 1908.

Cepeda and McCovey were practically a matched set with the Giants, and they both won an MVP award after they were separated. While they were active they were about equally famous, but in different ways.

McCovey was beloved as the Gentle Giant, a human manta ray with a permanent smile pasted on his comically wide, pleasantly round face. He was a frightening hitter, a long, lanky lefty who hit line drives that screamed so loud they almost drowned out the screaming infielders. He was as graceful as a ballerina with a bat in his hands, but chronically bad feet made it painful to watch him run.

Cepeda was built like a fire plug, and by the end of career his butt was wide enough to advertise on. He was a notoriously bad sign reader. His manager in San Francisco, Alvin Dark, developed a racist reputation among Latino players because of his exasperation with Cepeda’s sign-reading adventures. With the Cardinals, where Cepeda won his MVP award, he built a reputation as a cheerful eccentric.

Their post-career fortunes diverged, then converged. San Francisco’s Pac Bell Park named the cove behind the right field wall “McCovey Cove.” McCovey, now 77 and mostly confined to a wheelchair, is still as beloved as ever in San Francisco. He can be seen at Pac Bell nearly every home game, shaking hands, signing autographs and smiling his Giant smile.

Cepeda’s life spiraled out of control in the decade after the end of his playing career, and he spent time in prison for a drug conviction in the early 1980s. After his release, he returned to the Giants as a scout and goodwill ambassador and rehabilitated his image. His Giants number 30 was retired in 2008, and hangs from the rafters next to McCovey’s 44.

  1. Impact – What would it take to explain him in a history book?
  2. A chapter
    b. A chapter section
    c. A page
    d. A paragraph
    e. A sentence
    f. A bribe

Modern research tools make Anson a tempting subject for a fresh biography. He was at the center of any number of significant events in baseball history. Bill James once suggested that Anson may have been the most important figure in making the National League the true major league, and popularizing baseball as a spectator sport.

Table 9.

Player Grade
Anson A
Rose A
McGee D
Klein C
McCovey B
Cepeda C

 

Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb and Pete Rose are the Mt. Rushmore of 20th century baseball legends. The stories told about them alone could fill the next Ed Burns 18-hour documentary.

  1. Relevance – If he isn’t in the Hall of Fame, the Hall of Fame is:

A- Pointless
B- Deluded
C- Exclusive
D- Behind
E- Discerning
F- Closed

Table 10.

Player Grade
Anson B
Rose B
McGee E
Klein D
McCovey B
Cepeda C

 

Many experts dismiss 19th baseball, calling it inferior. I wouldn’t make that argument; do we dismiss wars fought with spears? But it’s a reasonable argument to make. The Hall of Fame could exist without any of the 19th century players, hence the Hall of Fame could exist without Anson.

The Hall of Fame does exist without Pete Rose, and it’s closed to Pete Rose, but if he was eligible the Hall of Fame would not exist without him. Pick your poison.

Cepeda rides the border between C and D all the way down the Test. I like to call the players near the C/D line contrarian players, because they are the subjects of most contrarian debates. If a contrarian player is in the Hall, he’s overrated. If a contrarian player is not in the Hall, he is underrated. Cepeda was underrated until 1999, when the Veteran’s Committee elected him and made him overrated.

Klein waited 36 years to be selected, and he is filed under “S” for “Sure, why not?” in the Hall’s archives. If you write a book about the D grade Debate, the camera is always outside the door where the arguments take place. When a D grade player enters the Hall, he might as well be one of the “Field of Dreams” players, disappearing through the Ivy.

Report card.

question 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 GPA
Anson A B B B B B B A A B 3.3
Rose A A B B E C A A A A 3.2
McGee E E D E E E E D D E 0.3
Klein D D C D C E D C C D 1.3
McCovey B B B D B C B C B B 2.6
Cepeda C C C D D D D C C C 1.6

 

Anson played during the game’s infancy and a lot of the guys he dominated weren’t all that good. Anson was universally known, but he wasn’t universally liked; his personality was so big that it would be strange to discount it, but one man’s charismatic promotor is another man’s overbearing blowhard.

I ignored Anson’s controversial role in establishing baseball’s color-line when I ran him through the Test, but you might choose to include them. It’s not my place to tell you how to deal with the Hall’s cryptic character clause, or how to go back in time and put on a judge’s robe. It’s hard enough to judge racism in 2016, let alone going back to 1887.

You’ll have to choose how to deal with players like Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, who are ineligible for the Hall of Fame. Some Testers might give them F’s on questions seven, nine and ten, because they are ineligible (seven, ten) or violated the character clause (nine).

Cepeda earned a lot of C grades, but most of them are in the lower half, which brings up a point. Each grade has a natural line in the middle. The A grades include around 15 no-doubters and another 15 or so who are honored to hang out in the pantheon with them. The B grades include around 30 obvious B grade players and another 30 who are honored to hang out with them.

I think it’s a human condition. No matter what group you belong to, half of the group owns it and the other half are just happy to be there. Both halves think they are the good half, too. Charlie Manson’s family members all maintain that they are much better people than that horrible manipulator Charlie, while Charlie thinks his followers are a bunch of psychotic sycophants who never learned how to shut their gaping maws around the Man.

The mid-point separation in the C grade is defined, in part, by the exclusivist angle in the Debate. The mainstream exclusivists want to limit the Hall’s list to about one player for every year or so, and they like to begin in 1901. This means the typical exclusive Hall of Fame includes the A grades, the B grades and about half the C grades. The BBWAA line doesn’t define the middle of the C grade but the bottom, so the bottom of the C grade isn’t at 2. It’s at 1.5.

Klein’s grade is a couple of ticks below the bottom of the C bin, right around the bottom line for players can count on being chosen eventually. The players below that point will need an advocate to bring their case to the forefront – otherwise they might as well head for the soda fountain wearing a tight-fitting sweater.

Willie McCovey’s Test lurches up and down within the B grade and down into the C grade, settling about halfway in between. The B grade might be the most difficult to define, because B players are known more for what they aren’t than what they are.

The A, B and D grades all have specific identifying characteristics. A players are the best of the best. C players are the borderline BBWAA choices. D players are the stars of the old timer committees. B players are loosely defined as “too good to be C’s but not good enough to be A’s.”

McGee’s 0.3 sounds terrible compared to the rest of the Beta Test, but it puts McGee among the top 400 or so position players in the game’s history.

***

     There you have it. I included blank copies of the hitter and pitcher Test templates, so you can conduct your own Tests, and a larger sample of 210 players I ran through the Test, so you can see how the players compare. Thanks for reading.

The Test: Position Players

  1. Baseball Card – Where do his career milestone numbers put him?
  2. In the Top 25
    b. In the top 75
    c. In the top 150
    d. In the top 300
    e. In the top 1,000
    f. In the Navy
  3. Baseball Reference – According to the metrics, where is he?
  4. In the Top 25
    b. In the top 75
    c. In the top 150
    d. In the top 300
    e. In the top 1,000
    f. Standing next to Waldo
  5. Peak – At his best, he was
  6. The best of the best
    b. The best, other than that one guy who ruined the curve
    c. One of the best for a while
    d. One of the best for a moment
    e. One of the best of the rest
    f. One of the rest
  7. Prime – Pick one:
  8. He should have won the MVP award in every good year
    b. He could have won the MVP award in every good year
    c. He should have been an all-star in every good year
    d. He could have been an all-star in every good year
    e. He could have been an all-star in a career year
    f. He could have saved a ton of money on his car insurance
  9. Rate – Ignoring volume, he was
  10. In the Top 25
  11. In the top 75
  12. In the top 150
  13. In the top 300
  14. In the top 1,000
  15. Alarmingly concave
  1. Position Rank – He was in (or on) his position’s
  2. Throne
    b. Mt. Rushmore
    c. Sweet 16
    d. American Top 40
    e. Hot 100
    f. Do not resuscitate list
  3. Precedent – How did the Hall of Fame voters treat him?
  4. They voted him in immediately by acclimation
    b. They elected him within 2-3 years
    c. The BBWAA elected him
    d. An old-timers committee elected him
    e. He got at least one vote from somebody
    f. Like a fool, mean and cruel
  5. Prominence – What would this player have to do to make the news?
  6. Throw out his garbage
    b. Throw out a runner
    c. Throw out his back
    d. Throw out his wife
    e. Throw out his probation officer
    f. Throw out a Kardashian
  7. Impact – What would it take to explain him in a history book?
  8. A chapter
    b. A chapter section
    c. A page
    d. A paragraph
    e. A sentence
    f. A bribe
  9. Relevance – If he isn’t in the Hall of Fame, the Hall of Fame is:

a- Pointless
b- Deluded
c- Exclusive
d- Behind
e- Discerning
f- Closed

The Test: Pitchers

  1. Baseball Card – Where do his career milestone numbers put him?
  2. In the Top 10
    b. In the top 30
    c. In the top 60
    d. In the top 100
    e. In the top 300
    f. In the chorus
  3. Baseball Reference – According to the metrics, where is he?
  4. In the Top 10
    b. In the top 30
    c. In the top 60
    d. In the top 100
    e. In the top 300
    f. On a milk carton
  5. Peak – At his best, he was
  6. The best of the best
    b. The best, other than that one guy who ruined the curve
    c. One of the best for a while
    d. One of the best for a moment
    e. One of the best of the rest
    f. One of the huddled masses, yearning to find the strike zone
  7. Prime – Pick one:
  8. He should have won the Cy Young award in every good year
    b. He could have won the Cy Young award in every good year
    c. He should have been an all-star in every good year
    d. He could have been an all-star in every good year
    e. He could have been an all-star in a career year
    f. He could have had a V8
  9. Rate – Taking volume out of the equation would move him to
  10. The top 10
    b. The top 30
    c. The top 60
    d. The top 100
    e. The top 300
    f. Tears

 

  1. Dominance – This player’s black and gray ink totals most closely resemble players in the:

a- Top 10

b- Top 30

c- Top 60

d- Top 100

e- Top 300

f- Witness protection program

  1. Precedent – How did the Hall of Fame voters treat him?
  2. They voted him in immediately by acclimation
    b. They elected him within 2-3 years
    c. The BBWAA elected him
    d. An old-timers committee elected him
    e. He got at least one vote from somebody
    f. Like a northbound football in southbound boot factory
  3. Prominence – What would this player have to do to make the news?
  4. Throw out his garbage
    b. Throw out a runner
    c. Throw out his back
    d. Throw out his wife
    e. Throw out his probation officer
    f. Throw out a Kardashian
  5. Impact – What would it take to explain him in a history book?
  6. A chapter
    b. A chapter section
    c. A page
    d. A paragraph
    e. A sentence
    f. An act of charity
  7. Relevance – If he isn’t in the Hall of Fame, the Hall of Fame is:

