Everybody kind of agrees that the Hall of Fame voting process is a mess right now. Well, not everyone. I see reader comments and tweets saying everything is fine, that they're OK with the steroid guys not getting in -- although I'm not exactly sure who all the steroid guys are supposed to be -- and that they're fine with a small Hall of Fame ... even though, of course, it's not a small Hall of Fame. By my count there are 207 Hall of Famers elected for their playing ability, plus 29 Negro Leagues players.
Joe Posnanski wrote the other day on the "Hall of Fame percentage" -- pointing out that every player except one who received 50 percent of the BBWAA vote eventually got in the Hall of Fame, either by the BBWAA or via the Veterans Commmittee (not including those still on the ballot.) That one player is former Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges, who also managed the Miracle Mets to a World Series title in 1969. If history holds true, this is good news for Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Tim Raines, all of whom were over 50 percent in last year's vote, and for Lee Smith, who crossed 50 percent in 2012 before falling back under in 2013.
I wanted to look at something else. Following is the list of all Hall of Fame players, divided by decade (excluding Negro Leaguers, although they would all be pre-1950). Players were placed in the decade in which they accumulated the most Baseball-Reference WAR -- with one exception. I placed Dennis Eckersley in the 1990s; he actually accumulated the most WAR in the 1970s, when he was a starter for the Indians and Red Sox, but he got in the Hall of Fame primarily because of his work as a reliever, and 293 of his 390 saves came in the '90s (as well as his MVP and CY Young season of 1992). Those elected via the BBWAA are in regular type; those elected by the Veterans Committee are in italics (with players elected by the original Old-Timers Committee in the 1940s indicated by an asterisk.
Pee Wee Reese
Home Run Baker
Old Hoss Radbourn*
Here's the catch. There are almost twice as many teams now than the 16 that existed before expansion first began in 1961, so logically shouldn't there be more Hall of Famers from more recent decades? Here's a breakdown with average number of teams per decade, the numbers of Hall of Famers, and the number of Hall of Famers per team.
Decade Teams HoF HoF/team
1990s 28 3 .10
1980s 26 15 .58
1970s 24 21 .88
1960s 20 21 1.05
1950s 16 18 1.13
1940s 16 12 .75
1930s 16 30 1.88
1920s 16 27 1.69
1910s 16 12 0.75
1900s 16 20 1.25
1890s 12 16 1.33
1880s 16 13 .81
I'm not saying we need to go to the levels of the 1920s and 1930s -- many of the "worst" Hall of Famers are from this era, the result of high offense resulting in some gaudy-looking batting averages, as well as former Giants and Cardinals Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch influencing the Veterans Committee to get several of his former Giants and Cardinals teammates elected, most with dubious qualifications.
But even compared to the 1950s and 1960s, the '70s and '80s guys are getting shafted. The '50s/'60s have 39 Hall of Famers for 36 teams; the '70s/'80s have 36 Hall of Famers for 50 teams. To have the same ratio of Hall of Famers as the '50s/'60s, we'd need 18 more Hall of Famers who made their mark in the '70s and '80s. (That's assuming the same level of Hall of Fame-caliber players exists equally through time, of course. Essentially, the various Hall of Fame voters and committees have argued that's NOT the case, which I think is a pretty dubious proposition.)
An even starker contrast happens when you divide the 20th century in half. Hall of Famers from the first half of the 1900s, including Negro Leaguers: 130; Hall of Famers from the second half of the 20th century: 77.
Now, we haven't closed out the 1980s just yet. There are still five '80s guys on the ballot -- Morris, Raines, Smith, Alan Trammell and Don Mattingly. Morris might get in, but it's his final year; Raines is getting closer; Smith is falling and Trammell and Mattingly have no chance.
That leaves the Veterans Committee, but it has shown more inclination to elect managers, owners and umpires than players. That's what will happen again this year, when it examines the "Expansion Era" (for those who made their mark primarily after 1972) and Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa likely get in and the players get shut out.
So the door is closing rapidly on the 1980s candidates, at least for the foreseeable future. That gets us to all the complications of the 1990s guys. Obviously, we'll start seeing more of a trickle this year with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, maybe Biggio and Frank Thomas. Next year gives us Randy Johnson, John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez as leading candidates (actually, Pedro would be the first 2000s guy elected). Ken Griffey Jr. hits the ballot the year after that.
Meanwhile, the steroids guys will still be out there, while other strong candidates will be ignored or even pushed off the ballot before their cases have time to build, ala Lou Whitaker and Kevin Brown.
What's it all mean? It means we're still going to be having these heated debates for years to come.