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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Tuesday, December 11, 2001
Who are the best?
I absolutely love baseball history. Always have, as far back as I can remember, it?s been my favorite part of the game. The Hall of Fame has been central to this for me, since the first time I visited the shrine (during the 1983 World Series, my 11th birthday present was the trip, a 5-hour drive from Long Island). As I walked through the Plaque Room back then, I just assumed these were the greatest players of all time, because we were told they were, and writers must know more than an 11-year old.
Two years later, I read my first ?Baseball Abstract?. At that point, I started questioning the conventional wisdom, and along with this, I started to wonder about the players in the Hall of Fame. I received my first ?McMillan Encyclopedia? for my 16th birthday, and when I saw the numbers of some these guys I started thinking, huh?
I finally was able to read the ?Historical Baseball Abstract? during the summer of 1991, and my respect for the Hall of Fame selections dipped some more. Then came the ?Politics of Glory? (renamed ?Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?). I was especially disturbed by the Veterans Committee?s dark periods, 1945 and the early 70?s. I?ve hated Frankie Frisch (the dominant force on the early 70?s Committee) ever since. These were to the two periods where the majority of mistakes and arbitrary decisions came from. Lee Allen on the other hand, who was a large contributor to the Committee in the 1960?s (a period where many of the mistakes of the mid-1940s were corrected) became one of my all-time baseball heroes. I started thinking this guy had the job I was born for. At this point, I was convinced that I needed to come up with something better, even if it was just for my own benefit.
In reading the historical book, I was very impressed with the article about ?Honors?. In this article, James talks about how well constructed the MVP ballot is (the voters aren?t great, but the system is pretty solid), and how poorly constructed the Hall of Fame voting system is. The major drawbacks are that there is no way to express degrees in voting, and the election cutoff is arbitrary (75%), not absolute (say 2 per year).
So the Hall of Something came to my mind. I couldn?t think of a good name, and other than some 80?s baseball cards and a Bobby Ramos autographed Tommy John replica glove, I didn?t have much memorabilia to draw visitors to my basement. But I figured, ?you?ve gotta start somewhere? and started working on it anyway. I re-worked my way through ?Politics? and came up with a list of mistake players. I also came up with a list of unjustly shunned players.
Then I started thinking of going back to 1935 and trying see who should have been elected in each election, only I would take the top players each year based on actual voting, whether or not they garnered 75% of the vote. I started by allowing 5 in for 1935, 4 for 1936-37, 3 in 1938-39, then when the elections were down to every 3 years I?d take the top 9. By the late 1940s, satisfied that the 65 years of baseball history before elections had been made up for, I cut it to two per season (or a multiple of this for years where the elections alternated). I also tweaked my annual ?elections? by allowing the Bill James top 100 lists to override the BBWAA vote when appropriate. This list came out better that what is in the Hall presently, but still shunned the 19th Century players and Negro Leaguers.
At that point (October 2000), I stumbled onto ?Baseball Reference?, while looking for info about the 1996 Marlins. Then a few months later, I noticed the ?Outside the Box? weblog and discovered that I wasn?t the only baseball lunatic out there. I started talking with Robert Dudek, and over several months, we refined these ideas. He came up with a name that made a lot of sense. ?Fame? shouldn?t the criteria for selection, ?merit? should be. We should label our ?shrine? for what it takes to get in, not the reward for getting in. We had a name - the Hall of Merit.
Our basic premise is not that there are too many people in the Hall of Fame, but that there are too many mistakes. Around April 2001 I became aware of the r-s-bb Hall of Fame. I think their concept is excellent, with elections every year, etc. But I felt that it was too exclusive a club. Only 83 players have been enshrined, and it took greats like Willie McCovey over 15 years to get in. Again, I really don?t think there are too many people enshrined, just too many mistakes. Add Ron Santo and Stan Hack and remove George Kell and Freddy Lindstrom, for example, and the Hall looks better. Get rid of Tommy McCarthy and put Deacon White in and we take it up another notch. A few more of these ?trades? and all of the sudden, the whole thing starts looking a lot better. Everybody knows that Ruth, Mantle and Mays are the greats. The key in my opinion is honoring the correct people that are just a notch below them as well. The r-s-bb Hall is great as an inner circle, but we feel that it is too exclusive.
By starting over, we can correct the mistakes of Cooperstown?s past.
Over the next several years, we will travel through time, selecting the greatest players in the history of baseball, and learning a good deal in the process. We want to correct the flaws of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame voting system. We?ve decided to start with elections in 1915. This will put the great players of the 19th Century on the first few ballots, so we ensure that we are electing them as well. 19th Century baseball is largely forgotten, but w/the statistical advances of the last 30 years we can finally evaluate them fairly. The great players of that era deserve to be enshrined, even if they weren?t as great as today?s stars, they have a place in history, and real pennants were won and lost during that time.