a- Pointless
b- Deluded
c- Exclusive
d- Behind
e- Discerning
f- Patrolled

THE TEST – 210 MORE PLAYERS

Test Question Number
Pos Player Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 GPA
0 David Ortiz 2 2 2 2 2 1 2 3 3 3 2.2
0 Paul Molitor 3 3 1 2 1 2 3 2 2 2 2.1
0 Edgar Martinez 2 2 2 2 2 1 2 1 1 2 1.7
2 Yogi Berra 3 2 3 4 3 4 4 4 4 4 3.5
2 Johnny Bench 3 3 3 3 2 4 4 4 4 4 3.4
2 Mike Piazza 3 2 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 2.9
2 Ivan Rodriguez 3 3 2 2 2 3 3 3 3 3 2.7
2 Carlton Fisk 3 3 2 2 3 2 3 3 2 3 2.6
2 Mickey Cochrane 1 1 3 2 2 3 3 3 3 3 2.4
2 Roy Campanella 1 0 4 3 1 3 2 4 3 3 2.4
2 Bill Dickey 2 1 2 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 2.0
2 Gabby Hartnett 1 1 2 2 2 2 2 3 3 2 2.0
2 Thurman Munson 0 1 2 2 1 1 1 3 2 1 1.4
2 Ted Simmons 2 1 1 1 1 2 1 2 1 1 1.3
2 Roger Bresnahan 0 1 2 1 1 1 1 2 2 1 1.2
2 Ernie Lombardi 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1.1
2 Wally Schang 0 1 0 1 1 1 1 2 2 1 1.0
2 Jorge Posada 1 0 0 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 0.9
2 Elston Howard 0 0 2 1 0 1 0 1 1 1 0.7
2 Bill Freehan 0 0 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0.4
3 Lou Gehrig 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4.0
3 Albert Pujols 3 3 3 4 4 4 4 3 4 4 3.6
3 Jimmie Foxx 3 3 4 4 4 3 3 4 4 3 3.5
3 Frank Thomas 3 3 4 4 2 3 3 3 3 3 3.1
3 Miguel Cabrera 3 3 4 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3.1
3 Hank Greenberg 2 2 3 3 3 2 3 4 3 3 2.8
3 Harmon Killebrew 2 3 3 2 3 2 3 3 3 3 2.7
3 Johnny Mize 2 3 3 3 3 2 3 2 2 3 2.6
3 Eddie Murray 3 2 2 3 3 2 3 3 2 2 2.5
3 Gary Carter 2 3 2 2 2 2 3 3 2 3 2.4
3 Mark McGwire 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 4 3 3 2.4
3 Jeff Bagwell 2 3 3 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 2.3
3 Jim Thome 3 3 2 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 2.3
3 George Sisler 2 2 3 2 1 2 3 2 2 2 2.1
3 Bill Terry 2 1 3 2 1 2 2 3 2 2 2.0
3 Keith Hernandez 0 2 2 2 2 1 1 3 2 2 1.7
3 Steve Garvey 1 0 2 2 2 1 1 3 2 2 1.6
3 Tony Perez 2 1 2 2 1 1 2 2 2 1 1.6
3 Will Clark 2 2 2 2 1 1 1 2 2 1 1.6
3 Jason Giambi 1 1 2 2 2 1 1 2 1 1 1.4
3 Rafael Palmeiro 2 3 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.4
3 Todd Helton 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.2
3 Jim Bottomley 1 0 2 2 0 0 1 2 2 1 1.1
Test Question Number
Pos Player Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 GPA
3 John Olerud 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.1
3 Fred McGriff 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.0
3 Gil Hodges 1 0 0 1 1 1 1 2 2 1 1.0
3 Lance Berkman 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.0
3 Mark Teixeira 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.0
3 Carlos Delgado 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 1 0.9
3 Paul Konerko 1 0 1 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 0.8
3 Al Oliver 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 1 1 0 0.6
3 Frank Howard 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 1 1 1 0.6
3 Norm Cash 1 1 1 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0.6
3 Adrian Gonzalez 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 1 1 0 0.5
3 George Kelly 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 0.5
3 Frank McCormick 0 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0.4
4 Rogers Hornsby 4 4 4 4 4 3 4 4 4 4 3.9
4 Joe Morgan 3 4 4 4 3 4 4 4 4 4 3.8
4 Eddie Collins 3 4 3 3 4 4 4 3 4 4 3.6
4 Nap Lajoie 3 4 4 4 3 3 3 4 3 3 3.4
4 Rod Carew 3 3 3 3 3 2 3 4 3 3 3.0
4 Frankie Frisch 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 4 3 3 2.4
4 Charlie Gehringer 2 3 3 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 2.3
4 Craig Biggio 3 2 2 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 2.2
4 Roberto Alomar 3 2 2 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 2.2
4 Ryne Sandberg 2 2 2 2 2 2 3 3 2 2 2.2
4 Robinson Cano 2 2 2 2 2 2 1 3 2 2 2.0
4 Johnny Evers 0 1 2 2 2 1 1 3 2 2 1.6
4 Nellie Fox 1 1 2 2 2 1 1 2 2 2 1.6
4 Jeff Kent 2 1 2 2 2 1 1 2 1 1 1.5
4 Joe Gordon 0 2 2 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1.4
4 Larry Doyle 1 1 2 2 2 1 1 2 1 1 1.4
4 Billy Herman 1 1 1 2 2 1 1 2 1 1 1.3
4 Chase Utley 0 2 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1.1
4 Lou Whitaker 1 2 0 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1.1
4 Red Schoendienst 1 0 1 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1.1
4 Tony Lazzeri 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1.1
4 Bobby Doerr 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1.0
4 Willie Randolph 1 2 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.0
4 Bobby Grich 0 2 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 1 0.9
4 Julio Franco 1 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 0.9
5 George Brett 3 3 3 3 2 3 4 4 3 3 3.1
5 Brooks Robinson 2 3 2 3 3 3 3 4 3 3 2.9
5 Chipper Jones 3 3 2 2 3 3 3 3 3 3 2.8
Test Question Number
Pos Player Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 GPA
5 Eddie Mathews 3 3 2 2 3 3 3 2 3 3 2.7
5 Wade Boggs 3 3 2 2 2 2 3 3 3 3 2.6
5 Home Run Baker 1 2 2 2 1 2 2 3 3 2 2.0
5 Adrian Beltre 3 2 1 1 2 2 2 1 2 2 1.8
5 Ron Santo 1 3 2 2 2 2 1 1 1 2 1.7
5 Pie Traynor 2 0 1 2 2 2 1 2 2 1 1.5
5 Ken Boyer 1 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.3
5 Graig Nettles 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1.2
5 Darrell Evans 1 2 1 1 1 2 1 0 1 1 1.1
5 Stan Hack 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.1
5 Heinie Groh 0 1 2 2 1 1 0 1 1 1 1.0
5 Matt Williams 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.0
5 Scott Rolen 1 2 0 1 0 2 1 1 1 1 1.0
5 David Wright 1 1 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 1 0.9
5 Bob Elliott 0 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 1 1 0.7
5 George Kell 1 0 1 1 0 1 0 1 1 1 0.7
5 Aramis Ramirez 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0.3
5 Larry Gardner 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0.3
6 Honus Wagner 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4.0
6 Alex Rodriguez 4 4 3 4 4 3 4 4 4 4 3.8
6 Derek Jeter 3 3 2 3 3 3 4 4 4 4 3.3
6 Cal Ripken 3 3 3 3 2 3 4 4 3 4 3.2
6 Ernie Banks 2 2 3 3 3 3 4 4 4 3 3.1
6 Robin Yount 3 3 3 3 2 3 3 3 3 3 2.9
6 Ozzie Smith 1 3 2 2 2 3 3 4 3 3 2.6
6 Barry Larkin 1 2 2 2 3 3 3 2 2 2 2.2
6 Joe Cronin 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 3 2 2 2.1
6 Luke Appling 2 3 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2.1
6 Arky Vaughan 2 3 2 2 2 3 2 1 1 2 2.0
6 Luis Aparicio 2 2 1 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 1.9
6 Lou Boudreau 1 2 3 2 1 1 2 2 2 2 1.8
6 Pee Wee Reese 1 2 1 2 2 2 1 3 2 2 1.8
6 Alan Trammell 1 2 1 2 1 2 2 2 1 1 1.5
6 Rabbit Maranville 1 0 2 1 2 1 2 2 2 2 1.5
6 Bobby Wallace 0 2 1 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1.2
6 Joe Sewell 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1.1
6 Vern Stephens 1 0 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.1
6 Bert Campaneris 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1.0
6 Travis Jackson 1 0 1 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 0.8
6 Edgar Renteria 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 0 0.4
6 Jim Fregosi 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0.3
7 Barry Bonds 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4.0
Test Question Number
Pos Player Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 GPA
7 Stan Musial 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4.0
7 Ted Williams 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4.0
7 Rickey Henderson 4 4 4 3 3 3 4 4 4 4 3.7
7 Carl Yastrzemski 3 3 3 2 3 2 3 4 3 3 2.9
7 Al Simmons 3 2 2 3 3 2 3 3 3 3 2.7
7 Manny Ramirez 3 2 2 2 2 2 3 4 3 3 2.6
7 Willie Stargell 2 2 3 2 2 2 3 3 3 3 2.5
7 Jim Rice 2 1 2 2 2 1 2 3 2 2 1.9
7 Joe Medwick 2 1 2 2 2 1 2 3 2 2 1.9
7 Billy Williams 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 1 1 2 1.8
7 Fred Clarke 1 2 1 2 2 2 1 3 2 2 1.8
7 Tim Raines 2 2 2 2 1 2 2 1 2 2 1.8
7 Gary Sheffield 2 1 2 2 2 1 1 2 2 2 1.7
7 Goose Goslin 2 2 1 2 2 1 1 1 2 1 1.5
7 Heinie Manush 2 1 2 2 1 1 1 2 1 1 1.4
7 Ralph Kiner 1 1 2 2 0 1 1 2 2 2 1.4
7 Sherry Magee 1 2 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1.4
7 Zack Wheat 2 2 1 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1.4
7 Albert Belle 1 1 2 2 1 1 1 2 1 1 1.3
7 Bobby Bonds 1 0 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 1 1.1
7 Jose Cruz 0 1 2 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1.1
7 Minnie Minoso 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1.1
7 Luis Gonzalez 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 0.9
7 Bob Johnson 1 2 0 1 1 1 1 0 0 1 0.8
7 Matt Holliday 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 0.7
7 Moises Alou 1 0 1 1 1 0 1 1 1 0 0.7
7 Bobby Veach 1 1 1 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 0.6
7 Bobby Thomson 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 2 1 1 0.5
7 Bob Meusel 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 0.3
8 Ty Cobb 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4.0
8 Willie Mays 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4.0
8 Mickey Mantle 3 4 4 4 4 3 4 4 4 4 3.8
8 Tris Speaker 4 4 4 4 4 3 3 4 4 4 3.8
8 Joe DiMaggio 3 3 4 4 4 3 4 4 4 4 3.7
8 Ken Griffey, Jr. 3 3 4 3 3 2 4 4 4 4 3.4
8 Kirby Puckett 2 2 2 2 2 2 3 3 3 3 2.4
8 Duke Snider 2 2 2 2 1 2 3 3 3 3 2.3
8 Andre Dawson 2 1 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 2 1.8
8 Carlos Beltran 1 2 1 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 1.8
Test Question Number
Pos Player Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 GPA
8 Larry Doby 0 1 2 2 1 1 1 2 2 1 1.3
8 Richie Ashburn 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1.3
8 Earl Averill 1 1 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.2
8 Torii Hunter 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 1 1.2
8 Andruw Jones 1 2 1 1 0 1 1 2 1 1 1.1
8 Bernie Williams 1 1 1 1 0 1 1 2 2 1 1.1
8 Max Carey 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1.1
8 Edd Roush 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.0
8 Hack Wilson 0 0 2 1 0 1 1 2 2 1 1.0
8 Jim Wynn 0 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1.0
8 Johnny Damon 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 2 2 1 1.0
8 Fred Lynn 0 1 2 0 0 1 1 2 1 1 0.9
8 Willie Davis 1 2 0 0 1 1 0 2 1 1 0.9
8 Earle Combs 1 0 1 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 0.8
8 Vada Pinson 1 1 1 0 1 1 1 0 1 1 0.8
8 Dom DiMaggio 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 0.5
9 Babe Ruth 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4.0
9 Hank Aaron 4 4 3 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 3.9
9 Frank Robinson 3 4 3 3 3 3 4 4 4 3 3.4
9 Mel Ott 3 4 2 4 4 3 3 4 3 3 3.3
9 Reggie Jackson 3 3 3 2 3 2 3 4 4 4 3.1
9 Roberto Clemente 3 3 3 2 3 2 4 3 4 3 3.0
9 Al Kaline 3 3 2 2 3 2 4 3 3 3 2.8
9 Sam Crawford 3 3 3 3 3 2 2 3 3 3 2.8
9 Paul Waner 3 3 2 2 3 2 3 3 3 3 2.7
9 Tony Gwynn 3 2 2 2 3 2 3 3 3 3 2.6
9 Vladimir Guerrero 3 2 2 2 3 2 3 2 2 2 2.3
9 Dave Winfield 2 2 2 2 2 2 3 3 2 2 2.2
9 Harry Heilmann 2 3 2 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 2.2
9 Sammy Sosa 3 2 2 2 1 1 2 3 3 2 2.1
9 Enos Slaughter 1 2 2 2 2 2 1 1 2 2 1.7
9 Sam Rice 2 1 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1.4
9 Larry Walker 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.3
9 Tony Oliva 1 0 2 2 1 1 1 2 2 1 1.3
9 Juan Gonzalez 1 0 2 3 0 0 1 2 2 1 1.2
9 Dave Parker 2 0 2 2 0 0 1 2 1 1 1.1
9 Jose Canseco 1 0 3 0 0 0 1 4 1 1 1.1
9 Ken Singleton 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.1
9 Rusty Staub 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1.1
9 Bobby Abreu 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 1 1.0
9 Darryl Strawberry 0 0 2 1 0 0 0 3 1 1 0.8
9 Harold Baines 1 0 1 1 1 0 1 0 1 1 0.7
9 Harry Hooper 0 1 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 0.7
9 Babe Herman 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 2 1 1 0.6
9 Magglio Ordonez 1 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0.5

The Test: Framing Baseball’s Hall of Fame Discussion

We like to debate.

We will debate about anything, too. Pick a subject, pick a side – and there’s a debate. Pick a side of your side – and there’s another debate. Good luck agreeing about that one, either. There’s always another side, another facet to the debate that will inspire another debate. We will debate about anything.

Name a hobby, and there are people who debate about it. Name a food group, there’s a debate. Name a food; hell, name any two things that are not exactly the same. Somebody, somewhere is debating about them. They might even be the same, for all intents and purposes. A Boolean Google search for “Which Olsen twin is better?” garnered 1,510 hits.

There are all kinds of unsettled debates. Ginger or Mary Ann? Paper or plastic? Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp? Peanut butter or chocolate? Are you a little bit country or a little bit rock-n-roll? To be, or not to be? I may be dating myself with all those old pop culture references, but the point is in there somewhere.

What is a county fair but a series of organized debates? Which tomato is the reddest? Which pie is the sweetest? Which soon-to-be-a-side-of-beef cow has the shiniest coat? Which one of you gullible yahoos can toss this 4-inch ring around this 5-inch spike? How dumb do you think I am? Would I rather have the plastic key chain or the little rubber ball, now that I wasted 40 dollars trying to toss a 4-inch ring around a 5-inch spike? We will debate the merits of a plastic ring versus a rubber ball – combined value 3 cents – and forget the 40 bucks we lost like it never happened. We are on to the next debate; don’t bother us with trifles.

We don’t need to know anything to get in on the debate, either I don’t follow Belgian comedians, but if I heard two of them I’d have an opinion about which one I liked, even though I didn’t understand a word either one said. I have no idea which cereal brand is most popular in Uzbekistan, but I know the difference between corn and wheat so I can weigh in on that debate. Gambling is just debating with money involved. If I sit down at a slot machine I can’t possibly control whether or not it is a winner or a loser, but I have heard people debate about which slots pay out and which slots don’t. And so have you.

We can debate about anything – and we often do – but most of us gravitate to the debates we find the most interesting. I lost my 40 dollars at the fair decades ago, and I ain’t going back to the ring-toss. Mary Ann ain’t coming to my birthday party, and peanut butter and chocolate make everything taste better except maybe cabbage. The Olsen twins have a little sister who is way hotter than either one of them, and the only coat that matters to a steak is made out of garlic, onions, mushrooms and bacon.

My locus of personal interest has narrowed over the years. Other than the occasional digression into a passing fancy – like spending half a decade obsessing over and writing 400,000 words (4 books worth) about American Idol –  I have limited my strongest opinions to the big three. Yes, there are three great ongoing, perpetually unsettled discussions in American society: politics, religion, and baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Why do otherwise normal human beings – who really should have better things to do – care so much about baseball’s Hall of Fame? It’s just a list of names. Why do sports news outlets waste so much space on baseball’s Hall of Fame? It’s only in the news a couple of times a year. Why are so many people still yelling about Pete Rose not getting into baseball’s Hall of Fame? He hasn’t played a game in over 30 years. Why do they care?

Why do I care?

To answer that, I need to explain a couple of things. First, I need to explain what I mean when I say baseball’s Hall of Fame, or “the Hall.” Second, I need to explain how our little Hall of Fame discussions took on a life of their own, melded together and became the Discussion. Finally, once I convince you that there are no answers – that the Hall of Fame Discussion can never be settled – I’ll present you with a template you can use to settle it.

I’m just kidding. It really can’t be settled. Frankly, I don’t think it should be settled. But I designed a template you can use to organize your end of the Discussion. We are getting ahead of ourselves, though. Before we can organize the Discussion, we need to know what all the hubbub is about.

THE HALL

Cooperstown Village lies at the end of a two-lane road in upstate New York, nestled within the boundaries of Otsego County. Cooperstown lies partially in the town of Otsego, partially in the town of Middlefield. Otsego and Middlefield combined have a population of just over 6,000 people. Cooperstown village is home to a hair under 2,000.

The village, founded by the the family of noted author James Fenimore Cooper, has long been known for its historical attractions. The Clark family – half-owners of the Singer sewing machine patent – established their foundation in Cooperstown shortly after the end of the Civil War. The Clarks built most of the village’s attractions, including a museum of baseball history.

Cooperstown was home to Civil War general Abner Doubleday. Doubleday reportedly fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter and played a prominent role in the battle of Gettysburg. It was believed for several decades that Doubleday invented baseball in a cow pasture in Cooperstown in 1839. The myth was later debunked, but the Clark family opened the baseball museum in 1939 as part of a centennial celebration of Doubleday’s invention.

The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is home to the Hall of Fame library, research center, gift shop and theater. It is home to rooms full of baseball artifacts and memorabilia. And it is home to the baseball Hall of Fame.

THE LIST

It can be confusing, keeping the Hall of Fame and the Hall of Fame and Museum straight. The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is the brick-and-mortar home of baseball’s Hall of Fame. The museum includes a gallery of plaques, one for each member of baseball’s Hall of Fame. The museum receives nearly 300,000 visitors each year. Baseball’s Hall of Fame and Museum is tangible, touchable, and visitable. Baseball’s Hall of Fame is none of those things. Baseball’s Hall of Fame is a roll call – a list with – at the moment – 315 names on it.

Why do we care so much about a list?

The United States Constitution is just a sheet of paper, too – and one apparently so boring that most the millions of people who read “50 Shades of Gray” and “The Scarsdale Diet” haven’t bothered to read it. It doesn’t keep them from arguing about it, though. American politics centers on the Constitution like American religion centers on the Bible, another bit of reading left to gather dust by most of the people who argue about it.

We don’t read the list, but we know the parts we need to know for our arguments.

We don’t care about the list, but we care about the battles over the list. We debate about who gets in now and who gets in later. We argue about how long the list should be. We fight about how the list should be sorted. We discuss the list. We care deeply about the discussion. The Discussion. Every argument, every debate, every fight about baseball’s Hall of Fame is part of one gigantic discussion.

That is what we care about. The Discussion.

The Hall of Fame Discussion sprang into being in 1939, about 15 minutes after the Hall of Fame list came into existence, and it has been resonating off the walls of barrooms, libraries, restaurants, construction sites, offices, convention halls and living rooms since then. Where baseball fans meet, the Discussion lives.

Here is an example:

“Hey, did you hear? The Veterans Committee just elected Joe Shlabotnik* to the Hall of Fame!”

“The honor is meaningless now, man. They’ll let anybody in.”

“Are you kidding? It’s harder than ever to get in. Look at Harold Baines – 2,866 hits and 384 homers and he hardly got a vote … Rusty Staub – La Grande Orange got almost 3,000 hits and he was a hero in the 1973 World Series for the Mets, and they laughed at him, too … Tommy John? They even named a surgery after him, and he won 288 games, played for 27 years, and he’s still not in.”

“The Hall of Fame ain’t for the good players like those guys, it’s for the great players. Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Stan the Man – those guys. You put Rusty Staub in with the Babe, you cheapen the honor.”

“So there should be what – ten players in the Hall of Fame?”

“No, maybe a hundred … we can elect guys like Harmon Killebrew and Gaylord Perry, but Don Drysdale? He only won 209 games. He shouldn’t be in.”

“So we should kick him out?”

“Well, I dunno about that … maybe they should have two rooms. They can put Stan the Man in a fancy room, guys like Drysdale and Tony Perez in another one, not so fancy.”

“What about the guys who got elected by the Veterans Committees? Some of those guys were bad picks. George Kelly, Freddy Lindstrom … maybe we need three rooms.”

“Maybe … how many should be in the main room? Should Stan the Man be in the same room with Killebrew? Killer’s career batting average was way lower than Musial’s average, and we haven’t even gotten to Ty Cobb. Cobb’s batting average was over a hundred points higher.”

“Fair enough, but do we put Killer in with Drysdale? He hit 573 homeruns and Major League Baseball modeled the logo after him.”

