How so? Well, as you recall, for a chunk of time in December (for the second year in a row), I contributed to Graham Womack’s 50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame project. My end result was 50 players who I thought could be safely added to Cooperstown without lowering their standards.
How would a similar project look for the Hall of Merit? Are they really that much better? Basically, the Hall of Merit is an alternative to the Hall where Baseball Think Factory “went back” (all the way to 1898) and began electing players who would have been eligible for the Hall of Fame had it existed at that time. The top players from each ballot were selected, with the goal being to match up with the Hall in size by the time they reached present day (at the time of the Hall’s creation). Since that point, they’ve continued electing players, with rates revised to reflect the size and quality of the league in comparison with historical standards. A more in depth description can be found here.
Back to the original question: using the same rules as the 50 Best Players not in the Hall, what would a 50 Best Not in the Hall of Merit look like?
To start with, 15 of the players on my original ballot were not in the Hall of Merit prior to the election. Upon revision of my ballot, though, I would have dropped Tommy Bond, making it 14 players. They were:
Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Kevin Appier, Sal Bando, Buddy Bell, Bobby Bonds, Eddie Cicotte, Kenny Lofton, Thurman Munson, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, Luis Tiant
Of those 14, the first four were elected into the HoM this past election cycle. However, they counted under the 50 Best rules, so I kept them. that leaves me 36 spots left to fill. My primary method of getting an idea of who to vote for was to look at players on the 2013 HoM ballot and see which ones stood out.
Phil Rizzuto was one. He’s often derided as a bad Hall of Fame choice, but I think he’s actually borderline-plus once you account for missing three seasons to World War II (and not just any seasons, but his age-26, -27, and -28 seasons, which followed his 5.6 WAR debut and 6.3 WAR sophomore season). Despite that, he managed over 47 WAR. I’ll take that; in any case, he’s already near induction to the Hall of Merit.
John Olerud is still outside; he was on my first edition of 50 Best, so I’ll add him. Tommy John just missed this year’s edition-I sort of feel like he deserves some credit for risking his health for the surgery, and his numbers weren’t too bad. I doubt I’ll wind up with an over-crowded ballot anyway.
Never heard of Gavy Cravath, but he polled well. Looking him up told me was the home run champ prior to Babe Ruth; also, due to early-baseball oddity, he was more or less stuck in the minors until he was 31. His WAR from 31 on is comparable to Jeff Bagwell’s, though. I’ll take him.
I don’t want this to turn into a major project, and I’ve long considered Kirby Puckett, Bernie Williams, Fred McGriff, Tony Perez, Ron Cey, Orel Hershiser, and Robin Ventura all about equal, as borderline Hall choices. The Hall of Stats gives weight to this thinking, so I’ll take all of them. Halfway there now.
I’ve seen a lot of writers compare Chuck Finley to Andy Pettitte, and I see Pettitte as borderline. I can throw Finley in here, since I’m already starting to reach. 26.
Dizzy Dean, Luis Aparicio, Pie Traynor, and Lou Brock are all in the Hall, and I’ll even give Brock extra credits for his 3000 hits. In any case, we’re at 30 now.
I’ve never heard of Vic Willis, but he did well in voting (top non-newcomer). His Baseball-Reference page doesn’t look too shabby, so I’ll take it. Also polling well were Negro Leaguers Ben Taylor and “Cannonball” Dick Redding. I’ll defer to the wisdom of crowds here. 33.
Bert Campaneris had a long stretch as best shortstop in the game. What the heck, I’ll throw him in. 34. So did Jim Fregosi. 35.
There are a whole bunch of players who were actually pretty great for a time. Norm Cash has borderline Hall numbers, but was overlooked. Larry Jackson was maybe a little short of the borderline, but he’s been totally forgotten. I’ll add both of them.
Harlond Clift, too; he’s been mostly forgotten, but he was a hugely influential third baseman for the Browns who was credited as establishing the idea that third base was a power-hitting “corner position”. That’s an interesting legacy, and I’m really running out of names, so 38.
Time for the lightning round: Lee Smith had the saves record for some time. 39, I guess. Mark Belanger might be one of the best fielders ever, even if he couldn’t hit. 40. Jose Cruz has a 97 Hall rating at Hall of Stats, and the Astros are always overlooked. As good a reason as any with the group left. 41.
Frank Tanana has a 96, and made my 50 best back in 2011. 42. Same with Jerry Koosman, but he has a 98 Hall rating. 43. Dave Parker was pretty good for a while, and I see no reason not to include him. 44.
Dale Murphy and Roger Maris have two MVPs. 46. So does Juan Gonzalez. Umm....I’ll actually pass on him. Mickey Welch? He has 300 wins, and I’m getting really hard pressed to come up with any standout names. Might as well make him 47. Cesar Cedeno has a 100 Hall Rating and played for the Astros too. 48. Tommy Bridges and Wally Schang appear under the “Near Misses” group on the Hall of Stats. Sure, why not; 50.
Well, that was...interesting. There were some good players there, but I can’t imagine supporting more than half of them for the Hall of Merit/my ideal Hall of Fame. Probably not even twenty. And even from those, four of them were already elected, and one or two more will probably go in the next time there’s an opening (granted, that may not be for a while, but we’ll see).
But the major point being, if nothing else, this pretty much convinced me that the Hall of Merit represents my near-ideal Hall of Fame.
In case you were wondering, my 50 Best Not in the Hall of Merit, in list form:
Kenny Lofton (10)
Bernie Williams (20)
Lou Brock (30)
Mark Belanger (40)
Wally Schang (50)
For comparison, my 50 Best Players Not in Cooperstown were:
Ross Barnes (retroactively changed to Wes Ferrell, although it’s worth noting both are in the Hall of Merit already)
Tommy Bond (in retrospect, probably would have replaced him with Tommy John)
Bobby Bonds (10)
Jack Glasscock (20)
Shoeless Joe Jackson
Graig Nettles (30)
Ted Simmons (40)
Ezra Sutton (retroactively changed to John Olerud, although it’s worth noting Sutton is already in the Hall of Merit)
Jimmy Wynn (50)