The Middle Rung

This was supposed to be something like a standard baseball biography of Harry Hooper. As I delved deeper into Hooper I began to notice just how controversial his Hall of Fame selection is. And then I began to ask myself questions like “Self, do you think he should be there?” Finally the entire thing began to devolve into questions of the Hall.

I believe the Hall of  Fame has four categories of inductees: the obvious, the inspired, the “who?”, and the middle rung. I often subdivide these, but basically I always come back to four. You may choose more categories or less, but I can’t seem to get around four.

The Obvious: these are guys who we all know should be there. They have names like Ruth and Gehrig, Mays and Musial.

The Inspired: these are the guys who are in because of a moment of inspiration on the part of the voters or the Hall. They include putting in Clemente without having to wait five years, adding Addie Joss who died just before his tenth season, and every Negro League player who currently graces the Hall.

The “who?”: these are the guys who you’re fairly sure had a plaque made up, broke in one night, hung the thing up, and nobody noticed. I’m not putting names here; I’ll bet each of you has your own list of these guys.

The middle rung: These are the guys I want to talk about. Hooper is one of them.

The middle rung is my way of classifying those guys who are not terrible choices for the Hall of Fame, but are not the first names that jump instantly to mind. They are good players, even in their own era great players, but a quick look at their careers creates puzzlement rather than nods when the Hall of Fame is mentioned. Some of them are guys who made sense when they were elected, but whose plaques look a little out-of-place today. Two quick examples that I’ve used before are Eppa Rixey and Max Carey. When Rixey was elected to the Hall he was the second (to Warren Spahn) winningest left-hander in National League history. Sounds like a good reason to put a guys in, doesn’t it? Today, after Steve Carlton and Tom Glavine and others, Rixey is no longer second and his numbers pale in comparison to the men who went passed him in the last 50 years.  But, again, 50 years ago his numbers weren’t as bad as the sound today. Carey was the all-time leader in stolen bases in the National League (using the modern definition of stolen base) when he went into the Hall. Again, not a bad reason to put a man in the Hall. But today after Tim Raines and Vince Coleman and Lou Brock, Carey isn’t even close to number one. But 50 years ago no one knew that he was going to be sent sliding down the stolen base ladder.

It seems to me that you can’t exclude from the Hall those people who were among the finest players of their day just because their stats are now not as impressive as they were 50 or 75 or 100 years ago.  To stick with Hooper, he was one of the better outfielders of his day, a major factor in five World Series champions (although he did not play in the 1919 Series), and a decent hitter. Is that a Hall of Famer? Maybe. And Hooper is one of those maybe’s for me. He’s certainly not the best choice ever made, but he’s not a totally awful one either. That defines “middle rung” to me.

Feel free to disagree.


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3 Responses to “The Middle Rung”

  1. William Miller Says:

    Completely agree here. I keep coming back to the question, how can we judge their Hall worthiness with any degree of fairness when they played so long ago, under very different conditions than players do today? Even using modern stats like WAR and OPS+ or ERA+ can only give you a baseline of info to go by.
    I guess, in a way, we still have to trust the judgment of those who came before us.
    That said, I still think Tommy McCarthy was a ridiculous choice for The Hall. And Frankie Frisch should never have been allowed to chair the Veterans Committee.
    Here’s an interesting website you might like (on this subject)

  2. cleanuphitter Says:

    I’ll confess that I’ve tried (and I simply CAN’T) analyze that OPS and WAR and other Sabermetrics terms. I just don’t get it.

    I think in terms of ERA, RBI’s, on base percentage, home runs, strikeouts, won-loss record, and such, just as I have since I was a kid.

    Now that I’ve said that, I want to ask you a question, “V”. And I don’t know the answer, either. Do you think that Clemente would have been elected on the first ballot as an “Obvious” inductee had he not gotten killed in that plane crash? I don’t really know. As you mentioned, he was elected as, how you put it, as an “Inspired” inductee. Consider that he was not a favorite of the media, or at least he wasn’t in Pittsburgh. We’ll never know, of course, but it’s interesting to think about it.


    • verdun2 Says:

      This is mere speculation, but I’d guess that the 3000 hits, batting title, and MVP would have guaranteed Clemente’s spot in the HoF, probably on the 1st ballot. I remember Carlton hated the media (and they didn’t like him), but he got in the Hall on the 1st ballot. So I don’t think media dislike would keep Clemente out. Again, speculation on my part.

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