“Yeah, if he’s good enough for MLB’s logo, he shouldn’t be in the cattle car. Maybe we need four rooms.”

* – Joe Shlabotnik was Charlie Brown’s favorite player. He is not in the Hall of Fame.

***

Individual discussions like this one are united into one Discussion by a pair of basic questions:

  1. In or out?
  2. Big or small?

The in or our argument invariably flares into the argument about big or small. The small Hall advocates – the exclusivists – want the Hall of Fame to be limited to the greats of the game. They think the Hall of Fame is only for guys like Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. They whine bitterly every time one of the old timer committees makes a selection.

The other side of the argument comes from the big-Hall advocates – the inclusivists – who want everyone to get in. The inclusivists want a cocktail party, with Norah Jones whispering her way through her latest album at the piano bar. The inclusivists want a luau, with six pigs in the ground and a Jimmy Buffet tribute band blaring from the main stage. The inclusivists whine bitterly every time one of the old timer committees fails to make a selection.

Like religion and politics, everybody picks a side of the argument and sticks to it. The inclusivists want Harold Baines and his 2,866 hits in. The exclusivists want Pud Galvin’s 361 wins out because he only led the league in ERA once. Inclusivists love Willie McGee; exclusivists laugh at Willie McGee. Inclusivists want Dodger great Steve Garvey in. Impact advocates want Curt Schilling’s bloody sock in, but Schilling’s bloody foot out.

It is impossible to satisfy everyone. The exclusivists are in a permanent state of depression because the old-timers committee elected Tommy McCarthy and Roger Bresnahan in 1946. I’m not making that up; it’s been 70 years and the curtains are still drawn. The inclusivists, tired of waiting for their favorites to be elected, want to replace the voters with rubber stamps and cattle cars.

To summarize, in order to satisfy everyone the Hall of Fame needed to be small but large, exclusive but inclusive, full of famous but underrated players held to demanding but forgiving standards. We had to elect several players ever year, as long as we never elected anyone. There was no possible way to satisfy all the arguments.

Until now.

THE FOREST

In an act of what can only be described as accidental genius, the Museum trustees handed the human resources aspect of the Hall of Fame – the list – to the Baseball Writers Association of America without any specific parameters. They told the BBWAA to elect 10 original members – 5 from the 19th century and 5 from the 20th century – and hold periodic elections to populate the list. They decided on 2 basic parameters: a player should have played at least 10 years, and at least 75 percent of an official BBWAA body should agree on his election.

I emphasis the word “should” for a reason. In the 80 years since the BBWAA was given the authority to hold Hall of Fame elections, the Museum trustees have never told the BBWAA who to elect. They have made periodic changes to control how many new members were elected, but they have never shown the slightest interest in who they were.

The confusion might seem annoying on the surface, but perfecting the selection process would kill the Discussion deader than a pigeon in a Cuisinart. The illogical, disorderly system is the magic potion that gives life to all the little discussions, turning them into the Discussion.

Barstool arguments about baseball are usually either “if I voted I sure wouldn’t have voted for that bozo” or “I think the Hall of Fame is missing …” – and every fan thinks he knows something the Hall is doing wrong. If the Hall of Fame’s parameters were clearly defined, those conversations would never happen – could never happen. There would be nothing to argue about.

Case in point … the barstool pundits might argue about whether the Supreme Court would work better with seven members – and take a shot every time somebody mentions Roe v. Wade – but the arguments never build up any steam because the Supreme Court has specific rules. It takes a lot of hubris to claim to know how to design the Supreme Court better than the Founding Fathers. The Hall, on the other hand, is a big herkin’ mess that every drunk knows how to fix – and they don’t mind sharing.

The Ladies Professional Golf Association’s Hall of Fame eligibility process has a list of 27 criteria that must be met before a player becomes eligible for the vote. The standards are so high that few players ever make the ballot, and every player who made the ballot has been immediately voted in. There has never been a discussion, let alone a Discussion about the LPGA Hall of Fame. There is nothing to discuss.

Subjectivity is the very lifeblood of baseball’s Hall of Fame. Without subjectivity, the arguments end. Without the arguments, the Hall of Fame’s lofty pop culture status goes up in smoke like a lazy mosquito on a barbecue grill. Without its overly subjective, endlessly confusing, perpetually annoying lack of definition, and the Hall would just be a list. And the Cooperstown museum would be nothing more than a dusty, out of the way storage bin for the game’s discarded past.

***

“All those religions … Is it possible that I was searching them the wrong way? Could it be that every one of all religions is true?”

“Point to the shortest direction around the universe. It doesn’t matter where you point, it’s the shortest … and you’re pointing back at yourself.”

– Valentine Michael Smith, “Stranger in a Strange Land”

 

All the arguments can be correct, just like all religions can be correct, because the Hall is whatever you want it to be. It’s your Hall. Because it is not defined, you get to make it up yourself. Every argument is its own Hall of Fame.

We have room for lots of lists. We can all have our own list. If you believe the Hall of Fame should only include 30 players, include 30. If you think the Hall of Fame should include a thousand players – well, you’ll need more paper but knock yourself out.

If you think Maury Wills was the greatest shortstop in history, put him at the top of your paper. If you think Ray Oyler was the greatest shortstop in history, you can – well, there are limits. But even if you aren’t always right, you always have the right to your opinion. I’m sure there can be a universe where Ray Oyler was the greatest shortstop ever. Maybe in yours. There are no stupid Halls, only stupid people who refuse to believe in your Ray Oyler-led vision.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Every Hall of Fame list needs a bottom line, whether it’s drawn under the 30th name or the 300th name. Your bottom line will be defined by the series of yes or no questions you ask yourself: is he in or is he out? As in “is he above the line, or below the line?”

There are as many ways to define the line as your imagination can hold. Here are a few samples:

  1. He should be in because he had more hits than that schmo that already got in.
  2. He should be out because he has a low WAR total.
  3. He should be in because when he was at his best, he was the best.
  4. He should be out because nobody thought he was as good as you think he is.
  5. He should be in because he had one of the highest batting averages ever.
  6. He should be out because other players at his position are more qualified.
  7. He should be in because his type always gets in.
  8. He should be out because nobody knew who he was.
  9. He should be in because he changed baseball history.
  10. He should be out because the Hall of Fame doesn’t need him.

If every argument is true, every one of these samples are real, valid samples. If we plotted every opinion on a grid – not just these ten, but all every single opinion about the Hall of Fame ever stated – it would eventually form a shape – a scatter plot galaxy of opinions.

If the first  is a true/false question (in or out?), then the second question is multiple choice. The first question hands out invitations to the innies and puts the outies on a bus. The second question uses multiple choice to sort the innies into clubs.

Bill James published an essay about a 4-tier system in The Bill James Historical Abstract (cite) and Bill Simmons suggested a 7-tier system for the National Basketball Association (NBA) in The Book of Basketball. (Cite) James’ essay provided loose definitions for how he would separate players into categories based on their suitability for the Hall of Fame, while Simmons mostly argued about where the players would rank. I found inspiration in both.

First, building a tiered Hall of Fame requires a framework to house the tiers. My theoretical Hall of Fame club will have five floors.

The top floor will house the private “Pantheon club” of 30 original members, with one new member elected every few years. Downton Abbey’s waitstaff will serve corked wine out of dusty bottles and hors d’ oeuvres made out of snails and fish eggs on crystal platters. The napkins will be made of silk, the chairs crushed velvet.

The VIP club’s original 60 can add a new member roughly every other year. Former White House staffers will serve the best craft beers with seafood appetizers on the good China. The napkins will be linen, the chairs aged leather.

The restaurant will seat the All-Star Club’s 180 original members, with plenty of space to accommodate the one new member brought in each year. The waitstaff of retired flight attendants will serve capped wine and ice cold light beer to wash down artichoke pizza bagels and deep fried zuccini, served on Martha Stewart commemorative plates. The napkins, like the chairs, will be made out of cloth recycled from unsold Pete Rose game-worn uniforms.

The cafeteria will have room for several hundred members, but they will only be allowed to seat new people by permission of a special committee. The servers will be lunch ladies who were let go by the New York Public Schools system, and every Tuesday will be meatloaf day. Members are encouraged to wear long sleeves and thick pants; the benches have splinters and somebody keeps stealing the napkins out of the bathroom. New members will be required to bring boxed wine and do the dishes after each meal.

The rest of the candidates can wait in the bar next to the lobby (there’s a 2-drink minimum) or stand in line outside, behind a velvet rope. We encourage hopeful candidates to bring food for the doorman. It won’t get anyone in, but he gets surly when his blood sugar tanks.

Once the place is built, we will need a way to sort the members into the appropriate clubs. After years of experimenting with tarot cards, tea leaves and Ouija boards (don’t ask) I settled on the same scholastic ABCD system that James used.

The Hall of Fame club has 5 floors, so I designed a system with 6 grades. The A grades can follow Babe Ruth’s entourage to the Pantheon while the B grades are escorted to the VIP club. A guide can lead the C grades to the All-Star club, and directions to the Old Timers Cafeteria are prominently posted in the lobby. The E grades can loiter, but they have to wait at the back of the line. F grade stragglers should be chased off with a hose.

Now that we know where they go, who are they? How do we tell them apart? What makes a grade A Hall of Famer an A, and a grade D Hall of Famer a D?

I came up with a set of ten questions, a mix of the most popular Hall of Fame arguments:

  1. The baseball card: Where does he rank on the counting stat lists?
  2. The number crunch: Where does he rank according to the popular analytics?
  3. Peak value: How good was he at his best?
  4. Established value: Where was he in the pecking order during his prime years?
  5. Rate value: Where does he rank in the percentage stats?
  6. Position value: Where does he rank at his position?
  7. Respect: How did the Hall of Fame voters treat him?
  8. Prominence: How newsworthy was he?
  9. Impact: How will the history books treat him?
  10. Relevance: How would the Hall of Fame look without him?

Should Harold Baines be in because he had 2,866 hits and 384 homeruns? Question one is designed to give long career compilers like Baines a voice. Should Bobby Grich be in because he has a really high WAR total? Question two gives him a voice. Roger Maris? Questions three, seven and nine. Charlie Bennett? His voice is in there. Who is Charlie Bennett? Charlie Bennett was a 19th century catcher, known for his defensive wizardry, who lost his legs when he fell while trying to board a train. Bennett Park in Detroit was named for him, the only major league stadium ever named for a player. He gets his due in questions eight and nine.

The Test separates the men from the boys, but it also give the boys a chance to play. The greats of the game compete for the A and B grades, while the more rank and file stars compete for the C and D grades, and jostle for position in the Hall of Fame candidate pecking order. The Test can cover the line between in and out, but it doesn’t live there like so many other Hall of Fame arguments. It doesn’t have to spend all its time dealing with the borderline cases, leaving the innies to rot on dusty shelves while the outies get all the attention.

First, the system works on a grading curve. Baseball itself is one giant curved grading system, if you think about it. There is only one champion each year, and there is a champion every year. Teams are sorted from top to bottom no matter how they compare to the teams outside their grading curve. The top half of each subset, whether it’s a league or a division, is called the first division -and last place is always last place.

Second, the system is designed to have vertical and horizontal integrity. If you go off the grading rails it’s fairly simple to see where you digressed, and how you can get back to the Test-ational superhighway.

The Test works vertically for individual players. Running a player through the Test generates a grade-point average that corresponds with the ABCD grading system. If the GPA you come up with is too far off the general consensus, the Discussion will consider your grade an outlier. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with the Discussion, though. It simply means your grade will get laughed out of the room unless you can back it up with some convincing evidence.

The Test works horizontally for groups of players. If you run a pool of players through the Test, you need to wind up with the right number of players for each grade. If, for example, you run a pool of candidates through one of the subjective questions and you have 9 A’s, 12 B’s, 135 C’s and 62 D’s, you should probably make some adjustments.

Your Test, your rules, though. If you think there are 9 A’s and 135 C’s, that’s up to you. As always, though, opinions are worthless without convincing evidence to back them up. If you want to convince anyone that there were 9 grade A players, 12 grade B players, 135 grade C players and 62 grade D players in your pool, you are going to have to present compelling evidence.

Keep in mind that you need to maintain vertical and horizontal integrity. Your subjective grade breakdowns need to match the objective breakdowns, so if you adjust one you have to adjust the other.

THE GRADES

  1. A. One of the top 30 players ever. A grade A player was a winner he was the best of the best. He was the MVP favorite every spring, and either the MVP or the guy who got shafted in the MVP voting in the fall. He lasted long enough to rank near the top of the counting category lists, and his rate stats were as impressive as his counting stats. He reached the top of the game and he stayed there for years. He was a household name and the face of the game. No history of baseball could be told without him. When he became eligible for the Hall of Fame he was voted in immediately by virtual acclimation, and every sports magazine got flooded with angry letters demanding to know why he wasn’t unanimously elected. Baseball spits out a grade A player about once every five years.
  2. B. One of the top 90 players ever. The grade B grade player owned the playground if there wasn’t a grade A player around. He was a grade A player, but with a weakness. He was the wise guy pick to knock off the reigning grade A player (Frank Robinson), or he was a grade A player with a short career (Sandy Koufax), or he dominated a weak group of players (Hal Newhouser). He wasn’t a household name, but he was universally known within the sporting world. The Hall of Fame voted him in quickly, usually within 2-3 years. Nobody would picket Cooperstown if he wasn’t elected right away, but there would be letters. Baseball spits out a grade B player every couple of years.
  3. C. One of the top 180 players ever. The grade C player might have been the star on a bad team, like Richie Ashburn with the 1950s Phillies, or just one of the guys on a great team, like Tony Perez with the Big Red Machine in the 1970s. A grade C player can’t win without help from an A or B player. A grade C player was a perennial all-star who could win an MVP in a career year, but not a consistent MVP contender. He was a big name in the baseball universe, but anonymous elsewhere. The BBWAA voted him into the Hall of Fame, but it took a while. Grade C Hall of Fame bandwagons generally start out slow, and gain steam towards the end of the player’s eligibility.
  4. One of the top 400 players ever. The D players can be sorted into 3 groups: grade C producers who had really short careers, grade E producers who had really long careers, or star players with an obvious weakness. The grade D might have never put up that one big year, or the one big second year to “prove” the first one. His career might have been interrupted by a rash of injuries, or truncated by substance abuse issues. He might have been a grade C offensive player but a terrible defender, or a tremendous defender but a god-awful hitter. A grade D player would have been known to hometown fans, hard-core fans and fantasy baseball fans. Baseball spit out about 1 grade D player per year before expansion, or about 1 per 16 teams. With 30 teams, the number is up to about 2 per year.
  5. The E players are the rest of the regular players. If a player survived for 10 years and played regularly for 5 years he was an E player. A total of 741 pitchers have thrown at least 1,500 innings and 1,548 position players have played at least 1,000 games since the National Association opened for business in 1871. I set my parameters a little lower, to catch players who would have a fighting chance of landing on a positional top 100 list or a top 300 pitcher list, but
  6. According to BaseballReference.com, 16,982 players have gotten into a major league baseball game. Out of that pool 2,579 position players played at least 600 games, 958 starting pitchers took the ball for at least 125 games and 796 relief pitchers got into at least 250 games. That’s 4,331 out of 16,982, a little over 25 percent. I’m sure the other 75 percent were kind to their mothers and rarely kicked stray dogs, but we’ll make sure to padlock the entryway.

Just in case.

***

THE TEST

Before we go over the individual questions, I need to explain the rules:

Rule one: it’s your Test, your rules.

Rule two: There is no second rule.

If you think Willie McGee was better than Willie McCovey, grade accordingly. If you think you can sell it (outside Willie McGee’s family) you are probably barking up the wrong mctree, but it’s your Test, your rules. If you want to argue that Roger Maris was more famous than Stan Musial, grade accordingly. If you want to argue that Ray Oyler was a better hitter than Ted Williams, grade accordingly. It’s your Test, your rules.

You may be thinking to yourself, “but what is the point in that? I can just give good grades to the players I like, and say screw you to everyone else?” Call it step one in the process. Give all your favorite players A grades, give all your sworn enemies F grades, and get it out of your system. Share your results with your friends and have a good laugh. It’s your Test, your rules.

If you want to argue your opinion, however, there is a catch: an opinion without backing evidence is worthless. You can say Eleanor Roosevelt was a beauty, but sooner or later somebody is going to produce a picture. You can claim the Pittsburgh Steelers won the 1936 World Series if you want, but it only takes a couple of mouse clicks to make you look foolish.