We?ve kept the 5-year waiting period in tact, so the first elections will encompass careers ending in 1910 or earlier. The basic structure of the ballot will be an MVP-type vote, where electors will vote for the top 10, in order (ties are allowed on the ballot). We still aren?t sure about the weighting, and we?d like to open that up to the mathematicians out there for debate. We were leaning towards the 14-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 for the BBWAA, but recently we?ve heard that 14 might be too much for first place, we?re open to ideas there.
As for the number of people to be elected, we?ve run a spreadsheet that takes the ?team seasons? into account (we?ve adjusted downward for the early years, it?s not a straight X teams equals X electees), and we want to allow for some ?make up? selections, since the first election will encompass 40 years of careers (1871-1910). We are going to start with 5 for the 1915 and 1916 elections, 4 from 1917-19, 3 from 1920-25 and then 2 per year through 1977. At that point, we?ll start upping the number elected, to account for expansion and growth in the population. From 1978-83 we’ll alternate 3 per year in even years, 2 in odd years. From 1984-94 we’ll elect 3 players per season. Starting in 1995 we’ll elect 4 players every 4th year, 3 in the other years. In 2007 we’ll start alternating between 3 (even years) and 4 (odd years) players per season. Players will never lose eligibility. Both Robert and I feel that this is crucial: it means that if new information about a player comes to light that player can benefit (as an example, I offer Bill James? reassessment of Phil Rizzutto based on new evidence of his defensive prowess). It also means that if a voter thinks there were more great players from a certain era than in others, he can vote for a player that might have been squeezed out by his contemporaries in his previous tries. Since the inherent structure of the vote forces the best players to the top of the ballot, there is no reason to remove players from the process artificially. Following this procedure, we’ll have 218 honorees after the 2002 ceremony. The current Hall of Fame has 215 members (as players), with a few more coming in 2002.
We?ve thought of putting a positional quota in, with one player at each position (plus 4 pitchers) required in each decade. If a decade?s ballots come up short at a position, in the last year of the decade we?d have two elections, one for the position that is short, and one for everyone else. This is open to debate though.
As far as criteria, numbers aren?t everything: there are things we cannot account for in the numbers. But since we have them, we are going to make them available to help you with your ballots. Players? contributions on the field are to be the main criteria for selection; off-field actions should only be taken into account for the effect they had on the players? teams on the field of play. The language may be tweaked so as many people are comfortable with the criteria as possible. We want to make the criteria reasonably broad so that each voter is able to interpret them according to his own tastes.
Robert has done some excellent work on figuring the relative strengths of the leagues each year during the 19th Century, so this will help us to distinguish the greats as well. He?s also figured positional replacement levels from 1871-1919. Jim Furtado is going to have Offensive XWins going back to 1900 pretty soon.
We will present numbers to show players? contributions in the proper context. We hope these tools will help you with your decisions. A page will be set up for each player, and we?ll post things like adjusted offensive wins and losses, Win Shares Gold Gloves, TPR (although I think the defensive part of TPR is useless, we?ll put the data there), etc. The goal is to make as much information as possible available. If any of you have your own stats that you think would be good to add (Hoyts, let?s say), let us know, and we?ll post those too. We?ll adjust things like Win Shares, TPR, etc. for the shorter seasons in the 1870?s and 80?s, strike years, etc., so everything is on a 162 game scale. There will be a Hall of Merit Weblog set up as well, where we?ll be able to discuss the ballot, the process, lobby for players, etc. We want to spend the next few weeks discussing these aspects of the project with the Primer readership.
As far as the first election is concerned, we want to wait for the Win Shares Book to come out in April. There are several reasons for this. I personally think the defensive analysis we get from Win Shares will be light years ahead of anything we?ve had previously. Although Win Shares pegs the replacement level too low (zero) this can be adjusted for. Also, since this information will be available, it?d be terrible to make mistakes that could have been avoided. Waiting a few months is a little frustrating, but it will also mean a more solid foundation for the first election, so why not wait? The goal should be to have as much information available as possible. This is especially important for the earlier elections, where we have the least amount of information.
Another reason for waiting is that the first election will encompass 40 years and a huge number of candidates. After the first election, a much smaller number will be added to the pool for subsequent elections, which will be much easier to handle.
We?ll set up a Plaque Room as well, where people can go and we?ll have all sorts of things there: pictures (depending on copyrights), stats, links to purchase books about the player, etc.
We look forward to your comments, suggestions, and ballots. The Hall of Merit weblog should be up shortly. In the meantime, feel free to comment here or drop Robert and I an email. We want to emphasize that this will be a Primer community project.
This is going to be fun.
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