Cooperstown Notebook: Some Insights from the Spreadsheets

Kate Collins / Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin

At the end of every Hall of Fame election cycle, I take an evening or two to sit down and perform what I call “The Ceremonial Updating of the Spreadsheets,” where I gather data from the ballot results so as to track long-term trends as well as some demographic information regarding any honorees. The dirty little secret is that there’s no ceremony involved except perhaps the cracking of a beer, but I’ve spent 20 years building these spreadsheets, which fuel my coverage and occasionally inspire new ideas, and I take satisfaction in maintaining them, even if they are messy around the margins. You have your tools of the trade, I have mine.

It struck me while preparing a post-election follow-up on S-JAWS (my experimental version of starting pitcher JAWS) that it would probably be worth sharing some of that information — bigger-picture stuff — with readers, as it has an influence on how I see the Hall of Fame and approach my coverage. While I make reference to that information during the election cycle, I don’t always find time to share it amid the crunch of candidate evaluations.

It further struck me that the last time I presented some of this data publicly, in my 2017 book The Cooperstown Casebook, Major League Baseball had not yet recognized seven Negro Leagues from 1920-48 as major leagues, and that thus my accounting and the terminology I used to describe it was due for an overhaul. Some of this remains a work in progress, specifically when it comes to JAWS; while Baseball Reference presents WAR, WAR7 (seven-year peak), and JAWS data in addition to WAR for players in the aforementioned Negro Leagues, those figures have not been incorporated into the positional standards because of the significantly shorter season lengths and the fact that several Hall of Famers have only the tail ends of their careers in the major Negro Leagues, having peaked long before 1920. Quite honestly I have not yet figured out a satisfactory way to get around this, but that’s a problem for another day.

Anyway, the tour starts here, with some basic breakdowns of who’s in the Hall of Fame, and how they’re classified by the institution with regards to their area of greatest impact.

Hall of Famers by Primary Contribution
Classification #
Player 268
—NL, AL and bygone white leagues 240
—Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues 28
Pioneer/Executive 40
—NL, AL and bygone white leagues 31
—Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues 9
Manager 22
Umpire 10
Total 340
SOURCE: baseballhall.org

As you can see, most of the Hall of Fame is made up of players, but about 21% of its honorees have been inducted for something besides their playing careers. Here it’s worth noting that I’m taking special care not to double-count inductees. Pitcher Clark Griffith and catcher/infielder Joe Torre had playing careers that would not be out of place among the Hall of Famers at their positions, but the former was elected as an executive, the latter as a manager, and so they’re counted within those groups; Gil Hodges, on the other hand, was elected as a first baseman, though he wasn’t nearly as valuable a player as Torre.

The above count of Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues Black players in the Hall does not include five players elected for their time in the NL and/or AL, namely Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, and Minnie Miñoso. Likewise, the count of players elected for their time in the NL, AL, and bygone white leagues (National Association, American Association, Union Association, Player League, and Federal League, all but the last of which existed only in the 19th century) does not include Willard Brown, Monte Irvin, or Satchel Paige, all of whom had relatively brief careers in the NL and/or AL following integration.

It’s also worth noting that thus far, no manager or umpire is currently recognized by the Hall primarily for their work in that area in the Negro Leagues, but it appears that the classification of Rube Foster has changed. Where he was previously classified as a manager (and also starred as a pitcher), he’s now considered an executive, and quite rightly, for it was his founding of the Negro National League in 1920 that marks the beginning of what has become recognized as the major Negro Leagues, the centennial of which was celebrated in 2020. Along those lines, Frank Grant, a Black player who played — and starred — in organized white leagues in the 19th century, was until recently classified as a second baseman, but with the recent election of Bud Fowler, who also played (and starred) in such leagues before (and even after) the color line was drawn, both are now classified as pioneers (note that the Hall’s website lumps pioneers and executives together but displays all of them as executives, which clearly is incorrect in some cases. Welcome to my headache).

Moving along, here’s the breakdown of the voting bodies that selected the 340 members:

Hall of Famers by Method of Election
Voters Years Elections Elected
BBWAA 1936-2022 80* 135*
Old Timers Committee 1936-49 5 30
Centennial Committee 1937–38 2 7
Veterans Committee 1953–2010 47 120
Committee on Negro League Veterans 1971–77 7 9
Special Committee on Negro Leagues 2006 1 17
Era Committees (I)** 2011–16 6 8
Era Committees (II)*** 2017–22 6 14
Total 340
*Includes 2 special elections (Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente)

**Includes Pre-Integration, (2013, ’16), Golden Era (2012, ’15), and Expansion Era (2011, ’14) Committees voting on rotating basis.

***Includes Early Baseball (2022), Golden Days, (2022), Modern Baseball (2018, ’20), and Today’s Game (2017, ’19) Era Committees voting on rotating basis.

Note that the Hall has changed their schedules of elections numerous times, with BBWAA elections sometimes occurring annually (1936-39, ’45-56, and ’66-onward), but others biennially (1958-64) or even triennially (1942, ’45). The Veterans Committee and its Old Timers and Centennial predecessors switched frequencies with even more, uh, frequency and took up Negro Leagues/Black baseball candidacies during the 1978-2001 period. The first set of Era Committees voted in a triennial cycle while the current one has a staggered cycle. If this is all confusing to you, trust me that I’m right there with you, which is why I have to keep these spreadsheets updated.