More esoterically, if you want to claim that Roger Maris was a B player you can, but you will have to find a way to explain away his short, oft-injured career and low career batting average. If you point at his two MVP trophies, skeptics will point to his

if you want your opinion to be accepted into evidence, you have to sell it to the judge. An opinion without supporting evidence is as worthless in a bar as it is in a courtroom. If you don’t have any evidence to back up your love of Ray Oyler, your argument will be as toothless as a band saw in a blast furnace. If you want to share your opinion, your opinio

The Test will help you sort the exhibits, but you need to get them into evidence and convince the jury of their importance. If you say Willie McGee was better than Willie McCovey, you will need to convince your skeptics that McGee’s superior speed and defensive value trumped McCovey’s ability to hit baseballs over Willie McGee’s head into McCovey Cove.

If your opinions are too far from reality they are worthless in a serious discussion, Test or no Test, but the Test can mold and refine your opinions into strong, defensible stances. If you can prove that Willie McGee was a better player than Willie McCovey you are wasting your time here – you should be arguing in front of the Supreme Court (or locked up somewhere you can never escape) – but the rest of us can use the Test to refine our loose intuition into cogent, fact-based opinion.

The Test is not the house, but the scaffolding. The 10 questions allow us to cover all the outside walls, and the 6 grades allow free movement up and down the sides. No matter how you feel about a player, a run through the Test will paint a more complete picture of your opinion than you can manage from the unTested ground of subjective guesswork and confusing analytics.

Fact-based opinion, mind you, not fact. It’s your Test, your rules – but their Test, their rules, too. The Test can’t tell you if Willie Mays was better than Mickey Mantle any more than a systematic grading system for music will tell you if Beethoven was better than Bon Jovi, or a systematic feminine allure scale will tell you if Raquel Welch was hotter than Kate Upton. The Test frames the argument, but it has no interest in settling the argument.

THE QUESTIONS

“Roger “Doc” Cramer played for 20 seasons … and had 2,705 lifetime hits. If he doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, I don’t know who does!” – Scott Lehman, Delta, Ohio in a letter to Baseball Digest, March 1981, published in The Politics of Glory.

  1. Baseball Card – Where do his career totals put him?

a. In the Top 25
b. In the top 75
c. In the top 150
d. In the top 300
e. In the top 1,000
f. In the Navy

The first question looks at cumulative numbers. Fangraphs, Baseball Reference and a number of other websites have elaborate statistical databases you can use, or you can use an Encyclopedia. Any reputable source works, including the back of a baseball card.

I like to look at everything and grade the players on a balance of statistical evidence. If your player ranks in the top 150 in most categories he’s a C, in the top 75 a B, and so on. Some players rank about the same in everything, but you have to strike a balance for the rest.

Doc Cramer ranks 67 in hits, 105 in runs scored and in the top 200 in doubles and triples. Most outsider arguments (“my guy should be in because”) focus on the player’s best feature. If a player has one attractive statistic, that’s the one that gets perfumed, buffed and presented in a low cut dress.

If the rest of Cramer’s statistical profile was as good as his hit total, he would have been put on the list decades ago. And if Phyllis Diller could sing she wouldn’t have owned so many ugly hats.

  1. Baseball Reference – According to the metrics, where is he?

In the Top 30
b. In the top 90
c. In the top 180
d. In the top 400
e. In the top 1,000
f. Standing next to Waldo

“Bobby Grich’s 125 OPS+ (OBP+SLG adjusted to his era and ballpark) is higher than eight second basemen who have plaques in Cooperstown.” – 10 most deserving players who are not in the Hall of Fame

“In a career that spanned from 1970-86, Grich compiled a 70.9 Wins Above Replacement score — per Baseball-Reference — that ranks eighth all time at his position. His .371 on-base percentage is higher than 12 other Hall of Fame second basemen. And his OPS-plus of 125, a stat that adjusts for league and park effects, is better than 15 second basemen in Cooperstown.” – MLB.com Grich article

Many of the so-called SABRmetric crowd (the Society of American Baseball Research, baseball’s version of Comic-Con) think this is the only question that really matters. Maybe they are right. Life would be pretty boring, though, if production was all that mattered.

“For a whole generation of fans and fantasy players, stats have begun to outstrip story and that seems to me a sad thing. Even the unverifiable hogwash that passed for fact or informed opinion in baseball circles not so long ago seems today wistfully enticing, for its energy if nothing else.” – John Thorn (cite)

 

  1. Peak – At his best, he was
  2. The best of the best
    b. The best, other than that one guy who ruined the curve for everybody
    c. One of the best for a while
    d. One of the best for a moment
    e. One of the best of the rest
    f. One of the rest

“He was Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Albert Pujols all wrapped into a solid 5’11”, 185 lb frame.” About Pete Reiser, by Joseph Del Grippo

I made question three vague on purpose. Peak value is a slippery concept that can provoke good, lively discussions. Why ruin it by defining it? Established peak, or whatever you call “at his best,” is whatever you can prove it is. Your Test, your rules.

Pete Reiser had one of the all-time great what-if careers in the game’s history. He was a truly great player for a moment so short that he could be anything from an A to an E on this question depending on how you decide to deal with length.

  1. Prime – Pick one:
  2. He should have won the MVP award in every good year
    b. He could have won the MVP award in every good year
    c. He should have been an all-star in every good year
    d. He could have been an all-star in every good year
    e. He could have been an all-star in a career year
    f. He could have saved a ton of money on his car insurance

A select few players over the years, have gotten screwed repeatedly in the MVP voting because the voters hated to vote for the same player every year. Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Henry Aaron, Mike Schmidt, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriquez, Barry Bonds and Mike Trout have all been the subject of countless articles, written about how the MVP should go to the best player but it rarely does. You can fill out the A tier with the players who actually won several MVP awards, like Barry Bonds (7) and the players not listed above who won 3 awards.

The B grade belongs to the players who should have won at least a couple and could have won a few if everything broke right. Frank Robinson (if he’s not an A) fits this bill, as do Joe Morgan, Hank Greenberg, George Brett, Napolean Lajoie and Ken Griffey, Jr. The C grade belongs to players who weren’t MVP contenders every year, but they were always on the all-star team and received a lot of down-ballot votes in the MVP elections.

  1. Rate – Ignoring volume, he is
  2. In the Top 30
    b. In the top 90
    c. In the top 180
    d. In the top 400
    e. In the top 1,000
    f. Alarmingly concave

Question 5 is the counterpoint to question one, which rewards volume. By rate I mean the slash statistics: batting average, onbase percentage and slugging. Babe Ruth “slashed” .342-.474-.690 over his 22-year career. He ranks, respectively, tenth, second and first on the career lists. For contrast, Ray Oyler slashed .175-.258-.251 in his 6-year career. He ranks lower than Babe Ruth on the career lists. He doesn’t rank all that much higher than Doctor Ruth (Westheimer) on the career lists.

If you prefer you can use a version of adjusted onbase percentage+slugging percentage (ops) compared to league averages (usually listed as ops+). I’ll use all four categories when I run my guinea pigs through the Test.

  1. Position – He was in (or on) his position’s
  2. Throne
    b. Mt. Rushmore
    c. Sweet 16
    d. American Top 40
    e. Hot 100
    f. Do not resuscitate list

Question 6 – “Bid McPhee qualifies for Cooperstown ad nauseam. In just about everyone one of his eighteen years before 1900, he ranked as the best second baseman around. – Bob Carroll, “For the Hall of Fame: Twelve Good Men” – The National Pastime, Winter 1985 (POG)

There are a number of ways to sort the candidates for this category. You can use one of the various forms of WAR, the career methods from question one, or you can invent your own. You can lean on Pete Palmer’s linear weights formulas, or you can lean on the positional top-100 rankings published in The New Bill James Historical Abstract in 2001. You can rank them by shoe size, or you can rank them by salary adjusted to the stock market index.

As always it’s your Test, your rules. Be prepared for the inevitable blowback, though. Some outlets don’t consider shoe size an official statistic.

  1. Precedent – How did the Hall of Fame voters treat him?

They voted him in right away, and somebody complained because he wasn’t unanimous
b. They elected him within 2-3 years
c. The BBWAA elected him
d. An old-timers committee elected him
e. He got at least one vote from the BBWAA or an old-timers committee
f. Like a fool, mean and cruel

If you are grading an old timer you can simply use his own Hall of Fame voting history. It would be strange to claim a player like Johnny Mize deserves a B grade when it took the writers 25 years to get around to electing him to the Hall of Fame. Some players like him, and honestly no better than him, have been elected fairly quickly, though. If you want to argue that Mize was shafted in the voting and that he deserves a higher grade, you can certainly do that. I might make that argument myself.

If a player hasn’t been on the ballot yet, or has only been on it a short time, you need to find comparable players (comps) to argue his case. Some sites lists statistical comps, but if you want to use those comps be prepared for some resistance. Statistical comps on most of the big database websites are not adjusted for the myriad ways the game has changed over the years, and they often don’t adjust for position played.

For example, Baseball Reference lists Sammy Sosa as Mike Schmidt’s second closest comp. By the basic numbers they might be similar, but in real life they weren’t similar at all. Sosa was a right fielder. Schmidt was a third baseman. Sosa never won a gold glove award. Schmidt won 10. Sosa hit at least 60 homers 3 times without leading the league, while Schmidt led the league in homeruns 6 times with totals under 40. Schmidt led the major leagues in homeruns 8 times, Sosa twice.

It’s your Test, your rules – so make any argument you think you can win – but a losing argument is a pointless argument. To find the best comps, I recommend you compare league-adjusted statistics like ops+ and things that are naturally regulated, like the results of awards voting. Bill James has said on a number of occasions that one of the best indicators of greatness is uniqueness. The better the player is, the harder it is going to be to find a perfect comp.

  1. Prominence – What would this player have to do to make the news?
  2. Throw out his garbage
    b. Throw out a runner
    c. Throw out his wife
    d. Throw out his back
    e. Throw out his probation officer
    f. Throw out a Kardashian

Don’t overthink it; remember ESPN camping on Bret Favre’s lawn, reporting several times a day about whether or not he looked like he was coming back, for the baseline on how famous a sports figure can get. The most famous players have regular beat writers following them around, shooting pictures of their cars as they drive away, and – in extreme cases – sorting through their trash cans.

The B players don’t get as much attention, but they are usually the first locker the writers stop by after the day’s game. The C and D players will get their share of postgame attention from the beat writers, but the C players will get the occasional magazine spread and a bigger sendoff when they retire.

  1. Impact – What would it take to explain him in a history book?
  2. A chapter
    b. A chapter section
    c. A page
    d. A paragraph
    e. A sentence
    f. A bribe

Bill James calls them footprints (cite – I think it’s in the 1990 baseball book). Most players leave some sort of mark on the game; for most it’s a small mark – maybe a key hit in a pennant race or a running catch to cost another player a batting title – but a Hall of Fame contender will have left deep, permanent footprints on the game.

Take stock of a player’s regular season achievements – all-star games, gold gloves, larger awards, lead leading totals in high profile categories, etc. – and postseason achievements. A single homerun at just the right moment can be more important than several hundred that have been largely forgotten. Was the player responsible for rules changes, or equipment changes? Did he change how the game was played, or epitomize his era in some lasting way? Was he part of the game’s stories told, the lore of the game? Question 8 asks if a player was famous; question 9 asks if the player is (or should be) remembered.

  1. Relevance – If he isn’t in the Hall of Fame, the Hall of Fame is:

A- Pointless
B- Deluded
C- Exclusive
D- Behind
E- Discerning
F- Closed

Again, don’t overthink it. If the Hall of Fame literally could not exist without him, he is probably an A. If the Hall of Fame couldn’t sleep for all the whining they heard from the media before he was elected, he smells like a B. If your neighborhood small-Hall advocates are the only people that hate him, he’s a C. If your neighborhood big-Hall advocates are the only ones that love him, he’s a D.

Add them together and divide by 10 to get his grade point average. A player’s GPA defines his level on the Hall of Fame scale – which bears a striking resemblance to the grading scale for the questions:

4.0 – A player

3.0 – B player

2.0 – C player

1.0 – D player

0.0 – thanks for coming

The decimal points allow for an extra layer of give and take. If a player grades out at 1.8 you can argue that he is better than another player who grades out at 1.9, or even 2.0 or 2.1. It might be a stretch to argue that your 1.8 graded player is better than another’s 2.8, but it’s your Test, your rules. All is fair in love and the Test.

 

*****

THE TEST SUBJECTS

Adrian “Cap” Anson. The Cubs’ patriarch began his career with the birth of the National Association in 1871, and he didn’t hang ’em up until 1897. He played through the myriad rule changes and league upheavals of the 1880s and the war with the Player’s League in 1890. He was a controversial, larger-than-life force of baseball nature who played so long ago that the statistics are almost as fuzzy as the memories. His case is one of the most difficult to nail down, and he will help us grab a mental picture of the 19th century game.

Pete Rose. Like Anson, Rose was the most famous player of his time. Unlike Anson, Rose played recently; older fans can conjure up a detailed image of him, and YouTube can fill in the gaps for the younger generation. He played forever at a high level, but not the highest level, so while it will be easy to grade him on volume it will be tough to grade him on the height of his career (what I call peak value). His case will help us get a feel for how we weigh peak value (height) versus career value (volume).

Willie McGee. The two-time batting champ and 1985 MVP, McGee was a good player for a long time but not widely considered a great player. His case borders many of the lines drawn between grades – providing a glimpse at the lines – and seeing a player with an admirable resume come up short will remind us that the Hall of Fame isn’t just a gold watch, given out for good attendance.

Chuck Klein. The Depression-era Phillies star put up eye-popping numbers, won an MVP award and earned a triple crown during his years in the Baker Bowl – but became an ordinary player when he left. His case will allow me to address extreme splits between home and road statistics and high- and low- offensive eras. His short, dynamic career will also provide the yin to Rose’s yang in the volume versus rate stats discussion.

Willie McCovey. The Hall of Fame Giants first baseman played during one of the worst eras for his skillset, spent the first few years of his career competing with another Hall of Famer – Orlando Cepeda – and spent the last decade of his career fighting crippling foot injuries. Despite all that, he played for 22 years and retired with over 500 homeruns. His truncated, oft-interrupted yet brilliant career will straddle so many grading lines that we will all wish he had better feet.

Orlando Cepeda. The Baby Bull began his career like he was headed for the Pantheon – he was still on pace to match Henry Aaron’s career homerun total six years into his career – but he didn’t age well and he had some post-career problems. Still, he won the 1967 MVP award unanimously and managed to get into the Hall of Fame through the BBWAA on his final attempt. We will find him in the vicinity of the line between C and D on most questions.

1

My first table lists our six guinea pigs with their respective ranks in a few counting categories. The adjusted bases category is the only one you can’t get off of the mainstream websites. It’s a form of gross offensive production I like to play around with. I explain the formula in the footnotes here.(footnote)

Table 1.

Category

 

 

Name

Plate

Appear

ances

Hits Home

Runs

Runs Rbi Total

Bases

Walks Extra

Base

Hits

Times

On

Base

 

Adjusted

Bases

Grade
Anson 28 7 877 9 4 43 123 103 22 38 A
Rose 1 1 456 6 103 8 14 28 1 8 A
Cepeda 182 136 71 224 87 95 517 102 189 147 C
Klein 393 243 141 204 152 164 493 138 313 209 D
McCovey 105 183 20 164 44 71 34 63 84 59 B
McGee 246 166 1000+ 316 409 283 866 428 298 352 E

 

Adrian “Cap” Anson. Anson’s career began in the first year of the National Association (NA) in 1871 and lasted until 1897. The NA played just 30 league games in 1871, and Anson did not play in a league with a schedule of at least 100 games until 1884, when he was 32 years old. He played 1,993 out of a possible 2,052 games in his first 22 years in the major leagues, riding to wooden, lightless stadiums in horse-drawn wagons and playing most of his career without a glove.

Pete Rose holds the major league record with 3,562 games played; had Anson played schedules of modern length he would have played in over 4,000 league games. He almost certainly played that many games overall. In the early years of professional baseball, teams played as many or more exhibition games as they played league games. Of the 50 players who played more official league games than Anson’s 2,524, the earliest one (A’s and White Sox great Eddie Collins) began his career in 1907 – 10 years after Anson retired.

Pete Rose. Rose played more games, went to the plate more often and accumulated more hits than any other major leaguer; he ranks near the top in most of the counting categories.

