Who Was the Greatest Player Not Elected to the Hall His First Year?
To coincide with this year's Hall of Fame voting, ESPN.com has unveiled its “Hall of 100,” which, title aside, is a list of the 125 greatest players in baseball history, regardless of PEDs or PYOBs (Place Your Own Bets). But they try to get you to click on the article by touting one of their “controversial” picks: Derek Jeter in 31st place—ahead of Bob Gibson, Roberto Clemente, Ken Griffey, Jr., Nolan Ryan and Pete Rose.
Yeah yeah. A bigger Yankee oddity for me? They put Mickey Mantle 9th and Lou Gehrig 11th. Mantle ahead of Gehrig? Not sure I'd go there.
Otherwise it's the usual suspects: Ruth, Mays, Bonds, Williams, Aaron, Cobb, Clemens. Which means, according to ESPN.com, Roger Clemens is the greatest pitcher of all time. Walter Johnson is second.
But that's not what I want to talk about, either. As I looked over the list, I began to wonder who was the first player on it who wasn't a first-ballot Hall of Famer. PEDs aside.
Count 'em down:
- Babe Ruth, inaugural class, 1936 (95.1%)
- Wllie Mays, 1st year, 1979 (94.7%)
- Barry Bonds: PEDs
- Ted Williams, 1st year, 1966 (93.4%)
- Hank Aaron, 1st year, 1982 (97.8%)
- Ty Cobb, inaugural year, 1936 (98.2%)
- Roger Clemens: PEDs
- Stan Musial, 1st year, 1969, (93.2%)
- Mickey Mantle, 1st year, 1974 (88.2%)
- Honus Wagner, inaugural class, 1936 (95.13%)
- Lou Gehrig, special winter meeting vote, 1939
- Walter Johnson, inaugural class, 1936 (83.6%)
- Greg Maddux, 1st year, 2014 (97.2%)
- Rickey Henderson, 1st year, 2009 (94.8%)
- Rogers Hornsby, fifth year, 1942 (78.1%)
And there's your answer: Rogers Hornsby. The Rajah. From 1920 to 1925, he simply led the league in batting each year. Oh, and OBP. And slugging. And OPS. Across the board, a clean sweep, every one of those years. He led the league in batting seven times, and twice won the Triple Crown. His batting average is the second best all-time (.358), his OBP is the 8th best (.434). And he received, as percentage of HOF votes, 45, 26, 17, and 64, before finally getting the 78% that put him in.
Think about that the next time you feel your spouse is hard to please.
People complain about the Hall and the BBWAA now but look at the Hall and the BBWAA back then. Look at those percentages. More than 6% of voters thought Ted Williams wasn't a Hall of Famer? More than 5% with Willie Mays?
Here's the thing: Williams' number, given the times, was actually quite a compliment: He was only the second player, after the inaugural class, to garner more than 90% of the vote. The first had been Bob Feller in 1962. Meaning no player from 1936 to 1962 received more than 90% of the vote: not Joe DiMaggio (88%), Hank Greenberg (84%), nor Bill Dickey (80%). And none of those guys went in on the first ballot, either. It took DiMaggio three tries, Dickey seven tries, Greenberg eight tries.
In fact, in the 23 years between Gehrig's special election and Bob Feller's induction, the only player to get in on the first ballot was Met Ott in 1951: 87%.
That's not just tough, that's crazy tough. Or just crazy.