Is the Small Hall dead?

Jim McIsaac

With the surplus of qualified Hall of Famers on the ballot, does that mean the death of what purists might consider the ideal Hall of Fame?

I sat down to write an article about how the "small Hall of Fame" idea was dead. That used to be a yearly argument on the Internet: Are you for a small, exclusive Hall of Fame? Or a big, inclusive Hall? Man, how we used to spend a lot of time on that idea.

The Small Hall-ers had a good dream, alright. A museum filled with the titans of the game. Rogers Hornsby would be there, and maybe Joe Morgan, but when we got to Charlie Gehringer and Frankie Frisch on the list of second basemen … well, there would be some tough decisions to make. That would make for some raging, hyper-passionate debates. It would be fun, to be sure. If you want to see how a Small Hall voter thinks, I'm told that Murray Chass explains his one-player ballot over at his blog.

But the Veterans Committee futzed that dream up before it started, even if it was probably unsustainable to begin with. And the Small Hall-ers instinctively made their own Small Hall with terms like "first ballot" and "inner circle." Hey, that was kind of smart. There really is a Small Hall if you want to support one, though it's kind of imaginary. It's a good compromise.

Over at Baseball: Past and Present, Graham Womack compiled his yearly look at the best players who aren't in the Hall of Fame. As usual, the players' capsules are written by fantastic writers from across the Internet, and they include a tally of "Should they be in?" votes.

You can probably guess a few at the top of the list. Something that I wasn't expecting, though: The number of players who received a majority of yes votes in the "Should they be in?" category. The top of that list:

Tim Raines
Craig Biggio
Jeff Bagwell
Shoeless Joe Jackson
Alan Trammell
Roger Clemens
Pete Rose
Barry Bonds
Edgar Martinez
Lou Whitaker
Mike Piazza
Dick Allen
Dwight Evans
Rafael Palmeiro
Curt Schilling
Mark McGwire
Luis Tiant
Larry Walker
Joe Torre
Bobby Grich
Sammy Sosa
Ted Simmons
Keith Hernandez
Kenny Lofton
Tommy John
Fred McGriff
Bill Dahlen

Then you get to Darrell Evans, and the majority collapses. Maybe there should be something called the Darrell Evans Line when looking for a cutoff point for the Hall of Fame.

I knew there was a backlog of Hall candidates because of articles like this and this. But I figured that was because of players like Jack Morris and Lee Smith -- players I wouldn't vote for, but who get substantial support. I figured the ballots were clogged with players like that, along with fringy candidates who would fall off in a couple of years.

But when you get a list of players like that, it's stunning. Because I can make -- or be swayed by -- an argument for every player on that list. I already supported 15 of them without knowing that I supported that many. I'm lukewarm on Dwight Evans … until I read a passionate argument for him. And then I re-check his career, and it's pretty danged compelling. Nineteen seasons with an OPS+ over 100, with 11 of those seasons over 120. Eight Gold Gloves, which doesn't prove anything, but gives at least a little hint.

It's a similar story for the rest of the players on the list. Fred McGriff never struck me as a Hall of Famer, but when you lay out the statistical case, I struggle to support that my preconception with conviction. Same thing with Ted Simmons, especially considering the dearth of catchers in the Hall. On and on.

Then next year, of course, there's Greg Maddux, Jeff Kent, Frank Thomas, and Tom Glavine. The year after that has Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.

So, again, I sat down to write about the death of the Small Hall. Look at those names already on the ballot. Look at the names coming in the future. There's no way there can still be a Small Hall. Too many names would get left off if the voters were too picky. Too many players who were the story of baseball, each for a decade or more. Too many All-Stars, MVPs, and Cy Youngs. The inclusive Hall won.

The only problem with that argument is that it's completely wrong. Using the fantastic Baseball Think Factory running list, Deadspin connects the dots and points out the obvious conclusion: Nobody's getting in the Hall of Fame this year except for the three elected by the Historical Overview Committee.

The Small Hall argument was dead, but now it's undead, roaming around, and mumbling "Braaaaains." Thanks to steroids and the 10-player ballot, it's the Big Hall that's in trouble. In that Small Hall, Rabbit Maranville and Bill Mazeroski are already in, and they're enjoying a beverage of their choosing, playing some sweet defense, and hitting like Freddy Sanchez. But the door's closed now, and even the Veterans Committee has been tightened up. What we're left with are the worst parts of the Small Hall, combined with the worst parts of the Big Hall.

No one's likely to get in the Hall of Fame this year. Maybe Biggio and Bagwell will have a shot next year ... or maybe they'll get hurt by the addition of the sure-fire newcomers. The Small Hall is dead ... long live the Small Hall. For better and for worse. Probably worse.

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