Orlando Cepeda. His counting stats show a clear bias toward the back end of the offensive equation where the sluggers reside, rather than the front end where the table setters live. He ranks comparatively low in runs scored, walks and times on base compared to homeruns, runs batted in and total bases. He ranks 147 in adjusted bases, near his ranking in hits. Hits is a run-neutral statistic.

Chuck Klein. Klein also leans to the back end, but not as much as Cha Cha. Cepeda was a slow, thick-legged player who lost his speed early in his career. Klein led the National League in stolen bases at 27 years old and he still ran well into his mid-30s. Klein was nearly 24 when he first came to the majors and his bat was dead by the time he was 35, so his counting stats are a little light in the seat.

Willie McCovey. Stretch started just 208 out of the Giants’ 473 games in his first 3 full seasons, 1960-62, because neither he nor Orlando Cepeda could play anywhere but first base without looking like a crippled tree sloth waddling off with Charlie Brown’s mitt. McCovey played 275 games in the outfield from 1962-64 to get both bats in the lineup. He led the National League in homeruns in 1963, but he was so bad in the field that the Giants had to carry three different Alou brothers to cover for him. In 1965 the Giants finally threw up their hands up, traded Cepeda away and planted McCovey at first base. He never played another inning in the outfield.

Willie McGee. McGee was a singles hitter who never walked, so his other ranks are way below his hit rank of 166. The ranks make McGee look like a balanced offensive player, but McGee was more a combination of self-cancelling peaks and valleys than a plateau.

2

I listed the two most prominent metrics in table 2. The first is wins above replacement, commonly known as WAR. The second, Winshares, is the brainchild of Bill James. James published the original formulas in The New Bill James Historical Abstract (Free Press 2001) and a detailed analysis and comprehensive listings in Win Shares (STATS 2002).

I used the version of WAR published on BaseballReference.com, but there a number of different versions available and more being invented all the time. Wins above replacement isn’t a formula but an idea for a formula, like a recipe for pie. WAR can be baked into as many forms as there are imaginations capable of tweaking the recipe. Sooner or later I’ll have my own version – come up with my own recipe – but for now I will rely on one of the precooked recipes available at the corner market.

Of all the new frontiers in the statistical analysis of baseball, the wildest frontier of all is not a new one, but an old one. Defensive statistics have been kept, or have been updated through herculean efforts like Project Scoresheet, since the beginning of organized professional baseball in 1871. Unfortunately, it took the statisticians over a hundred years to figure out what they needed to count – and by then it was too late to go back and ask the ghosts of Grantland Rice and Francis Richter to change their scorecards.

Offensive statistics can be subdivided into single bases, which allows for some remarkably accurate metric analysis. Defensive statistics, though – not so much. Because of this I prefer to deal with defense independently.

Winshares includes defense, so I separated it out where I could. The numbers in parenthesis are rankings with the defense removed. I could not remove defense from Klein or McGee because James only published breakdowns for the top 300.

 

Table 2.

Player WAR

Rank

(BR)

Win

Shares

rank

Grade
Anson 23 45(35) B
Rose 29 11(15) A
Cepeda 163 123(75) C
Klein 188 273* D
McCovey 52 34(27) B
McGee 412 321* E

* –  estimated

 

 

 

Adrian “Cap” Anson. Anson makes the top 30 in WAR but he ranks quite a ways out of the top 25 according to Winshares. James put what he called a timeline adjustment into the Winshares formula that duns players from the distant past, plus Anson’s case has to be adjusted for all those missed games. Still, it’s a long way from 30 to 45, or even to his offense-only rank of 35.

Pete Rose. If the Test is a decathlon, Rose is dominating the early events that are his specialty. His was the longest career ever, so should be expected to do well on the volume-based questions.

Orlando Cepeda. I didn’t count defense, but defense counts. Without defense, Cepeda would be a borderline B according to Winshares.

Chuck Klein. Winshares lists include pitchers, so I had to separate pitchers out of all the rankings. In Klein’s case, since he didn’t make the top 300, I had to guess how many pitchers were ahead of him beyond the top 300. There were 72 pitchers in the top 300 (24 percent) and Klein was ranked 359, so I moved him up 24 percent of 359, or 86 spots. I did the same thing with McGee below, moving him up 101 spots.

Klein’s ranking includes defense – I couldn’t remove it since it wasn’t listed – and the timeline adjustment. Both measurements would move him up from his rank of 273, so I see no reason why he wouldn’t qualify for his D grade.

Willie McCovey. Without defense McCovey isn’t all that far from an A grade according to Winshares, but (1) defense counts and (2) stretching for a chair ain’t the same thing as sitting comfortably. An A grade would be a stretch – even for Stretch.

Willie McGee. McGee looks a little bit like E.T., the Extra Terrestrial. Who is his cellphone provider?

3(Peak)

Table 3

Name Grade
Anson B
Rose B
Cepeda C
Klein C
McCovey B
McGee D

 

 

Adrian “Cap” Anson. Anson was the face of 19th century baseball and the biggest figure in the game, but he was not necessarily the best player in the game. There were no MVP awards in his time to define how his peers saw him, and the game was very different from the game we are used to seeing. It’s easy to figure out how famous Anson the public figure was, but it isn’t as easy to get a handle on how dominant Anson the player was.

Anson was a huge man for his time – BaseballReference lists him at 227 pounds and he was always in shape – and he likely would have hit a lot of homeruns in an era when homeruns were valued. He hit a total of 5 homeruns in the first 13 years of his career, but the Chicago owners moved the fences in for the 1884 season and he hit 21. The dominant statistical category in Anson’s time was batting average, and Anson led the National League in batting average 4 times, including back-to-back when he was in his mid-30s.

Still, while he was unquestionably the best player in the league over an extended time, he was never clearly the best player in the league at any one time.

Pete Rose. Rose won the MVP in 1973 and hit over .300 monotonously, but like Anson he was one of the best, not necessarily the best.

Orlando Cepeda. There were a couple of moments when Cepeda might have been the best player in the league, but they were fleeting and probably an illusion. He won the 1967 MVP award unanimously despite competition from 1966 MVP Roberto Clemente, who put up superficially better numbers, and perennial contenders Henry Aaron and Willie Mays. I don’t think a reasonable argument can be made that Cepeda was ever better than those three players, and it might be hard to argue that he was ever really better than his old teammate Willie McCovey.

Chuck Klein. Klein’s MVP voting record indicates at least a B grade, and he won a triple crown. Had he played in a neutral park I would just give him the B and move on, but his peak was largely an illusion. Klein hit over .400

Willie McCovey. McCovey was the 1969 National League MVP, and arguably the best player in the league between 1968 and 1970. If that makes him an A for you, I’m fine with it. Unfortunately, there are more than 25 players who can fit that criteria (the best player in the league over a 3-year period) who have better surrounding evidence of their dominance. McCovey was a devastating offensive player who made pitchers whimper and drove first basemen to their life insurance agents, but he had bad feet and little defensive value.

His best historical comp might be Hank Greenberg, the Tiger star of the 1930s. Greenberg won a pair of MVP awards, put up a 58 homerun season and set the American League single-season record for runs batted in, but he was the third best first baseman in an 8-team league. Those A grades are hard to get; there are only 25 of them in each category, to cover nearly 150 years of baseball history.

Willie McGee. I didn’t realize it when I chose my 6-pack of Test subjects, but they all won a single MVP award except Anson, who played before MVPs were awarded. McGee’s 1985 season may have been one of the 150 best seasons ever, but it’s hard to quantify it. According to WAR his 1985 WAR total ranks 252 on the list. Winshares ranks his 1985 season in a tie for 215 since 1900 and well out of the top 300 overall.

I graded him a D because of his 1985 MVP award and two batting titles, but a systematic analysis would probably take it away and leave him with another E grade.

4

Table 4.

Name Grade
Anson B
Rose B
Cepeda D
Klein D
McCovey D
McGee E

 

Adrian “Cap” Anson. I doubt Anson would have won a bunch of MVP awards – or deserved them – but he would have probably won a couple and he would have been the face on the cover of the “who is it going to be this year?” magazines in a lot of years.

Pete Rose. I don’t think of Rose as a perennial MVP contender, but only 19 players have drawn more MVP votes than he did and he finished in the top 5 in the voting 5 times.

Orlando Cepeda. The thumb rule for this question is we are measuring a player’s prime period, not his peak – that was question 3 – so winning an MVP doesn’t give a player extra credit. Cepeda also finished second, several years before he won, but that was it. He was only an MVP contender twice. He was an all-star several times, and it’s a close call whether he deserves to rank as a C or if his poor showing after 1967 should lower his grade to a D. By the spirit of the question I think the D is warranted. While he could have been an all-star in most of his good years, I don’t think it’s accurate to say he should have.

Chuck Klein. One of the constant balancing acts every Hall of Fame discussion is the weighing of quantity versus quality. Klein goes down without much of a fight when we are talking about the total value of his career – total=total – but defining “prime” isn’t as obvious. Klein put up huge numbers for a very short time, then played at what appeared to be a much lower level for several years after. If we didn’t know better we might think something happened to him in 1934, but we know that wasn’t the case.

In Klein’s case there is a handy statistic that helps tell us the story of his prime: onbase plus slugging (ops+). Klein’s ops+ with the Phillies from 1928-34 was 160. He moved to the Cubs and Wrigley Field – another good hitters park – in 1934 and his ops+ numbers over the next few years were 136, 123, 124, 130 (back in the Baker Bowl), 81 and 127. Ignoring the off-season in 1938, Klein’s typical ops+ was in the mid-120s outside of the Baker Bowl. If we give him full credit for his Baker Bowl awards showing he qualifies for a D grade, but the drop-off after he moved to Chicago means a C is out of the question.

Willie McCovey. With the exception of his 1968-70 stretch he wasn’t a serious MVP candidate, and he only played in 6 all-star games. McCovey’s prime was cut to ribbons by playing time issues early and injuries late. In the decathlon scenario, this is Stretch’s weakest category.

Willie McGee. McGee played in 4 all-star games, but I doubt he could have made more than a couple more at the absolute most. Most years he was just a good, solid everyday player.

5

For our purposes I’ll define “regular” as 3 plate appearances per team game. This means 462 plate appearances in a 154 game season and 486 in a 162 game season. We’ll deal with Cap Anson when we get to him.

Table 5 lists our candidates and their respective hours on the gerbil wheel. I’ll explain the asterisks in their individual comments.

Table 5.

Name Tot

years

Reg-

ular

All-

star

Grade
Anson 27 26 ?* A
Rose 24 22 18 A
Cepeda 17 13 7 D
Klein 17 10 6* D
McCovey 22 9 6 D
McGee 18 10 4 E

 

 

Adrian “Cap” Anson. He missed regular status in all 27 of his seasons by a single plate appearance in 1984, when he was 42 years old. I think Rose ranks second in that category – seasons as a regular – with 22.

Anson’s career predated the all-star game, so I can’t really say how many games he would have gotten into. My guess is all of them. He was Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose and David Ortiz wrapped into one loud, blustery package. An all-star game without him would have been unthinkable. With his attendance record and love of attention, there is little chance he would have skipped one.

By merit he probably would have played in over 20. He finished in the league’s top 10 in batting average 22 times, and that was the first statistic everyone looked at.

Pete Rose. Rose played in 16 consecutive all-star games (1967-1982) and qualified as a regular in each of his first 21 seasons.

Orlando Cepeda. Cepeda has been landing just over the C/D line, but this time he lands just short. He was remarkably durable for most of his career, qualifying as a regular in 12 of his first 13 seasons, but that was about it. The birth of the designated hitter position in 1973 game him one more season as a regular batter, but he only played 85 games in the field during his final four seasons.

Chuck Klein. I credited him with all-star appearances from 1929-1932 in addition to the pair he played in. He clearly would have been on those teams.

Willie McCovey. He was an all-star or an MVP candidate every year he qualified as a regular – and a couple of times when he didn’t – until he was 35 years old.

Willie McGee. He wasn’t that far from a D grade, but it’s been that way his whole Test. He was a really good E player, but not quite a D player.

6

I like to begin with James’ positional top-100 rankings, and adjust for anything about his rankings I disagree with. Table 6 lists each player’s ranking according to James, along with my adjusted rank. Since the book came out in 2001, the last 15 years have to be accounted for.

 

Table 6.

Name Position James

rank

Updated

rank

Grade
Anson First base 11 4 B
Rose Right field 5 5 C
Cepeda First base 17 20 D
Klein Right field 40 46 E
McCovey First base 9 11 C
McGee Center Field 43 53 E

 

Adrian “Cap” Anson. I don’t imagine I got away with palming that card. James has Anson ranked 11 in his book, and there have been a couple of new players who belong in the top 10 since then, but I moved him all the way up to the fourth spot. There are three things James does in his rankings that I don’t do in mine.

First, James does not count the National Association as a major league. Second, James “charges” the players from the distant past with a timeline penalty. Third, James makes no allowances for the shortened schedules in the 19th century. All three serve to drive Anson’s value into the ground.

My top 4:

  1. Lou Gehrig
  2. Albert Pujols
  3. Jimmy Foxx
  4. Cap Anson

Pete Rose. James ranks Rose in right field (I dare Tom Brokaw to say that three times fast), but he played all over the place. Rose played at least 500 games at first base, second base, third base, left field and right field. Right field is a stacked position, with Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, Frank Robinson and Mel Ott ahead of Rose, but I looked around the other positions and I’m not sure there is one where he would crack the top 4 without give him a pretty hefty mulligan for his lack of defensive value. I could be talked into giving him a B anyway, though. Nobody else came anywhere near his level of versatility.

Orlando Cepeda. I moved Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols and Jim Thome ahead of him from James’ list. There are a couple of others I would also move ahead of him by removing their timeline penalty – Dan Brouthers, Roger Conner, George Sisler – but Cepeda would still get the same D grade.

Chuck Klein. Klein was holding on to his D grade by his fingernails as it was. The influx of new candidates pushed him into the E range. Right field is a stacked position.

Willie McCovey. I thought about moving McCovey up a couple of spots but the choices are close and it won’t affect his grade. He would be a C either way.

Willie McGee. There have been a lot of good center fielders in the 21st century, if not very many great ones. A top-20 center fielder might have only moved down the list a spot or two, but McGee dropped 10 spots.

  1. Precedent – How did the Hall of Fame voters treat him?

Table 7.

Name Elected Years

On the

ballot

Comps-

Years

On the

Ballot

Grade
Anson 1939 1+ 1-3 B
Rose Ineligible N/A 1 A
Cepeda 1999 15+ 15 D
Klein 1980 15+ 15+ D
McCovey 1986 1 1-3 B
McGee Not elected N/A N/A E

 

Adrian “Cap” Anson. Anson retired in 1897, nearly 40 years before the inaugural Veterans Committee election in 1936. He tied 19th century catching great Buck Ewing for the most votes with 39.5 out of 78 (50.6 percent), well short of the 75 percent needed to be elected. The Hall’s centennial celebration in1939 was set to go off without any 19th century players involved, so a small committee – Commissioner Kennesaw Landis, National League President Ford Frick and American League President Will Harridge – chose 3 players: Anson, Ewing and Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourne, a 300-game winner who won a league record 59 games in 1884.

In cases like this, where the player’s Hall of Fame induction came under unusual circumstances, I like to find his best comps and see how the Hall of Fame treated them. Since Anson’s best comp is Pete Rose (who isn’t eligible for the Hall of Fame) we might need to move to number 2.

Anson’s closest historical comps, according to BasebalReference, are (1) all in the Hall of Fame but (2) not all that comparable. Anson’s rankings in most categories place him in groups of players who have been elected to the Hall of Fame without a lot of resistance, but he doesn’t rank up there with the unanimous candidates.

His best comps are the high average hitters with 3000 hits, like Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn, though Anson would likely have been a power hitter had he played in another era. Any subjective guess, from Roberto Clemente to Frank Robinson to Henry Aaron, would be what it is – one man’s unsupported opinion.

Pete Rose. Rose is not eligible for the Hall of Fame because he is on baseball’s ineligible list. The Hall of Fame rarely intervenes directly in the selection rules – they have never shown the slightest interest in who gets elected – but they made a point to tell the voters that Rose would not be eligible until he is reinstated to baseball’s eligible list in 1991, when his name would have first appeared on the ballot. The hue and cry surrounding his candidacy, even after 30 years, tells you all you need to know. Had he been eligible and untainted by scandal, he would have been a near-unanimous selection.

