Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Hall of Very Good

(NOTE: Broken link fixed.)

On Sunday, Andre Dawson, Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, to forever take their place among the immortals of the sport.

This is not about those immortals.

This is about those who remain just outside the Hall. Always hoping to be enshrined, but always falling short; some never coming close, some tantalizingly so but always seeing the Hall remain just out of reach.

This is the Hall of Very Good.

The key names in the Hall of Very Good are well known to those who hope for their eventual enshrinement. Ron Santo. Gil Hodges. Dick Allen. Buck O'Neill. All have made their attempts at induction, all have failed, all (or at least all their supporters, as some are now dead) wondering not just when, but if. Will it ever happen?

The first and best clue as to whether you will get in falls on the results of the BBWAA ballot. So does the second-best clue. Note the rankings of where everybody finishes. Specifically, note the top five votegetters. Expect all five players to eventually be enshrined. (If you're on the 1945 ballot, in fact, expect to be in if you're in the top 33, because you are.) The list of Top Fivers not currently on the ballot to still be out is tiny.

Gil Hodges (topped at 3rd in 1970, 1976, 1977, 1981)
Roger Maris (topped at 5th in 1986, 1987, 1988)
Tony Oliva (topped at 3rd in 1988)
Steve Garvey (topped at 4th in 1996)
Ron Santo (topped at 3rd in 1998)

That's it. That's the whole group. Those on the ballot now that meet the Top Five criteria:

Bert Blyleven (topped at 2nd in 2010)
Roberto Alomar (topped at 3rd in 2010)
Jack Morris (topped at 4th in 2010)
Barry Larkin (topped at 5th in 2010)
Lee Smith (topped at 5th in 2008, 2009)

The other thing to note is the vote percentage. Famously, it takes 75% of the vote to be elected, and though the other voting rules have changed over the years, that has remained constant. But even if you've blanked out, that's not a lifelong condemnation to the Hall of Very Good. It in all likelihood is. Don't hold your breath. But there is precedent. Charlie Gehringer and Gabby Hartnett both got zero votes in the original 1936 ballot, and they both got in. Candy Cummings pulled the same stunt on the 'Old Timers Committee' ballot that same year, and he's in. All likely blanked due to an epic backlog-- 42 of the 50 players on the 'modern' ballot and 31 of the 60 on the 'old timers' ballot would eventually gain enshrinement- which puts a bit of a dent in the age-old argument of 'if he's not a Hall of Famer the first time, he's not a Hall of Famer the other times either'. Backlogs happen. Sometimes you want to vote for more people than you're allowed to vote for. And sometimes, someone's greatness only becomes apparent over time, when the years pass, their successors take over, and it becomes more and more apparent that they don't make them like that anymore.

The inverse can also happen- someone that looked one-of-a-kind when they first got on the ballot can look downright obsolete by their 15th. Look at Lee Smith. For a while, he held the record for career saves. He looked like it was only a matter of time. And then Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera showed themselves to be the next level of closer. Smith looks more like a Hall of Very Gooder every day.

But what percentage guarantees eventual enshrinement? Well, the highest percentage of a person not on the 2011 ballot to not yet be in is 60.1%, by Gil Hodges. Top 60.1%, and even if you don't get in right there, it's just a matter of time.

And if you're not Hodges, the news gets even better. The 75% threshold is regarded as a safeguard against enshrining anyone but the very, very best.

What if I told you it didn't even take majority rule? That Hodges is the only person to ever top 47.3% that is not yet in or still on the ballot?

What follows at the end of this piece is a list of the 185 people on the BBWAA ballot- or its pre-BBWAA equivalent- who ever gained at least 2% of the vote that are not yet in. That's 185 people, compared with the 203 in the Hall of Fame right now. They are listed in order of the highest percentage they ever gained, which precedes their names.

The percentages of those who make it into the Hall are often maligned- this person got in with a higher percentage than that person, look who got more votes than Babe Ruth, etc. The thing about that is that you only get voted in once. And you're voted in alongside a ballot whose contents are highly variable. Sometimes you're the only person on the ballot that looks worthy at the time. Sometimes you're part of a competitive group who bring down each other's vote totals. And there's always a couple people who hand in blank ballots for whatever reason that can affect the final percentage.

The people in the Hall of Very Good have had as many as 15 ballots to drive their totals as high as possible, among a variety of ballot types- first-ballot years, backlog-clearance years, deep years, shallow years, a significant amount of historical context. Their high scores are much more indicative of their comparative quality as players.

I present you with the contents of the Hall of Very Good-- the best place a baseball player never wants to be. Those slated for the 2011 ballot are bolded.

