So, here’s the first fun bit from our Brilliant Readers Hall of Fame voting: I put up 15 players who, I honestly believe, will make it in first ballot. You could argue that, give or take a Mickey Mantle here or a Pete Alexander there, they are the very best players in the Hall of Fame (along with Greg Maddux, who figures to go in almost unanimously next year). I don’t think there’s anyone on there who is in any way, shape or form a borderline Hall of Famer. Even the most exclusive Hall of Fame would have all 15 players in it.
And early in the voting, it does appear they will all make it first ballot.
That said: I knew that it would not be unanimous. Nothing on the Internet is unanimous. As Brilliant Reader Duke says, you could put up an Internet poll that looked like this:
Do you want to be happy?
[ ] Yes
[ ] No
And “No” would get votes. In fact, even if you are really cynical, “No” would probably get more votes than you expected.
So, I figured that by the end of the voting, none of the players would be at 100%. And that led to the fun race: I spent a little while refreshing the screen to see what order the players would drop out of the 100% club. At first -- that is to say the first few minutes -- everyone was at 100%. And then, I saw someone did not vote for Ty Cobb. That was inevitable. Cobb was a controversial figure who played a long time ago, I expected a handful of people to not vote for him.
Tris Speaker fell out -- again, not a bit surprise, he played a long time ago. It’s funny, in Cleveland, where I was growing up, the Little League in our area was called the “Tris Speaker League.” We would say to each other, “Are you playing Tris Speaker this year?” I don’t think I knew (or any of my friends) that Tris Speaker was an actual baseball player until quite a while later.
Anyway, the final 10 went down this way:
10. Lefty Grove. It’s clear that many casual baseball fans do not appreciate that Lefty Grove might be the greatest pitcher in baseball history. Part of the problem is that Grove pitched in a huge offensive era, so his 3.06 career ERA pales in comparison to, say, Walter Johnson’s 2.17.
But Johnson’s ERA+ (147) is actually LESS than Grove’s (148). Grove led his league in ERA nine times (as many as Johnson and Greg Maddux PUT TOGETHER), in strikeouts seven times, in WHIP five times, in strikeout-to-walk ratio eight times, he dominated his era like perhaps no one ever.
Anyway, he dropped out pretty quickly.
9. Tom Seaver. This was a little bit of a surprise -- as is the overall lack of support for Seaver (under 90% last I checked). Seaver, the first 10 or 11 seasons of his career, was about as good as anyone ever. He won three Cy Young Awards, led the Miracle Mets to two remarkable World Series appearances, and was everything a superstar pitcher should be. After he was traded to Cincinnati, after he hit his mid-30s, he was more sporadic, with a few good seasons and few OK ones. He stuck around and won his 300th game when he was no longer a great pitcher, but mixing his peak brilliance with that longevity, I think he is one of the five best pitchers who ever lived and has an argument for being the best.
And he played much of his career in New York.
And he was extremely famous off the field as well as on.
I’m surprised he dropped out as soon as he did.
8. Greg Maddux. Interesting. I wasn’t sure how long Maddux would last. One the one hand, he’s by far the most contemporary player on the list so everyone is very aware of his brilliance.
On the other, there’s something about the years that add to a players aura -- a halo effect, maybe. Babe Ruth is widely viewed as the greatest baseball player ever even though he started in the big league almost exactly 100 years ago. And I suspect in 100 years, he will STILL be widely viewed as the greatest player (maybe even more so) because he’s now something of a folk hero. Maddux’s brilliance may be fresh in the mind, but his name has not yet become hallowed like Ruth and Williams and Johnson and some of the other legends of the game.
7. Stan Musial. At last check, eight people did not vote for Stan Musial. They could be contrarians -- they’re probably contrarians -- but I wonder who honestly thinks that Stan Musial should not be in the baseball Hall of Fame.
6. Lou Gehrig. He’s listed at the bottom of the poll. My guess is the voters just didn’t see him there.
5. Henry Aaron. Wow. I would have expected Aaron to last make the final four. But Aaron’s greatness was in his astounding consistency, and consistency is inevitably underrated. As you probably know, Aaron never hit 50 homers in a season -- but he hit 40 or more eight times. He hit .330 or better just once; but he hit between .310 and .330 ten times. he never came close to 140 RBIs in a season, but he had 100 eleven times.
My favorite Aaron stat: He is the all-time leader with 6,856 total bases. Nobody is even close. How far ahead is he? Well here is what these players would have had to do to catch him in total bases:
Stan Musial: Hit 361 more doubles.
Willie Mays: Hit 320 more doubles and 50 more triples.
Barry Bonds: Hit 220 more homers.
Ty Cobb: Slash 334 more triples.
Babe Ruth: Hit 266 moe homers.
Pete Rose: Crack, bloop and line 1,104 more singles.
4. Walter Johnson. Though Johnson might have the strongest case for best pitcher ever, I actually expected him to go out a little bit earlier because he played so long ago and in such a different era of baseball. But the aura of the Big Train seems to have lasted through the years.
3. Willie Mays. Really? I thought Mays was going to battle with Ruth for last man standing.
2. Ted Williams. Who was the better player, Ted Williams or Willie Mays? It’s a great question … in a lot of ways it’s like an Olympian version of the Miggy Cabrera-Mike Trout MVP question. Williams was the better hitter. He was probably the best hitter who ever lived. His .482 on-base percentage is almost ONE HUNDRED points higher than Mays. That’s a basic -- and perhaps the most important -- offensive statistic.
But could Williams run like Mays? No. Could Williams defend like Mays? No. Not close. Mays hit with more home run power (though Williams slugged for a higher percentage). Mays threw better than Williams. Mays was a lot more durable than Williams too.
Then again, Williams missed the better part of five years fighting wars (Mays missed one).
Like I say, it’s a great question.
1. Babe Ruth. You knew he’d be the last one. I think it took 400 or so votes before someone did not vote for Babe Ruth. I’m sure he’d lift a beer to that.