Orlando Cepeda. Cepeda received 73.5 percent of the vote in 1994 – his final year of BBWAA elgibility – and was elected by the Veterans Committee the first year they got a shot at him. His closest historical comp is probably Tony Perez, the first baseman on the Big Red Machine. Perez was elected by the BBWAA in his final year of eligibility. Between Perez and Cepeda lies the line between C and D. I gave Cha Cha a D because he wasn’t elected by the BBWAA, but it would be silly to argue against a C grade. He was less than 2 percent short.

Chuck Klein. Klein was never a popular candidate during his BBWAA years, topping out at 28.9 percent in 1964. He was elected by the Veterans Committee in 1980 as the meat in a slugger sandwich elected between 1979 and 1981. Hack Wilson, a Klein contemporary, was elected in 1979 and Johnny Mize – who frankly should have been elected sooner – was elected in 1981.

Klein has a number of close comps, some of them in the Hall of Fame and some of them still waiting. His best comp might be Bobby Bonds, Barry’s father and the first of the San Francisco Giants’ run of players dubbed “the next Willie Mays.” ESSAY – Klein’s Comps

Willie McCovey. McCovey was elected right away, and his closest comps – Hank Greenberg, Jimmy Foxx, maybe Eddie Mathews – were all elected quickly. A B grade seems obvious.

Willie McGee. He isn’t in the Hall of Fame and none of his good comps are in, but his case isn’t a complete joke. He won 2 batting titles, 3 gold glove awards and an MVP. He was part of a famous team – the 1980s Cardinals, who reached the World Series 3 times between 1982 and 1987 – and he played long enough to reach a few milestone numbers. His best player comp might be Curt Flood, the Cardinals’ center fielder from the 1960s. Flood may make the Hall of Fame eventually for his role in eliminating baseball’s reserve clause, but he never built up a head of steam in the BBWAA voting.

  1. Prominence – What would this player have to do to make the news?

Table 8.

Name Grade
Anson A
Rose A
Cepeda C
Klein C
McCovey C
McGee D

 

Adrian “Cap” Anson. Question 8 can be tricky for some players, but not this one. Anson was the face of baseball between 1880 and the 1895. He was a force of nature, dominating everyone and everything he touched, and he was a natural and enthusiastic showman. He began his career as the Marshalltown Infant, grew into “Cap” for captain and eventually morphed into “Pop” toward the end of his 27-year career. The Chicago team in the National League was nicknamed the Cubs because of Anson. He was Pops – and they were his cubs.

Pete Rose. He hasn’t worn a baseball uniform since 1989 (officially anyway, I don’t know what he wears around his house) but he is still one of the most famous players in the game. Rose and Reggie Jackson were the most famous players of the 1970s and 1980s, and Rose always seemed to be in the news for one thing or the other until the scandal that cost him his career, his reputation, and his eligibility for the Hall of Fame.

Orlando Cepeda. Cepeda is unusual in that he had two distinct nicknames (Cha Cha and The Baby Bull) but he wasn’t one of the most famous players in the game. He was famous, but not so much as a dominant force as he was a character – what baseball writers call “colorful,” like Manny Ramirez more recently.

Cha Cha was always a little thick – late in his career his butt was wide enough to advertise on –  and he a notoriously bad sign reader. His manager in San Francisco, Alvin Dark, developed a reputation for being racist against Latino players because of his exasperation with Cha Cha’s sign-reading adventures. He was a popular teammate once he got away from San Francisco, and he won the 1967 MVP award in part because of his popularity.

Grading a subjective question like question 8 can be an adventure. I recommend that you make sure your numerical balance is in line with the rest of the Test. It’s easy to overrate (or underrate) how famous these players were, and wind up with, say, 55 A’s, 100 B’s and 40 C’s.

I’ve spent enough time grading players to know that players generally earn about as much fame as they earn anything else. The exceptions – Roger Maris or Catfish Hunter going one way, Darrell or Dwight Evans going the other way – tend to jump off the page. I designed the Test with the more objective questions towards the top and the more subjective questions toward the bottom because of this.

By the time you get to question 8 you will have a pretty good idea where you think the player ranks. If you think he was more famous than his stats, you can bump him up a grade. If he was one of those players – like Evans, either Darrell or Dwight – who wasn’t as famous as he probably should have been – Reggie Smith in the shadow of Reggie! Jackson, for example – you can drop him a grade. If there is no reason to go either way, you can just match his fame grade – and his impact and relevance grades – to his overall grade. There is no reason to overthink it.

Chuck Klein. Klein was about as famous in his time as Cha Cha was in his, and had his peak lasted a little longer he might deserve a B grade, too. It will help you a lot, if you grade a bank of players, to double check yourself horizontally to make sure you have a good balance.

Willie McCovey. Cepeda and McCovey were practically a matched set with the Giants, and they each won an MVP and a great deal of respect after they were separated. McCovey is more famous now because of McCovey Cove behind the right field wall at Pac Bell Stadium, but while they were active they were both in that gray area between the B – where the really famous guys hang out – and C grade. I gave them both C grades in this exercise, but I might give them both B grades next time. Subjective grades are slippery.

Willie McGee. I am sure McGee is a D on this question. He wasn’t substantial enough to be a C – his MVP award notwithstanding – but he was far too famous to be an E. If there is such a thing as the geographical center of the D grade for prominence, I would bet McGee lived on the same street.

  1. Impact – What would it take to explain him in a history book?

Table 9.

Name Grade
Anson A
Rose A
Cepeda C
Klein C
McCovey B
McGee D

 

Adrian “Cap” Anson. Modern research tools make Anson a tempting biographical subject. He wasn’t just a substantial player and a forceful, theatrical personality. He was at the center of any number of significant events in baseball history, not all of them good. Bill James once suggested that Anson may have been the most important figure in making the National League the top league, and making baseball a popular entertainment. (cite)

Pete Rose. It’s impossible to properly explain the legend of Pete Rose in anything short of a full chapter. Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb and Pete Rose are the Mt. Rushmore of 20th century baseball legends. The stories told about them alone could fill the next Ed Burns 18-hour documentary.

Orlando Cepeda. A paragraph would not do him justice, but a page should be plenty.

Chuck Klein. The Patron Saint of park illusions, Klein may not have earned his place in the game’s lore directly, but it would take a page to tell his story.

Willie McCovey. I would have to do a full count to be sure, but I suspect McCovey might deserve an A grade on the impact question. Who else has a body of water named after him?

Willie McGee. It’s hard to win an MVP award and not need a paragraph, and McGee did other things besides win the 1985 MVP award.

  1. Relevance – If he isn’t in the Hall of Fame, the Hall of Fame is:

Table 10.

Name Grade
Anson B
Rose A
Cepeda C
Klein D
McCovey B
McGee E

 

Adrian “Cap” Anson. There are some people who think the 19th century wasn’t real baseball, and there are enough of them that an argument can be made that Anson isn’t 100 percent vital to the Hall of Fame’s existence. It may not be pointless without him – just delusional.

Pete Rose. I might argue that he deserves a not applicable grade on the question, since he isn’t eligible, but there isn’t any reason to Test him in the first place unless we set aside reality and pretend he is allowed to be considered. If he’s eligible, he’s a must-have.

Orlando Cepeda. The difference between a C grade (exclusive) and a D grade (behind) comes from the small-Hall argument. The small-Hall advocates –the exclusivists – want to limit the Hall of Fame to about one player for every year or so, and they usually begin in 1901. A C grade player might be inside the leather if he’s at the top of the grade, but Cha Cha is toward the bottom, so he would fall short of the exclusive club.

The debaters who fall in between the exclusivists and the inclusivists – we’ll call them the realists – are mostly ok with the number on the real Hall of Fame’s list. They may wish the number was a little smaller – 200 is a popular number – but they are, for the most part, ok with the current total of 315 members. Let’s look at the ranges.

  • Exclusivists: 100-150
  • Realists: 200-300
  • Inclusivists: 400-7.2 billion

There are gray areas in there that don’t have their own –ist designation, but the debaters tend to paint in broad strokes. Nobody argues between 140 and 170; it’s either 100, 300 or 800.

Cepeda best fits the C grade definition. If he’s missing, they are exclusive. The C grade players would all be in a Hall of Fame that was behind, because the missing players would be D grade players. Remember question 7; by definition C grade players get elected by the BBWAA within 15 (now 10) years of becoming eligible. If the Hall of Fame hasn’t gotten to him, he’s almost certainly a D or lower.

The only obvious exceptions are players who were never on the BBWAA ballot (Negro League and foreign players) and perhaps a couple of players from the early, primordial ooze days of baseball.

Chuck Klein. Klein waited 36 years to be selected. He was a reasonable choice, but so were others – some of whom are still waiting – and there is no sense of urgency in getting to them.

Willie McCovey. It would take an awfully exclusive club to leave Stretch out, and there would be picketing in the parking lot.

Willie McGee. The Hall of Fame has elected a few players no better than Willie McGee, but only a few and they have been widely mocked as bad selections. McGee will need the voters to loosen their belts a couple more notches to get on the waiting list.

Recap

 

 

 

 

Name Card Value Peak Prime Rate Pos. Resp. Fame Impact Rel. GPA
Anson A B B B A B B A A B 3.4
Rose A A B B A C A A A A 3.6
Cepeda C C C D D D D C C C 1.6
Klein D D C D D E D C C D 1.2
McCovey B B B D D C B C B B 2.4
McGee E E D E E E E D D E 0.3

 

Adrian “Cap” Anson (3.4) Anson’s Test is subject to a wider degree of variance than most A or B level players. He played during the game’s infancy, and much of the competition he dominated wasn’t all that good; some might question whether his numbers deserve the same respect they would had he posted them more recently. Anson’s personality was so big that it would be strange to discount it, but one man’s charismatic promotor is another man’s overbearing blowhard. Anson was universally known, but he certainly wasn’t universally liked.

I ignored his controversial race-related actions when I Tested him, but others may make a big deal out of role in establishing the color line. It’s not my place to tell you how to deal with the Hall of Fame’s cryptic character clause.

Pete Rose (3.6) Speaking of the character clause … it’s up to you how to deal with players like Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, who are ineligible for the Hall of Fame. I’ve heard the argument that they should get F’s on questions 7, 9 and 10 because they are ineligible (7, 10) or violated the character clause (9).

Orlando Cepeda (1.6) The lines between grades are at the .5 marks. Let’s look at it:

A: 3.5-4.0

B: 2.5-3.4

C: 1.5-2.4

D: 0.5-1.4

A solid C players, like Expo speedster Tim Raines or the Astros’ star second baseman Craig Biggio, will usually grade out between 1.8 and 2.2. The borderline C players like Cepeda tend to grade out around 1.5.

Chuck Klein (1.2) A straight D grade (1.0) represents a 50 percent chance of making the Hall of Fame. Klein graded just above that on this run through the Test, meaning he should have been more likely than not to make the list.

Willie McCovey (2.4) The B level may be the most difficult to define, because B players are known more for what they are not than what they are. The A, B and D grades all have specific identifying characteristics. A players are the best of the best. C players are the borderline BBWAA choices. D players are the starts of the old timer committees. B players are loosely defined as “too good to be C’s but not good enough to be A’s.”

Willie McGee (0.3) A player who earns a D grade on a single question – a 0.1 GPA – is theoretically a viable Hall of Fame candidate. McGee’s 0.3 sounds terrible, but it puts McGee among the top 400 or so position players in the game’s history.

 

TEST Verducci quotes and info

 

Tom Verducci on Vlad Guerrero: He hit .318 with 449 home runs. Here is the entire list of players who have done that: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Guerrero, the only man born in the past 95 years to do so.

On Jeff Kent (same article): Kent hit more home runs (377), drove in 100 runs more times (eight) and batted cleanup more times (1,296) than any second baseman in history

On Fred McGriff: Among eligible players with 10,000 plate appearances who are not connected to PEDs, McGriff is the only one not in the Hall of Fame with an OPS+ greater than 128 (his was 134) and more than 475 home runs (he had 493).

McGriff is a statistical twin of Eddie Mathews and has better numbers than Eddie Murray, both of whom are in Cooperstown. When compared to Bagwell, he has more runs, hits, home runs, RBIs, All-Star appearances and top 5 seasons in HR, OPS and Runs Created than Bagwell—and is the far superior postseason player.

Billy Wagner: Great rate stats, but Wagner never did enough heavy lifting and never changed baseball history. Wagner has the lowest ERA and lowest WHIP of any reliever with at least 900 innings except Mariano Rivera. But Wagner is tied for 141st all-time for saves of more than three outs—just 36, fewer than Armando Benitez and Frank DiPino.

 

Test Questions – the explanation

The rules for the Test:

Rule one: It’s your Test, your rules.

Rule two: There is no second rule.

You can use whatever criteria you like to state your opinion – all the Test does is give you a framework you can use to present it. As a guideline – not a rule, just a word of advice – if you want to convince anyone else your opinion is the right one, you need to make sure you have one foot within shouting distance of the prevailing opinion – or a powerful argument to back you up.

But still – it’s your Test, your rules.

The Test’s 10 questions, taken together, generate a grade point average that defines each player’s position in the Hall of Fame pecking order. The top 30 GPAs fill the Pantheon, then the next 60 the VIP club, and so on. To explain how the Test questions work, I will run six players through the Test. In the process I’ll demonstrate my thought process Keep in mind that my grades are opinions. If you don’t agree with them, you don’t have to. The Test generates organized opinions, but it can’t generate facts.

THE QUESTIONS

  1. Baseball Card – Where do his career totals put him?
  2. In the Top 30
    b. In the top 90
    c. In the top 180
    d. In the top 400
    e. In the top 1,000
    f. In the Navy

Question looks at cumulative numbers. Fangraphs, Baseball Reference and a number of other websites have elaborate statistical databases you can use, or you can use an Encyclopedia. Any reputable source works, including the back of a baseball card.

I like to look at everything and grade the players on a balance of statistical evidence. If he ranks in the top 180 in most categories he’s a C, in the top 90 a B, and so on. A few players will make your job easy by ranking about the same in everything, but for most players you have to strike a balance. It’s up to you how you balance things; your Test, your rules.

  1. Baseball Reference – According to the metrics, where is he?
  2. In the Top 30
    b. In the top 90
    c. In the top 180
    d. In the top 400
    e. In the top 1,000
    f. Standing next to Waldo
  3. Peak – At his best, he was
  4. The best of the best
    b. The best, other than that one guy who ruined the curve for everybody
    c. One of the best for a while
    d. One of the best for a moment
    e. One of the best of the rest
    f. One of the rest

I made question three vague on purpose. Peak value is a slippery concept that can provoke good, lively discussions. Why ruin it by defining it? Established peak, or whatever you call “at his best,” is whatever you can prove it is. Your Test, your rules.

  1. Prime – Pick one:
  2. He should have won the MVP award in every good year
    b. He could have won the MVP award in every good year
    c. He should have been an all-star in every good year
    d. He could have been an all-star in every good year
    e. He could have been an all-star in a career year
    f. He could have saved a ton of money on his car insurance

A select few players over the years, have gotten screwed repeatedly in the MVP voting because the voters hated to vote for the same player every year. Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Henry Aaron, Mike Schmidt, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriquez, Barry Bonds and Mike Trout have all been the subject of countless articles, written about how the MVP should go to the best player but it rarely does. The rest of the top 25 should probably be the players who actually won several MVP awards, like Barry Bonds (7) and the players not listed above who won 3 awards.

The B grade belongs to the players who should have won at least a couple and could have won a few if everything broke right. Frank Robinson (if he’s not an A) fits this bill, as do Joe Morgan, Hank Greenberg, George Brett, Nap Lajoie and Ken Griffey, Jr. The C grade belongs to players who weren’t necessarily MVP contenders every year, but they were always on the all-star team and received a lot of down-ballot votes.

  1. Rate – Ignoring volume, he is
  2. In the Top 30
    b. In the top 90
    c. In the top 180
    d. In the top 400
    e. In the top 1,000
    f. Alarmingly concave

Question 5 is the counterpoint to question one, which rewards volume. By rate I mean the slash statistics: batting average, onbase percentage and slugging. Babe Ruth “slashed” .342-.474-.690 over his 22-year career. He ranks, respectively, tenth, second and first on the career lists. For contrast, Ray Oyler slashed .175-.258-.251 in his 6-year career. He ranks lower than Babe Ruth on the career lists. He doesn’t rank all that much higher than Doctor Ruth (Westheimer) on the career lists.