74.2 Bert Blyleven
73.7 Roberto Alomar
60.1 Gil Hodges
52.3 Jack Morris
51.6 Barry Larkin
47.3 Lee Smith
47.3 Tony Oliva
43.1 Roger Maris
43.1 Ron Santo
42.6 Steve Garvey
40.6 Maury Wills
40.0 Marty Marion
39.3 Harvey Kuenn
36.2 Edgar Martinez
35.9 Hank Gowdy
35.6 Phil Cavarretta
34.0 Johnny Sain
33.6 Allie Reynolds
31.7 Tommy John
30.9 Luis Tiant
30.4 Tim Raines
29.8 Johnny Vander Meer
29.6 Jim Kaat
28.2 Don Mattingly
25.5 Ken Boyer
25.5 Mickey Lolich
25.4 Mel Harder
24.9 Mickey Vernon
24.5 Dave Parker
23.7 Bucky Walters
23.7 Mark McGwire
23.2 Dale Murphy
23.2 Lew Burdette
22.4 Alan Trammell
22.2 Joe Torre
21.5 Fred McGriff
21.1 Minnie Minoso
20.7 Elston Howard
20.7 Tommy Henrich
18.9 Roy Face
18.5 Al Dark
18.0 Smoky Joe Wood
17.3 Pepper Martin
16.9 Dave Concepcion
16.7 Dick Allen
16.7 Lefty O'Doul
15.7 Vada Pinson
15.5 Thurman Munson
15.3 Don Newcombe
14.4 Ted Kluszewski
14.4 Walker Cooper
13.7 Babe Adams
13.5 Duffy Lewis
13.1 Sparky Lyle
12.8 Curt Flood
12.3 Don Larsen
11.7 Terry Moore
11.3 Dom DiMaggio
11.2 Orel Hershiser
10.8 Keith Hernandez
10.6 Bobby Bonds
10.4 Dwight Evans
10.2 Vic Raschi
10.0 Dickey Kerr
10.0 Jimmy Dykes
9.9 Johnny Kling
9.8 Charlie Grimm
9.5 Pete Rose
9.4 Bobo Newsom
9.0 Hal Chase
8.8 Jimmie Wilson
8.8 Ron Guidry
8.7 Vida Blue
8.3 Graig Nettles
8.3 Muddy Ruel
8.0 Lou Criger
7.9 Hank Bauer
7.9 Rusty Staub
7.7 Albert Belle
7.7 Bob Boone
7.5 Nick Altrock
7.5 Tommy Bridges
7.4 Dave Stewart
7.0 Wilbur Wood
6.9 George Foster
6.7 Glenn Wright
6.5 Lon Warneke
6.5 Sal Maglie
6.4 Nap Rucker
6.2 Fernando Valenzuela
6.2 Paul Derringer
6.1 Charlie Keller
6.1 Harold Baines
6.0 Doc Cramer
6.0 Freddie Fitzsimmons
5.7 Babe Herman
5.7 Cy Williams
5.6 Dolf Luque
5.6 Joe Judge
5.5 Fred Lynn
5.3 Frankie Crosetti
5.2 Stuffy McInnis
5.0 Bob Meusel
5.0 Fred Hutchinson
5.0 Hal Schumacher
5.0 Rudy York
5.0 Schoolboy Rowe
5.0 Willie McGee
4.9 Art Nehf
4.9 Red Rolfe
4.9 Steve O'Neill
4.8 Jeff Reardon
4.8 Stan Hack
4.7 Ewell Blackwell
4.7 Ken Griffey Sr.
4.6 Bobby Thomson
4.5 Bill Madlock
4.5 Eddie Rommel
4.5 Howard Ehmke
4.4 Wilbur Cooper
4.4 Will Clark
4.3 Al Oliver
4.2 Manny Mota
4.1 Andres Galarraga
4.1 Mark Grace
4.1 Wally Schang
3.9 David Cone
3.9 Del Crandall
3.8 Dan Quisenberry
3.8 Earl Whitehill
3.8 Frank White
3.8 Joe Carter
3.8 Tim McCarver
3.7 Mark Belanger
3.7 Ted Simmons
3.6 Wes Ferrell
3.4 Jack Quinn
3.3 Dwight Gooden
3.2 Carl Erskine
3.2 Dennis Martinez
3.2 Everett Scott
3.1 Bert Campaneris
3.1 Fred Tenney
3.0 Birdie Tebbetts
3.0 Dixie Walker
3.0 Frank McCormick
3.0 Jimmy Archer
3.0 Joe Dugan
3.0 Mike Donlin
3.0 Pete Reiser
3.0 Spud Chandler
2.9 Lou Whitaker
2.8 Dave McNally
2.8 Harvey Haddix
2.6 Bill Dinneen
2.6 Bobby Grich
2.6 Don Baylor
2.6 Harry Bracheen
2.6 John Hiller
2.6 Orval Grove
2.5 Art Fletcher
2.5 Bill Bradley
2.5 Bill Carrigan
2.5 Charlie Root
2.5 George Earnshaw
2.5 Jim Abbott
2.5 Kirk Gibson
2.5 Larry Bowa
2.4 Bob O'Farrell
2.4 Clyde Milan
2.4 Vern Law
2.3 Bobby Shantz
2.3 Carl Mays
2.3 Pinky Higgins
2.3 Roy McMillan
2.2 Bing Miller
2.2 Paul O'Neill
2.1 Bill Buckner
2.0 Bill Donovan
2.0 Bill Wambsganss
2.0 Bob Elliott
2.0 Bobby Richardson
2.0 Heinie Groh
2.0 Virgil Trucks
2.0 Willie Wilson

Stay strong, Hodges. One day.

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