Like School on Saturday, It Sometimes Gangs Aft Agley
by Mike Carminati
The best laid schemes o’ mice and men Gang aft agley;
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!
— "Sleepy" Robert Burns
I started this Hall of Fame analysis last week but found that the data in the source that I use and my interpretation of the data were problematic. I used the new historical data on the Hall's website to update the data. I also had to change my analysis to account for past voting peculiarities.
First, the five-year waiting period was not imposed to relatively recently. In the past, even active players received Hall of Fame votes. I still will be evaluating players by retirement classes, but it complicates things a bit.
Second, from the Forties to the Sixties the baseball writers would skip one or two years between Hall votes.
Third, in 1946, 1949, 1964, and 1967 the writers used a two-phase system. First all players were voted on and then a certain number of the highest vote getters would be voted on again in the second round.
In 1946, the top twenty candidates in the "Nominating Ballot" still needed 75% in the "Final Ballot" to gain entrance. No one did—Frank Chance was the top vote getter at 57% even though, or maybe because, just about everyone in the final twenty would eventually be elected to the Hall. In 1949, again the top 20 from the "First Ballot" were on the "Run-off Ballot". This time, the top vote getter was guaranteed admittance. Charlie Gehringer and his 85.03% of the vote ended up not needing the safety net. In 1964, the top 30 on the "First Ballot" went on the "Run-off Ballot". This time two players topped 75%, but only one, the top vote getter, Luke Appling (at 84%), was enshrined. Red Ruffing and his 81.78% would have to wait. The procedures were the same for the 1967 election, and this time Ruffing (86.93%) did get in, but Ducky Joe Medwick (81.05 %) would have to wait to get his plaque until the next year's election.
The Hall recognizes only the vote in the final round in each of the cases above, even though in the first round Gehringer received only 66.67%, Appling 70.64%, and Ruffing 72.60%. While neither the first or second round can be said to truly represent the voters' view of the player, I thought that taking an average of the two would do best.
Here are the updated percentages for all Hall inductees based on average voting percentage for the year they were elected. Note that they are all still over 75%:
Finally, only 96 players have been voted into the Hall. The rest were selected by various veteran committees, none of who revealed their methods or madnesses to the public directly. That is, until the procedures were changed last year. So there are voting results from the Veterans' Committee for 2003 but none from any other year. Even with this anomaly I decided to keep the data in because I love numbers.
Anyway, without further ado here is the revamped version…
“Rudy, You’re like school on Saturday…no class.”
—Russell from the Fat Albert show.
I was recently reviewing this year’s Hall of Fame class and attempted to handicap each candidate’s probability of being elected. That got me to thinking about what it means to be elected to the Hall at any given time.
Is it easier to get in on the first ballot today or not? To get in within the 20 years, when his candidacy on the writers’ ballot expires and he must pass to the Veterans’ Committee? Is it easier to get in within the first five years of a player’s candidacy or the last five? Is someone more likely to get elected after, say, 10 years on the writers’ ballot or after going on the veterans’ ballot?
First, I took a look at the length of time it took a player from a given era to get into the Hall. Here are the ground rules: First, a player must have been active in the majors for at least ten years. That eliminates Addie Joss, for whom they bent the rules, as well as Monte Irvin and Satchell Paige, who were elected largely for their play in the Negro Leagues. Second, the player must have gone in as a player, not a manager, executive, or any other capacity.
One other complication is waiting period. Today, an eligible candidate must wait five full seasons after retirement to be considered. It turns into 6 years because of the timing of the voting. Paul Molitor retired in 1998 but has just become eligible for the 2004 election. Also, only players active in the previous 20 years are eligible. Therefore, there is a 15-year window.
This was not always the case, however. Originally, anyone was eligible, including active players. Active players Lou Gehrig, Dizzy Dean, Jimmy Foxx, Frankie Frisch, Al Simmons, Lefty Grove, Gabby Hartnet, Pie Trayunor, Rogers Hornsby, and Mickey Cochrane all received votes in the first election. Babe Ruth was elected after one year of retirement. This wasn't a Minnie Minoso or Jose Rijo-type comback (both of whom received Hall of Fame votes after the five-year waiting period and then went on to play major-league baseball again). These players were still in their primes. Even though the five-year wait was instituted in 1954 , Warren Spahn received one vote in 1958. That year he won 22 games; he would go on to win 20 four more times. He is, however, still considered a first-ballot Hall of Famer, becoming be-plaqued in 1973 in the first election after his five-year wait period was up.