If you prefer you can use a version of adjusted onbase percentage+slugging percentage (ops) compared to league averages (usually listed as ops+). I’ll use all four categories when I run my guinea pigs through the Test.

  1. Position – He was in (or on) his position’s
  2. Throne
    b. Mt. Rushmore
    c. Sweet 16
    d. American Top 40
    e. Hot 100
    f. Do not resuscitate list

There are a number of ways to sort the candidates for this category. You can use one of the various forms of WAR, the career methods from question one, or you can invent your own. You can lean on Pete Palmer’s linear weights formulas, or you can lean on the positional top-100 rankings published in The New Bill James Historical Abstract in 2001. You can rank them by shoe size, or you can rank them by salary adjusted to the stock market index.

As always it’s your Test, your rules. Be prepared for the inevitable blowback, though. Some outlets don’t consider shoe size an official statistic.

  1. Precedent – How did the Hall of Fame voters treat him?
  2. They voted him in right away, and somebody complained because he wasn’t unanimous
    b. They elected him within 2-3 years
    c. The BBWAA elected him
    d. An old-timers committee elected him
    e. He got at least one vote from the BBWAA or an old-timers committee
    f. Like a fool, mean and cruel

If you are grading an old timer you can simply use his own Hall of Fame voting history. It would be strange to claim a player like Johnny Mize deserves a B grade when it took the writers 25 years to get around to electing him to the Hall of Fame. Some players like him, and honestly no better than him, have been elected fairly quickly, though. If you want to argue that Mize was shafted in the voting and that he deserves a higher grade, you can certainly do that. I might make that argument myself.

If a player hasn’t been on the ballot yet, or has only been on it a short time, you need to find comparable players (comps) to argue his case. Some sites lists statistical comps, but if you want to use those comps be prepared for some resistance. Statistical comps on most of the big database websites are not adjusted for the myriad ways the game has changed over the years, and they often don’t adjust for position played.

For example, Baseball Reference lists Sammy Sosa as Mike Schmidt’s second closest comp. By the basic numbers they might be similar, but in real life they weren’t similar at all. Sosa was a right fielder. Schmidt was a third baseman. Sosa never won a gold glove award. Schmidt won 10. Sosa hit at least 60 homers 3 times without leading the league, while Schmidt led the league in homeruns 6 times with totals under 40. Schmidt led the major leagues in homeruns 8 times, Sosa twice.

It’s your Test, your rules – so make any argument you think you can win – but a losing argument is a pointless argument. To find the best comps, I recommend you compare league-adjusted statistics like ops+ and things that are naturally regulated, like the results of awards voting. Bill James has said on a number of occasions that one of the best indicators of greatness is uniqueness. The better the player is, the harder it is going to be to find a perfect comp.

  1. Prominence – What would this player have to do to make the news?
  2. Throw out his garbage
    b. Throw out a runner
    c. Throw out his wife
    d. Throw out his back
    e. Throw out his probation officer
    f. Throw out a Kardashian

Don’t overthink it; remember ESPN camping on Bret Favre’s lawn, reporting several times a day about whether or not he looked like he was coming back, for the baseline on how famous a sports figure can get. The most famous players have regular beat writers following them around, shooting pictures of their cars as they drive away, and – in extreme cases – sorting through their trash cans.

The B players don’t get as much attention, but they are usually the first locker the writers stop by after the day’s game. The C and D players will get their share of postgame attention from the beat writers, but the C players will get the occasional magazine spread and a bigger sendoff when they retire.

  1. Impact – What would it take to explain him in a history book?
  2. A chapter
    b. A chapter section
    c. A page
    d. A paragraph
    e. A sentence
    f. A bribe

Bill James calls them footprints (cite – I think it’s in the 1990 baseball book). Most players leave some sort of mark on the game; for most it’s a small mark – maybe a key hit in a pennant race or a running catch to cost another player a batting title – but a Hall of Fame contender will have left deep, permanent footprints on the game.

Take stock of a player’s regular season achievements – all-star games, gold gloves, larger awards, lead leading totals in high profile categories, etc. – and postseason achievements. A single homerun at just the right moment can be more important than several hundred that have been largely forgotten. Was the player responsible for rules changes, or equipment changes? Did he change how the game was played, or epitomize his era in some lasting way? Was he part of the game’s stories told, the lore of the game? Question 8 asks if a player was famous; question 9 asks if the player is (or should be) remembered.

  1. Relevance – If he isn’t in the Hall of Fame, the Hall of Fame is:

A- Pointless
B- Deluded
C- Exclusive
D- Behind
E- Discerning
F- Closed

Again, don’t overthink it. If the Hall of Fame literally could not exist without him, he is probably an A. If the Hall of Fame couldn’t sleep for all the whining they heard from the media before he was elected, he smells like a B. If your neighborhood small-Hall advocates are the only people that hate him, he’s a C. If your neighborhood big-Hall advocates are the only ones that love him, he’s a D.

Add them together and divide by 10 to get his grade point average. A player’s GPA defines his level on the Hall of Fame scale – which bears a striking resemblance to the grading scale for the questions:

4.0 – A player

3.0 – B player

2.0 – C player

1.0 – D player

0.0 – thanks for coming

The decimal points allow for an extra layer of give and take. If a player grades out at 1.8 you can argue that he is better than another player who grades out at 1.9, or even 2.0 or 2.1. It might be a stretch to argue that your 1.8 graded player is better than another’s 2.8, but it’s your Test, your rules. All is fair in love and the Test.

Quotes and intro to the Discussion

“Roger “Doc” Cramer played for 20 seasons … and had 2,705 lifetime hits. If he doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, I don’t know who does!” – Scott Lehman, Delta, Ohio in a letter to Baseball Digest, March 1981, published in The Politics of Glory.

Background – John Thorn – Earlier this month, longtime baseball historian John Thorn raised a ruckus on the Internet when he suggested that too much of today’s baseball writing focuses on statistics and sabermetrics and not enough concentrates on the colorful stories of the game’s past.

“For a whole generation of fans and fantasy players,” Thorn writes, “stats have begun to outstrip story and that seems to me a sad thing. Even the unverifiable hogwash that passed for fact or informed opinion in baseball circles not so long ago seems today wistfully enticing, for its energy if nothing else.” As one of the leading statistical researchers of the last three decades, Thorn takes some of the blame himself, so it’s not as if he’s just pointing the fingers at others.

Question 2 “Grich’s 125 OPS+ (OBP+SLG adjusted to his era and ballpark) is higher than eight second basemen who have plaques in Cooperstown.” – 10 most deserving players who are not in the Hall of Fame

“In a career that spanned from 1970-86, Grich compiled a 70.9 Wins Above Replacement score — per Baseball-Reference — that ranks eighth all time at his position. His .371 on-base percentage is higher than 12 other Hall of Fame second basemen. And his OPS-plus of 125, a stat that adjusts for league and park effects, is better than 15 second basemen in Cooperstown.” – MLB.com Grich article

Tiering idea – “The Hall of Fame should only be for the greats” – Thomas A. Morgan, Oakville, Connecticut to the Sporting News, Jult 21, 1986 (POG)

Question 6 – “John “Bid McPhee q2ualifies for Cooperstorn ad nauseam. In just about everyon one of his eighteen years before 1900, he anked as the best second baseman around. – Bob Carroll, “For the Hall of Fame: Twelve Good Men” – The National Pastime, Winter 1985 (POG)

Question 3 – “He was Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Albert Pujols all wrapped into a solid 5’11”, 185 lb frame.” About Pete Reiser, by Joseph Del Grippo

“I like a Hall of Fame with Gil Hodges, Roger Maris, Tommy John, and Tim Raines!” – BJOL member Winshrs, July 15, 2016

“My list was based on looking at no stats and just based on gut feel and my memories of watching these players.” – BJOL member KevinBrazzee, December 29, 2016

The first question asked about any player’s worthiness for the Hall of Fame is the “in or out” question. To determine in or out, though, “in” and “out” have to be defined. This is popularly known as the line. As in “is he above the line?” Because the brick and mortar Hall refuses to provide a definition for the line, each argument has to establish its own line.

To define the line, baseball fans use a number of arguments:

  1. He should be in because he had more hits than that schmo that already got in.
  2. He should be out because he has a low WAR total.
  3. He should be in because when he was at his best, he was the best.
  4. He should be out because nobody ever thought he was any good.
  5. He should be in because he had one of the highest batting averages ever.
  6. He should be out because he wasn’t even the best player at his position.
  7. He should be in because his type always gets in.
  8. He should be out because nobody knew who he was.
  9. He should be in because he left big footprints on the game.
  10. He should be out because nobody cares if he’s in outside his immediate family.

Like religion and politics, everybody picks an argument, and they stick to it. Small-Hall advocates want overrated slugger Jim Rice (and his records for hitting into double plays) kicked out, and for Pete’s sake don’t let Jack Morris and his mediocre earned run average (ERA) in. Big-Hall advocates want Yankee great Roger Maris in yesterday, and they want to know why it’s taking so long to elect 19th century superstar Ross Barnes.

Careerists want Harold Baines’ 2,866 hits and Tommy John’s 288 wins in, while peak advocates want Pud Galvin’s 361 wins out because he only led the league in ERA once – and good riddance to Pete Rose: the worthless hack never hit 20 homeruns or drove in 100 runs in a season.

Fame advocates want Dodger great Steve Garvey. Impact advocates want Curt Schilling’s bloody sock. Position advocates want 1980s second base standouts Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker in, and half the right fielders from the 1920s and 1930s out.

The big argument, the basic ideological separation, is between big Hall and small Hall. The small Hall advocates or exclusivists, want the Hall of Fame to be limited to what they call the greats of the game. Their idea of a good membership drive – with apologies to Bob Hope – would be to see half the membership kicked out. The other side of the argument – the inclusivists – want everyone in who was as good as the worst players already in.

It is impossible to satisfy either side. The exclusivists are in a permanent state of depression over the elections of turn-of-the-century players Tommy McCarthy and Roger Bresnahan in 1946, and the inclusivists would only be satisfied with a rubber stamp and a cattle truck.

The Hall of Fame itself doesn’t care about the relative merits of the players. The Hall’s trustees care more about the paying merits of their relatives. The purpose of the Hall of Fame, in the eyes of the Hall of Fame, is to get bodies to the Hall of Fame. The desired number seems to be 4 per year. There have been 315 people elected in roughly 80 years, with another 5 coming in August, 2017.

So, to satisfy everyone we need a small yet large Hall, populated by players who compiled big numbers over time by producing brilliant single seasons. They need to be famous but somehow still underrated. We need to elect at least 3-5 every year – but never induct anyone.

Or …

What if they are all correct? What if every Hall of Fame argument is equally correct? Is it possible to satisfy every need, every whim, and every competing demand? Well, no … of course not. But I designed a 10-question test to help frame the argument.

Should Harold Baines be in because he had 2,866 hits and 384 homeruns? Question one is designed to give long career compilers a voice. Should Bobby Grich be in because he has a really high WAR total? Question two give him a voice. Roger Maris? Questions three, seven and nine. Charlie Bennett? His voice is in there. Who is Charlie Bennett? We will get to him.

The questions cover a solid mix of the popular Hall of Fame arguments:

  1. Career value. Where does he rank on the counting stat lists?
  2. Career metric. Where does he rank according to the popular metrics like WAR and Winshares?
  3. How good was he at his best?
  4. Where was he ranked in the spring magazines?
  5. Where does he rank in the percentage stats?
  6. Where does he rank at his position?
  7. How did the voters treat him?
  8. How newsworthy was he?
  9. How will the history books treat him?
  10. How would the Hall of Fame look without him?

Intro to Test questions

Before we go over the individual questions, I need to explain the rules:

Rule one: it’s your Test, your rules.

Rule two: There is no second rule.

If you think Willie McGee was better than Willie McCovey, grade accordingly. If you think you can sell it (outside Willie McGee’s family) you are probably barking up the wrong mctree, but it’s your Test, your rules. If you want to argue that Roger Maris was more famous than Stan Musial, grade accordingly. If you want to argue that Ray Oyler was a better hitter than Ted Williams, grade accordingly. It’s your Test, your rules.

You may be thinking to yourself, “but what is the point in that? I can just give good grades to the players I like, and say screw you to everyone else?” Call it step one in the process. Give all your favorite players A grades, give all your sworn enemies F grades, and get it out of your system. Share your results with your friends and have a good laugh. It’s your Test, your rules.

If you want to argue your opinion, however, there is a catch: an opinion without backing evidence is worthless. You can say Eleanor Roosevelt was a beauty, but sooner or later somebody is going to produce a picture. You can claim the Pittsburgh Steelers won the 1936 World Series if you want, but it only takes a couple of mouse clicks to make you look foolish.

More esoterically, if you want to claim that Roger Maris was a B player you can, but you will have to find a way to explain away his short, oft-injured career and low career batting average. If you point at his two MVP trophies, skeptics will point to his

if you want your opinion to be accepted into evidence, you have to sell it to the judge. An opinion without supporting evidence is as worthless in a bar as it is in a courtroom. If you don’t have any evidence to back up your love of Ray Oyler, your argument will be as toothless as a band saw in a blast furnace. If you want to share your opinion, your opinio

The Test will help you sort the exhibits, but you need to get them into evidence and convince the jury of their importance. If you say Willie McGee was better than Willie McCovey, you will need to convince your skeptics that McGee’s superior speed and defensive value trumped McCovey’s ability to hit baseballs over Willie McGee’s head into McCovey Cove.

If your opinions are too far from reality they are worthless in a serious discussion, Test or no Test, but the Test can mold and refine your opinions into strong, defensible stances. If you can prove that Willie McGee was a better player than Willie McCovey you are wasting your time here – you should be arguing in front of the Supreme Court (or locked up somewhere you can never escape) – but the rest of us can use the Test to refine our loose intuition into cogent, fact-based opinion.

The Test is not the house, but the scaffolding. The 10 questions allow us to cover all the outside walls, and the 6 grades allow free movement up and down the sides. No matter how you feel about a player, a run through the Test will paint a more complete picture of your opinion than you can manage from the unTested ground of subjective guesswork and confusing analytics.

Fact-based opinion, mind you, not fact. Your Test, your rules – but their Test, their rules, too. The Test can’t tell you if Willie Mays was better than Mickey Mantle any more than a systematic grading system for music will tell you if Beethoven was better than Bon Jovi, or a systematic feminine allure scale will tell you if Raquel Welch was hotter than Kate Upton. The Test frames the argument, but it has no interest in settling the argument.

The argument can never be settled. To shamelessly misquote Shakespeare, the argument is the thing. I believe perfecting the Hall of Fame’s selection process would kill it deader than a rat in an Alaska stew pot.

Perfection isn’t always perfect. Artistically speaking, perfection is just about the worst thing that can happen. There is no resolution without dissonance, and no warmth without the specter of cold. As all good versus evil arguments go, there can’t be one without the other.

It is my opinion that the lack of perfection – the fact that the system is just a little bit illogical and disorderly – is the reason the Baseball Hall of Fame is as popular as it is. The constant arguments over what favorite got screwed, or which bozo got in that doesn’t deserve a plaque, are the lifeblood of the Hall’s popularity. It isn’t easy to maintain the public’s interest in a museum, and I would hesitate to change anything under the assumption that perfection is a desirable goal.

Have you ever owned an old car, beat to hell and rusty all over but it just won’t quit? You are a little bit afraid to fix anything, because if you fix one thing than another thing has to be fixed, and eventually you end up with a pile of rust that won’t even run anymore. I have a feeling the Hall of Fame might fall apart if we were to start replacing those old rusty parts.

Trim too much fat and the meat loses its flavor.

Subjectivity is the very lifeblood of the Hall of Fame. Without subjectivity, the arguments end. Without the arguments, the Hall of Fame’s lofty pop culture status goes away. Without that status, the Hall of Fame is just another museum.

Any attempt to sterilize the voting – in an attempt to perfect it – could be disastrous. Baseball’s museum is more popular than the other major sports museums because the baseball public feels involved in the process. Their empowerment, in my opinion, comes from the residue of ambiguity left in the wake of the Hall’s refusal to define itself.

Barstool arguments about baseball are almost always either “if I voted I sure wouldn’t have voted for that bozo” or “I think the Hall of Fame should be …” – and every fan thinks he knows something the Hall is overlooking. If the Hall made logical, clearly defined selections according to specific rules, what would we argue about? The bozos would be qualified and the Hall of Fame’s parameters would be clearly defined.

