“My standards are just too high, you know? I feel like nobody’s good enough for me. [a flea falls from his hair] Oh. You think you got ‘em all, but you forget about the eggs!” — Otto the Bus Driver, The Simpsons
In the reaction to my JAWS series, I received a few emails of this flavor; this one comes from reader D.S.:
I really enjoy your JAWS work, since the Hall of Fame is for some reason one of those things I care about and get worked up over more than I should. In reading your articles, I wondered why the average HOFer is the standard you and others at BP seem to use for your admission criterion, rather than, say, the 25th percentile. While the goal of maintaining standards has merit, someone has to be below average (unlike Lake Woebegone), and there are probably a lot of very qualified HOFers in the 50th-25th percentiles. If we follow to an absurd length the idea of only allowing above average HOFers in, those we admit today who are just above average will be ‘regrettable’ choices in 20 years when we have moved the averages upward.
The reason I believe it’s worth admitting only the players above the JAWS standard (the positional averages) is because generally the ones furthest below the standard–I don’t have exact percentiles handy, but we’re almost certainly in the neighborhood of the 25th percentile–are the Veterans’ Committee picks, the truly regrettable choices. The standard itself is already weighted down by including their scores, and I don’t think we do the institution any favors by advocating players who are lower than the standard. It’s also a matter of priority; if we can’t get overwhelmingly qualified candidates like Bert Blyleven, Rich Gossage, and Alan Trammell in, why should we advocate Tommy John (you won’t find a bigger fan than me), Don Mattingly (ditto Joe Sheehan), Jim Rice or Andre Dawson?
The gulf between the BBWAA selections and the VC ones (including the lowest-dropped at each position) is massive. These averages don’t include this year’s election class, Cal Ripken or Tony Gwynn:
Among the hitters, just three out of the 67 VC selections–Cap Anson (111.7), Arky Vaughan (110.7) and Roger Connor (100.9)–are above the JAWS average set by the BBWAA selections. And just six BBWAA elects–Pie Traynor (70.9), Ralph Kiner (69.9), George Sisler (69.3), Lou Brock (68.3), Bill Terry (68.0) and Roy Campanella (64.4)–are below the VC average. There’s very little overlap, which isn’t entirely surprising given that the writers get first crack at the voting and have 15 years to get it right for each player. For pitchers, it’s a similar story:
Just one VC selection, Hal Newhouser (93.2), has a JAWS score at the level of the BBWAA elected Hall of Famers. Four BBWAA elects–Dizzy Dean (62.0), Catfish Hunter (60.8), Herb Pennock (57.8) and Bruce Sutter (52.3; that’s right, he’s the lowest-scoring pitcher ever elected)–finish below the level of the average VC elect.
Basically, we’re dealing with two nearly distinct populations of honorees, and while I’m not saying that the VC doesn’t have some worthy additions to the Hall, we’re basically doing every candidate on the current ballot a big favor by measuring him against an average comprised of those two populations, instead of simply against the writers’ past choices. By the latter, even Tony Gwynn (96.4) would be a questionable choice.
The bottom line is that there’s just no reason to lower our standards when it comes to honoring the game’s greatest players with a plaque in Cooperstown. It’s tough to gain election, and it damn well should be.