By the way, Joe DiMaggio was elected to the Hall in 1955, just four years after his retirement. However, he had been exempted from the waiting period. When the rule was implemented, players who had received at least 100 votes in the 1953 election were spared. DiMaggio was the sole beneficiary, the Burleigh Grimes as it were, of the 5-year rule.
Between 1946 and 1953 one-year waiting period had been the rule, yet players would still receive votes in the year in which they retired. This was the case for Bill Dickey and Ted Lyons in 1946, Dizzy Dean in 1947, in Ducky Joe Medwick in 1948, and Bucky Walters in 1950. Also, Satchel Paige received a vote in 1951 when he was still pitching for the Browns. This was the only vote he ever received in the baseball writers election.
Prior to 1946, there was no specified waiting period. The custom of voting for active players died out after the second election in 1937 (Bill Cissell—huh?—was the only active player to receive a vote in 1937). But it did have a comeback during World War II, when it was difficult to determine the playing status of players in the military and when some retired players returned to the majors. Thus, Joe DiMaggio, Pepper Martin, Babe Herman, Joe Gordon, Dizzy Dean, John Vander Meer, Hank Greenberg, Ted Lyons, and Bill Dickey all received votes during the war and then returned to action in the majors.
At the end of the eligibility spectrum, the cutoff year, which is now 20 years, has changed over the years as well. No cutoff was specified initially, making it more difficult to focus on worthy more recent players. In 1946, a cutoff of 25 years was implemented. That became 30 years in 1956, and then the current 20 in 1963.
This rule has not been enforced very stringently even as recently as five years ago. Ron Santo was allowed to stay on the ballot until 1998 even though he retired in 1998. Apparently, he remained eligible for fifteen elections not 15 years. He first went on the ballot in 1980, but did not received any votes (?) from 1981-84. The original 25-year cutoff was ignored each year from 1946 to 1955. During this period 139 players who has been retired for over 25 years received votes from the writers. 64 of these players had been retired for at least 30 years. The topper was Bill Lange, who received one vote in 1953 even though he had retired 54 years earlier (and played just 7 seasons).
It seems that the thirty-year cutoff was a bone thrown to the writers to avoid such choices as Lange. The writers did seem to follow this rule more closely, though they still couldn't refuse some candidates: Ray Schalk (1 vote in 1956 after 35 years of retirement), Fielder Jones (retired 47 years), Addie Joss (retired 50 years), Heine Groh (retired 50 years), Hans Lobert (retired 43 years).
Since implementing a 20-year cutoff, the writers have bent the rules for more players than just Santo. Curt Flood stayed on the ballot for 25 years after retirement, Vada Pinson 21, Ken Boyer 25, Harvey Kuenn 25, Roy Face 21, Don Lasen 21, and Augie Galan 21.
Anyway, everyone knows that Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente went into the Hall in their final year as a major-leaguer via special elections after they were befell by tragedy. But aside from those two, Babe Ruth, Cal Hubbell, Mel Ott, Joe DiMaggio, and Rogers Hornsby all sat for their plaque before the now-required five-year waiting period had completed. In the Thirties, Cy Young, Nap Lajoie, and Wee Willie Keeler were all enshrined well after the now-standard 20-year cutoff date.
So all of this muddies the picture a bit. It's difficult to set analysis based on nebulous eligibility ranges. I will have to take the ranges as they were established and work from there. The ranges are:
Election Yrs Eligibility Range
1946-53 1-25 yrs
1954-55 5-25 yrs
1956-62 5-30 yrs
1963-present 5-20 yrs
Next, we shall see if the changes to ranges affected any changes in the voting over the years. I categorized players by decade in which they retired. I then banded the number of years the player had to wait: first year, by the tenth year, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-50, and greater than 50.
Ok, so here are the percentages of players elected to the Hall by retirement decade and the number of years they had to wait: