Year Inducted: 1995 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 444/460)
An all-star selection is typically for a player who has had a great season, but as happens every year, the best team in the league tends to have the most amount of all-stars, whether the players deserve it or not. Occasionally, an iconic player will get a lot of all-star votes in his final season, like Cal Ripken, Jr did back in 2001. However, like with the Gold Glove, sometimes a vote is made more due to the player’s fame rather than how great he is. In 1989, the leading vote getter for NL third basemen was hitting only .203/.297/.372 in roughly 40 games. How did this player not only make, but get the vote for starting the All-Star Game? Because that player was Mike Schmidt, who opted to retire after that 40-game stretch and people did it to honor him as the truly great player he was.
Year Inducted: 1945 (Veterans Committee)
There are some players that get celebrated more for their personality than for their play. Most of these would be players from the early years of the game. Players like King Kelly and Rube Marquard are some very good players, but get remembered due to their antics than their stats. Sometimes, even a player’s death can cement them in baseball lore forever. Such is the tale of Ed Delahanty.
Year Inducted: 1938 (BBWAA, ballot #3, 212/262)
There is no bigger stage in sports, with the exception of the Super Bowl, than Game 7 of the World Series. And, success on the biggest stage can pay off dividends for a player’s career as they get the permanent label of “clutch” applied to them. With his performance in the 1991 World Series, Jack Morris nearly gained entry into the Hall of Fame even though he was a merely very good pitcher. Likewise, Game 7 of the 1960 World Series catapulted Bill Mazeroski into the Hall of Fame, and years in the future Ben Zobrist’s performance in this past World Series could see him get some votes or even a push from the Veteran’s Committee. A big performance in a big game can cover up an entire career’s worth of work. For some players like Maz and Morris, that’s a good thing. For other’s like Pete Alexander, it overshadows what can be considered one of the greatest pitching careers of all-time.
Year Inducted: 1961 (Veterans Committee)
Basestealling has almost always been synonymous with baseball. Being a great baserunner is what got players like Lou Brock, Ty Cobb and Rickey Henderson such high acclaims (though with other, additional attributes like their hitting abilities). While each of these players dominated the game via steals, none of them played in the era when it seemed like high stolen bases were the norm. In the earliest years of baseball the rules for stolen bases were different. A player could be rewarded for a steal if he went from first to third on a single, or advanced on a groundout. Historians have done some stat correction for those events, but even then the values need to be taken with a grain of salt. Still, when Brock was chasing Cobb’s record for career steals many historians pointed out that the real record was set in the 1890’s at 937 by a relatively unknown player named Billy Hamilton. Hamilton’s career numbers have been adjusted due to scoring errors thanks to the geniuses at Retrosheet.org, but his numbers still ring true for a Hall of Fame career.
Year Inducted: 1996 (Veterans Committee)
Pitching is often more mental than physical. Guys like Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Jim Palmer became Hall of Famers not due to physical ability (though they obviously had some), but due to how they thought about pitching. Each of those starters, along with many others, knew that they didn’t have a big fastball, so they had to rely on location and movement more than other pitchers. There was a time when these pitchers were the norm. Up until the 1960’s (roughly), strikeout pitchers were very rare. Then, there was the advent of big arms and players like Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Steve Carlton, etc. would begin to dominate the game. This is why a highly cerebral pitcher like Jim Bunning got pushed to the side while being a fairly dominant pitcher himself.
Year Inducted: 1994 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 436/456)
Money has long been the driving force of baseball. Before the banning of the Reserve Clause in 1975, players were on the short end of the stick. No matter how much a player liked or hated playing in a certain city, the rights to his contract belonged to the team even after its expiration. There was little guaranteed money tied up in contracts, so if a player was released he most likely got nothing. Lots of players, some stars some role players, would hold out at contract time to force the team’s hand. Most famously, players like Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale once waited out most of Spring Training to get a raise from the Dodgers. Some owners were so cheap that if a contract dispute came up, no matter how great the player was, they would ship them off in a trade to lessen payroll. That is why, instead of twenty years of a dream rotation with him and Bob Gibson in St. Louis, Steve Carlton moved on to Philadelphia and cemented his Hall of Fame legacy there.
Year Inducted: 1976 (BBWAA, ballot #4, 337/388)
There was once a time, even in 4 and 5 pitcher rotations, the starters were expected to pitch 9 innings. This resulted in a lot of pitchers having low strikeout rates (as they would not throw hard to conserve energy), higher than expected FIP’s (pitchers pitched to contact more), and many pitchers either ending their careers early with arm injuries or pitching with sore arms resulting in lesser seasons. As such, pitchers like Bob Lemon that are incredibly talented end up with short careers with more than expected down seasons. Sometimes, those pitchers are lucky and can just keep pitching their way to the Hall of Fame like Robin Roberts did.