Barstool pundits could argue that the Supreme Court would work better with seven members – or that they should have to take a shot every time someone mentions Roe v. Wade – but nobody does because the Supreme Court has specific rules (don’t tell Mitch McConnell), and the pundits don’t feel like they are smarter than the Supreme Court.

The Ladies’ Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Hall of Fame eligibility process has a list of 27 criteria that must be met before a player becomes subject to a vote. The standards are so high that few players are ever eligible, so any player who makes a ballot gets voted in immediately.

If baseball’s hall followed the LPGA model, the arguments would end. The angst would end. The personal involvement would end. And the interest would end. Cooperstown would be reduced to nothing more than a dusty, out-of-the-way storage bin for baseball’s history.

I know you want to get back to Beethoven, Raquel and Mantle. Chances are you quickly answered those three questions in your head, and chances are you felt a twinge of self-righteous pique at the idea that anyone would disagree with you. That’s the proper, normal reaction. It means you have strong opinions, and it means you care.

The Test is for you. Let’s get to it.

Making the grade

The second Hall of Fame argument adds the degree of greatness to the mix. The first argument  – the “in” or “out” argument – hands out invitations. The second argument sorts the invited guests into clubs.

Bill James published an essay about a 4-tier system in The Bill James Historical Abstract (cite) and Bill Simmons suggested a 7-tier system for the National Basketball Association (NBA) in The Book of Basketball. (Cite) James’ essay provided loose definitions for how he would separate players into categories based on their suitability for the Hall of Fame, while Simmons mostly argued about where the players would rank. I found inspiration in both.

First, building a tiered Hall of Fame requires a framework to house the tiers. My theoretical Hall of Fame club will have five floors.

The top floor will house the private “Pantheon club” of 30 original members, with one new member elected every few years. Downton Abbey’s waitstaff will serve corked wine out of dusty bottles and hors d’ oeuvres made out of snails and fish eggs on crystal platters. The napkins will be made of silk, the chairs crushed velvet.

The VIP club’s original 60 can add a new member roughly every other year. Former White House staffers will serve the best craft beers with seafood appetizers on the good China. The napkins will be linen, the chairs aged leather.

The restaurant will seat the All-Star Club’s 180 original members, with plenty of space to accommodate the one new member brought in each year. The waitstaff of retired flight attendants will serve capped wine and ice cold light beer to wash down artichoke pizza bagels and deep fried zuccini, served on Martha Stewart commemorative plates. The napkins, like the chairs, will be made out of cloth recycled from unsold Pete Rose game-worn uniforms.

The cafeteria will have room for several hundred members, but they will only be allowed to seat new people by permission of a special committee. The servers will be lunch ladies who were let go by the New York Public Schools system, and every Tuesday will be meatloaf day. Members are encouraged to wear long sleeves and thick pants; the benches have splinters and somebody keeps stealing the napkins out of the bathroom. New members will be required to bring boxed wine and do the dishes after each meal.

The rest of the candidates can wait in the bar next to the lobby (there’s a 2-drink minimum) or stand in line outside, behind a velvet rope. We encourage hopeful candidates to bring food for the doorman. It won’t get anyone in, but he gets surly when his blood sugar tanks.

Once the place is built, we will need a way to sort the members into the appropriate clubs. After years of experimenting with tarot cards, tea leaves and Ouija boards (don’t ask) I settled on the same scholastic ABCD system that James used.

The Hall of Fame club has 5 floors, so I designed a system with 6 grades. The A grades can follow Babe Ruth’s entourage to the Pantheon while the B grades are escorted to the VIP club. A guide can lead the C grades to the All-Star club, and directions to the Old Timers Cafeteria are prominently posted in the lobby. The E grades can loiter, but they have to wait at the back of the line. F grade stragglers should be chased off with a hose.

Now that we know where they go, who are they? How do we tell them apart? What makes a grade A Hall of Famer an A, and a grade D Hall of Famer a D?

First, the system works on a grading curve. Baseball itself is one giant curved grading system, if you think about it. There is only one champion each year, and there is a champion every year. Teams are sorted from top to bottom no matter how they compare to the teams outside their grading curve. The top half of each subset, whether it’s a league or a division, is called the first division -and last place is always last place.

Second, the system is designed to have vertical and horizontal integrity. If you go off the grading rails it’s fairly simple to see where you digressed, and how you can get back to the Test-ational superhighway.

The Test works vertically for individual players. Running a player through the Test generates a grade-point average that corresponds with the ABCD grading system. If the GPA you come up with is too far off the general consensus, the Discussion will consider your grade an outlier. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with the Discussion, though. It simply means your grade will get laughed out of the room unless you can back it up with some convincing evidence.

The Test works horizontally for groups of players. If you run a pool of players through the Test, you need to wind up with the right number of players for each grade. If, for example, you run a pool of candidates through one of the subjective questions and you have 9 A’s, 12 B’s, 135 C’s and 62 D’s, you should probably make some adjustments.

Your Test, your rules, though. If you think there are 9 A’s and 135 C’s, that’s up to you. As always, though, opinions are worthless without convincing evidence to back them up. If you want to convince anyone that there were 9 grade A players, 12 grade B players, 135 grade C players and 62 grade D players in your pool, you are going to have to present compelling evidence.

Keep in mind that you need to maintain vertical and horizontal integrity. Your subjective grade breakdowns need to match the objective breakdowns, so if you adjust one you have to adjust the other.

THE GRADES

A. One of the top 30 players ever. A grade A player was a winner he was the best of the best. He was the MVP favorite every spring, and either the MVP or the guy who got shafted in the MVP voting in the fall. He lasted long enough to rank near the top of the counting category lists, and his rate stats were as impressive as his counting stats. He reached the top of the game and he stayed there for years. He was a household name and the face of the game. No history of baseball could be told without him. When he became eligible for the Hall of Fame he was voted in immediately by virtual acclimation, and every sports magazine got flooded with angry letters demanding to know why he wasn’t unanimously elected. Baseball spits out a grade A player about once every five years.

B. One of the top 90 players ever. The grade B grade player owned the playground if there wasn’t a grade A player around. He was a grade A player, but with a weakness. He was the wise guy pick to knock off the reigning grade A player (Frank Robinson), or he was a grade A player with a short career (Sandy Koufax), or he dominated a weak group of players (Hal Newhouser). He wasn’t a household name, but he was universally known within the sporting world. The Hall of Fame voted him in quickly, usually within 2-3 years. Nobody would picket Cooperstown if he wasn’t elected right away, but there would be letters. Baseball spits out a grade B player every couple of years.

C. One of the top 180 players ever. The grade C player might have been the star on a bad team, like Richie Ashburn with the 1950s Phillies, or just one of the guys on a great team, like Tony Perez with the Big Red Machine in the 1970s. A grade C player can’t win without help from an A or B player. A grade C player was a perennial all-star who could win an MVP in a career year, but not a consistent MVP contender. He was a big name in the baseball universe, but anonymous elsewhere. The BBWAA voted him into the Hall of Fame, but it took a while. Grade C Hall of Fame bandwagons generally start out slow, and gain steam towards the end of the player’s eligibility.

D. One of the top 400 players ever. The D players can be sorted into 3 groups: grade C producers who had really short careers, grade E producers who had really long careers, or star players with an obvious weakness. The grade D might have never put up that one big year, or the one big second year to “prove” the first one. His career might have been interrupted by a rash of injuries, or truncated by substance abuse issues. He might have been a grade C offensive player but a terrible defender, or a tremendous defender but a god-awful hitter. A grade D player would have been known to hometown fans, hard-core fans and fantasy baseball fans. Baseball spit out about 1 grade D player per year before expansion, or about 1 per 16 teams. With 30 teams, the number is up to about 2 per year.

E. The E players are the rest of the regular players. If a player survived for 10 years and played regularly for 5 years he was an E player. A total of 741 pitchers have thrown at least 1,500 innings and 1,548 position players have played at least 1,000 games since the National Association opened for business in 1871. I set my parameters a little lower, to catch players who would have a fighting chance of landing on a positional top 100 list or a top 300 pitcher list, but

F. According to BaseballReference.com, 16,982 players have gotten into a major league baseball game. Out of that pool 2,579 position players played at least 600 games, 958 starting pitchers took the ball for at least 125 games and 796 relief pitchers got into at least 250 games. That’s 4,331 out of 16,982, a little over 25 percent. I’m sure the other 75 percent were kind to their mothers and rarely kicked stray dogs, but we’ll make sure to padlock the entryway.

Just in case.

Baseball spit out about one grade A, B or C player per year until expansion began in 1961. Since then the number of teams has nearly doubled, and the number of viable Hall of Fame candidates has also nearly doubled. If there were 90 A,B and C players between 1871 and 1960, then there have been another 90 between 1961 and 2017. The increases are not proportional; there are not as many additional A and B players as there are additional C and D players. The number of teams has nearly doubled but there are still just two leagues and one champion.

Doing the math:

1871-1900 – average of about 12 teams

1901-1960 – 16 teams – 960 teams

1961-1968 – 20 teams* – 158 (1961 NL only 8 teams)

1969-1976 – 24 teams – 192 teams

1977-1992 – 26 teams: 416 teams

1993-1996 – 28 teams: 112 teams

1997-2016 – 30 teams: 600 teams

Funny quotes from all over the sports world

Posted August 6, 2011

I’m working as hard as I can to get my life and my cash to run out at the same time. If I can just die after lunch Tuesday, everything will be perfect.
Doug Sanders, professional golfer

All the fat guys watch me and say to their wives, “See, there’s a fat guy doing okay. Bring me another beer.”
Mickey Lolich, Detroit Tigers Pitcher

Last year, we couldn’t win at home and we were losing on the road. My failure as a coach was that I couldn’t think of anyplace else to play.
Harry Neale, professional hockey coach

When it’s third and ten, you can take the milk drinkers; I’ll take the whiskey drinkers every time.
Max McGee, Green Bay Packers receiver

I found out that it’s not good to talk about my troubles. Eighty percent of the people who hear them don’t care and the other twenty percent are glad you’re having trouble.
Tommy LaSorda, LA Dodgers manager

My knees look like they lost a knife fight with a midget.
E. J. Holub, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker regarding his 12 knee operations

When they operated, I told them to put in a Koufax fastball. They did – but it was Mrs. Koufax’s.
Tommy John, N.Y. Yankees recalling his 1974 arm surgery

I don’t know. I only played there for nine years.
Walt Garrison, Dallas Cowboys fullback when asked if Tom Landry ever smiles

We were tipping off our plays. Whenever we broke from the huddle, three backs were laughing and one was pale as a ghost.
John Breen, Houston Oilers

The film looks suspiciously like the game itself.
Bum Phillips, New Orleans Saints after viewing a lop-sided loss to the Atlanta Falcons

The only difference between me and General Custer is that I have to watch the films on Sunday.
Rick Venturi, Northwestern football coach, after a lop-sided loss

Because if it didn’t work out, I didn’t want to blow the whole day.
Paul Horning, Green Bay Packers running back on why his marriage ceremony was before noon.

I won’t know until my barber tells me on Monday.
Knute Rockne, when asked why Notre Dame had lost a game

I tell him “Attaway to hit, George.”
Jim Frey, K.C. Royals manager when asked what advice he gives George Brett on hitting

I learned a long time ago that “minor surgery” is when they do the operation on someone else.
Bill Walton, Portland Trial Blazers

The game don’t start until the fat lady sings.
Rosanne Barr, before the anthem at a Padres Game

No, the game don’t start until the fat lady grabs her crotch and spits.
Tony Kornheiser

Theoretical Restraint – How nobody would have been tempted by steroids except for everyone who was

July 19, 2011

Read this.

At the time it was published, this article was a revelation. Most people didn’t know that Lenny Dykstra was so brazen about making his 1993 season one for the ages, or that there was so much good information about his own timeline doing PEDS. We didn’t have documentation for Reggie’s steroid dealing roommate becoming Canseco and McGwire’s dealer, or the timeline. I had independently come to the conclusion that Barry Bonds started using in 1999 out of some sort of bitterness or competitiveness because players that he deemed inferior had passed him up by using steroids, but this article includes the “testimony” of someone that had come to the exact same conclusion, and had some material evidence to back up his opinions. We didn’t know that Wally Joyner, who would be one of the last people in the world that anyone would expect to be tempted, actually took PEDS for short time before tossing them away.

Do any of us really understand how hard it would be to say no in that climate? Some did, obviously, and from this article I would guess that the number was a lot higher than Canseco claimed. I’ve been on record as guessing that the vast majority of major league players did PEDS. After this, I would lower my guess to somewhere around half. I doubt that it was much less than half, though.

I also came to understand a lot more about baseball’s own problems trying to deal with the sudden scourge. I don’t find them blameless, but I do understand how it all got so out of control, and how it got so far before any steps were taken. We look back and wonder why it wasn’t nipped in the bud. The better question would probably be “what else could they have done, given the management/labor paradigm of the time?” Baseball was at the feet of the union, and since they couldn’t control it none of the individual teams could be reasonably expected to be the only ones that stuck their necks out.

As is the case with most epidemics, it takes time to identify that there is a problem, and then time to figure out what to do, then (in this case) time to prove that there is a problem and time to negotiate how to address the problem. Baseball first really heard of it around 1991, accepted that they need to at least acknowledge it in 1997 (they got distracted by the strike issues for a couple of years, which slowed down the progression), realized that they needed to take proactive steps in 2000, and then it took 3 years to sell it to the union through negotiations and proof that the problem was real. I come away feeling that the Selig-led hierarchy worked through the process in a fairly normal time frame, considering that they weren’t getting any help from the teams and certainly no help from the players or their union.

Who’s to blame? Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson and Miguel Tejada. (I’m just kidding)

Seriously, can’t it just be one of those things? Baseball is a game that produces unimaginable amounts of money, which all of the interested parties get an ample share of. When there is a shift in technology, a shift in equipment, or (in this case) a shift in available ways to beat the other guy, everyone always scrambles to get ahead of everyone else. The guys that stood still and said “this isn’t right” were so drowned out that it took over a decade to get even the smallest toe hold on the problem. It happens and, as I’ve said to the point of hyperventilating for years, it’s happened before. It’s going to happen again, too, sooner or later.

Oh, and just to put a bonnet on it, my three requested “stipulated” facts, with adjustments to reflect the provable portions:

– Reggie Jackson was living with Curtis Wenzlaff in 1987, while still an active player.

– Pete Rose had, as house mates, Tommy Gioiosa and Paul Janszen, both steroid dealers who worked out with Rose at various times from 1985 until the betting scandal erupted in 1989. Janszen was the star witness against Rose, and Gioiosa ran bets for Rose before introducing him to Janszen in late 1986. Janszen didn’t live with Rose while he was an active player, but Gioiosa did. Both lived with him while he was the manager of the Reds.

– Miguel Tejada gave Rafael Palmiero a B-12 shot shortly after Palmiero testified before congress. Palmiero tested positive for a steroid that was popular several years earlier, but was considered obsolete by 2005.

I don’t personally care who did what, other than from curiosity. I have no angst about it, or any anger towards the miscreants. My only interest in taking this much time researching and posting is towards the goal of getting the record straight, or as straight as it can be given the climate of denial around the issue.

Just for the record, I don’t believe that either Reggie Jackson or Pete Rose derived any benefit from taking steroids. I don’t believe that either one of them even took steroids, though I wouldn’t be shocked if it came out that they did. I do believe that Palmiero took steroids, and the only reason that I want the Tejada facts to be stipulated is because I believe that it’s possible that he was set up to take a fall.

I don’t have a clue why anyone felt that it was necessary for Palmiero to take a fall. I don’t know what lurks in the minds of people like that, so how in the hell can I explain their actions? Palmiero was later exposed in places where I feel comfortable in stipulating that he was a steroid user, so why should I care about that last positive test? For Raffy, I don’t care. He did steroids, so that last test doesn’t matter. He was set up in a clumsy, amateurish way. That bothers me. I mean, why? I find it fascinating; wondering why they would set up someone that was already going down?

Nixon fixed an election that he was going to win anyway. Maybe that was the thought process. We all watch so many scripted TV shows and movies that we forget that, in the real world, even supposedly educated and worldly people can act like complete morons once in awhile. In the end it doesn’t matter in the least whether Palmiero was set up, does it? Well, to Palmiero anyway. It might matter to us, though, if we can find out who did it. Maybe these people “raped a hooker”, but that doesn’t mean that a rape wasn’t committed.