What’s really interesting about all of this is that the BBWAA inductees — the aspect that gets the most attention now — only account for about 40% of the total honorees. There are two main reasons for this. First, Hall elections didn’t begin until 1936, 65 years after the National Association began, and there was a backlog of old-timers to recognize. Second, the BBWAA handles only recently-retired players, the definition of which has changed over time. Currently, it’s those whose final season was at least five and not more than 15 years ago, but both of those numbers have changed. It wasn’t until 1955 that the five-year rule was fully in place, and as recently as 2014, the other boundary was 20 years, but at one point it was 30; you can see the full history of changes here. Beyond whoever’s eligible via the BBWAA ballot, all of the other categories go through the various committees.

Here’s a look at the timeline of active Hall of Famers per team per season, using the Hall’s definition of one game being enough to represent one season played; the 10-season minimum for eligibility means playing at least one game in each of 10 separate seasons.

The version of the graph above does not incorporate the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues Black Hall of Famers, more on which soon. Many of the peaks and valleys come with easy explanations, such as the very conspicuous and transient spike at 1900, after the National League contracted from 12 teams to eight and before the American League began play a year later. The dip at 1884 coincides with the American Association expanding from eight teams to 13 (it would reduce to eight the following year) and the 12-team Union Association blooming into existence for its lone year. The changes yielded a grand — but unsustainable – total of 33 major league teams, but just one future Hall of Famer played in the UA, and for all of 53 games: Tommy McCarthy, who has the dubious distinction as the enshrined position player with the lowest WAR (16.2). Similarly, there are dips at 1890 due to the Players League and 1914-15 due to the Federal League; in both cases, the number of teams suddenly increased without the number of Hall of Famers keeping pace. Of course, the most notable valley in the graph is for World War II, from 1942-45; in the NL and AL, the number of Hall of Famers dwindled from 38 in 1941 to 17 in ’44.

This graph is important because it illustrates the extent to which the BBWAA has failed to keep up with the pace of expansion. Some of that is due to the writers withholding votes for candidates linked to performance-enhancing drugs, but some of it to general small-Hall stinginess and some to… well, we’ll get to that at some point.

Here’s a table aggregating these periods into groupings that I think make some sense:

Hall of Fame Players Per Season Per Team
Span 1871-1892 1893-1919 1920-1941 1946-1968 1969-1992 1993-2016
BBWAA 0.01 0.48 1.41 1.39 1.33 0.67
Committee 0.89 1.35 1.35 0.62 0.20 0.03
Total 0.91 1.83 2.76 2.01 1.53 0.70
Covers National League, American League, and bygone white leagues (National Association, American Association, Union Association, Players League, and Federal League)

I chose 1892 as my first cutoff, because the change of the pitching distance from 50 feet to 60-foot-6 the following year quickly weeded out a whole lot of hurlers, including some of the greats, who couldn’t make the transition. The 1919 cutoff marks the end of the dead-ball era, with Babe Ruth taking flight in the Bronx the following year. World War II marks a break that almost coincides with the advent of integration, though it’s worth noting that the one-year spike on the graph above includes the debuts of white Hall of Famers Nellie Fox and Duke Snider as well as Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby, plus the return of Hodges (who had a one-game cameo in 1943) from military service and the minors. The 1968 cutoff marks the year before the second wave of expansion (the first was spread over 1961 and ’62), and the ’92 one the year before the fourth wave (the third was in 1977).

What you can see from these buckets is the outsized effect that Veterans Committee cronyism had on the ’20-41 period, which on a per-player, per-team basis is 51% higher than the period before it and 37% higher than the one after. Meanwhile, BBWAA representation levels from 1920-92 fall within a comparatively narrow band; if I use 1960 as a cutoff, the BBWAA average for 1961-92 falls to 1.24 while the overall average remains the same at 2.01, but because that bucket would be the only one of fewer than 20 years, I rejected that breakdown. I could have also chosen to stick to the current Era Committee breakdowns (1951-69 for Golden Days, ’70-87 for Modern Baseball, and ’88 onward for Today’s Game) but I’ve never seen the logic behind those particular cutoffs. Breaking it down that way leaves the immediate postwar period hanging by its lonesome, and anyway, the numbers barely change from what’s above.

Beyond that, you can see that even with the recent elections of four Golden Days candidates and three Modern Baseball ones, the 1969-92 period is still underrepresented on the committee side; Dick Allen, Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, Thurman Munson, and Dwight Evans all slipped through the cracks of the BBWAA process and top my wish list — Allen, Grich, and Whitaker are three of the five players profiled at length in the Casebook who have not yet been elected (while nine have been) — but there are other plausible candidates within that timeframe as well. Mind you, I’d rather see players elected by the writers, so that those elected have longer to enjoy the honor, but these guys all got shortchanged, and they compare favorably to those at their positions who are already in the Hall.

In that table, you can also see how steep the fall-off is in terms of BBWAA representation; the most recent period has half the rate of honorees that the 1969-93 one does. It will be slow going to increase that ratio substantially given my forecast for the BBWAA to elect 10 candidates over the next five years.

The graph above doesn’t include the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues honorees, but it’s high time we include them, and so in my next installment, we’ll take a look at how that reshapes things while delving into some other demographics related to their addition to the pool of major league Hall of Famers.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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WARonEverything
7 months ago

Hey Jay, maybe this is somewhere easy to find, but I’m interested in how the first few ballots were determined. It almost seems like voters were writing players in. I see over 100 players getting votes the first few years. I started looking at this because I noticed that Hornsby went down in voting to below 20% in 1938 (3rd year of voting with 15 players in front of him – 11 fielders, many of whom were not even close to as good.) Was it his gambling or just some issues with the media that brought his votes down – but then back up just a few years later?

Left of Centerfield
7 months ago

There were no physical ballots in the early days. Or at least not ballots that listed who was eligible to be voted on. I don’t remember when they first introduced ballots with names on them but if memory serves me correctly it was around the time that DiMaggio was elected.