The nine worst players in the Baseball Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame outfielder Harold Baines.

The election of Harold Baines to the Hall of Fame on December 9th has sparked a spirited discussion about his merits for that honor. Some critics place him at or near the bottom of Hall of Famers.

Where does Harold rate? Let’s look at the nine worst players in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

9. George “High Pockets” Kelly

Kelly was a tall, lean first baseman who batted cleanup on four straight pennant winning teams for John McGraw’s Giants. That sounds like a decent start to a Hall of Fame résumé, but there’s a problem: Kelly only played regularly in five other seasons. He led the league in home runs once, but heck so did Tino Martinez once. Kelly won two RBI titles, but Cecil Fielder did that three times. Only twice in Kelly’s career did he have an OPS+ above 115, which is unimpressive for a player who was supposed to be the slugger in the lineup. “High Pockets” didn’t help himself in the World Series where he had only three extra-base hits and 11 RBI in 26 games. His 1,778 career hits are ahead of only ten Hall of Famers who played after 1900 and didn’t spend some time in the negro leagues or miss time to World War II.

In 1973, Kelly’s old teammate Frankie Frisch was the chairman of the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee. Frisch pushed through the election of his friend, one of many terrible decisions to come out of a Frisch-dominated smoke-filled room. More on that to follow.

8. Herb Pennock

The Red Sox traded Pennock to the Yankees before the 1923 season and didn’t think too much about it, because Pennock was a skinny lefty who had trouble with his command and walked nearly as many batters as he struck out. His career record to that point was 77-72, and Pennock’s ERA was eight percent below league average. In New York he had much better teammates, which meant they scored more runs for him and the defense behind him was superior. Predictably, Pennock started to win in pinstripes, and he went to the World Series four times. His record as a Yankee was 162-90, but he never pitched as a true ace, his ERA+ in New York was 114, which is the same as Jon Matlack and Luis Tiant posted for their careers. Pennock did go 5-0 in the Fall Classic, but he also got six runs of support per game. He ended up winning nearly 60 percent of his decisions, but still managed only 241 wins and never led the league in wins, ERA, complete games, shutouts, or strikeouts. In 22 seasons the southpaw only led the league two times, once in winning percentage and once in innings pitched.

7. Chick Hafey

He only played as many as 130 games in a season four times in his career. Read that again, let it sink in. Hafey only had seven years of 100+ games. If you’re going to be out of the lineup that much you better be damn good. Chick had great talent, he was fast and had some power. But he only had 1,466 hits in his short career to go along with the .317 batting average. He was considered one of the most exciting athletes of his era, he won a batting title. But that’s all he has. If we’re going to induct exciting players who combine power and speed, let’s give Eric Davis and Darryl Strawberry a plaque in Cooperstown.

6. Tommy McCarthy

Reportedly invented the hit-and-run and the practice of using signals between the base runner and the batter. Those innovations may or may not have actually come from McCarthy, but even if they did, it’s not a reason to elect this otherwise average player into the Hall. His career WAR of 16.2 is the lowest among position players in the Hall of Fame, and represents the same value as two seasons from Mike Trout. McCarthy hit .292 and he could steal some bases, but he’s a worse player than Carl Crawford, and has no business being in the Hall of Fame.

5. Lloyd Waner

If his name had been Lloyd Wilson, he never would have been elected to the Hall of Fame. Waner was one-half of the famous sibling duo for the Pirates in the 1920s and 1930s, with brother Paul Waner. He was a Mickey Rivers, Coco Crisp type player. He hit some singles (lots of singles), and he could run. Otherwise he was a below average player. He does not rank among the Top 100 Center Fielders of all-time. Had he not been “Lil Poison” to brother Paul’s “Big Poison,” Lloyd would be forgotten.

4. Rube Marquard

In 1912, Marquard won 19 straight games for the Giants. That streak gave the lefthander great notoriety, and seems to be the basis for his selection in 1971 by the Vet Committee led by Frisch. Other than that streak, Marquard’s career record was 182-177 and he pitched more than half his career with good teams. His career ERA+ of 103 is the lowest for a Hall of Fame pitcher, and rates below Fernando Valenzuela and Frank Tanana, to name a few.

3. Harold Baines

Led the league in slugging once, and that’s it. Came up as a promising right fielder with the White Sox but evolved into a professional bat-for-hire designated hitter. Was talented enough to play 22 seasons and get more than 2,800 hits and 380 home runs, but that’s about it. No great moments, no signature season. Just a very good hitter, well respected, quiet guy in the clubhouse. Jerry Reinsdorf, the man who owned the ChiSox when Harold came up, helped convince eleven other members of the Today’s Game committee to check a box for Baines. His puzzling election (after never receiving more than 33 votes from the baseball writers) lowers the bar for hitters in the Hall.

2. Jesse Haines

Another Frisch teammate, Haines was elected when he was 77 years old in 1970 after Frisch pulled strings in his committee. Haines pitched for the Cardinals for 18 of his 19-year career, but managed only 210 victories for good teams. He was on five St. Louis teams that won the pennant, but averaged only 12 wins per season in those years. He was just another pitcher in their rotation, and in fact the Cards only gave him four starts in those five Fall Classics. There are more than one hundred pitchers not in the Hall of Fame who were better than Haines.

1. Freddie Lindstrom

The fourth player on this list who played with Hall of Fame second baseman Frankie Frisch. The fourth man on this list who got into the Hall because Frisch pushed for his election. Lindstrom was elected in 1976, a few years after Frisch had passed away, but the veterans committee rewarded him largely based on Frisch’s recommendations over the years.

Lindstrom only had eight seasons where he played as many as 100 games. He was a boy wonder, becoming the youngest man to play in the World Series, at the age of 18. In 1928 he was very good, batting .358 with a league-leading 237 hits, 39 doubles, 107 RBI. That’s a very good season, and Lindstrom, a third baseman, finished second in NL MVP voting. Two years later he hit .379 with similar numbers, but in 1930 everyone in the NL had a great year with the bat. That season, the league hit over .300, and Lindstrom never hit higher than .319 in any other season.

His career was short (only 1,747 hits), he never won a batting title, and only topped 200 hits once. He rates 73rd among our Top 100 Third Basemen of All-Time.

There are a dozen third basemen who were far better than Lindstrom, who played his last game at the age of 30. Bill Madlock won four batting titles, Carney Lansford won a batting title and had 300 more hits than Lindstrom. A very close match is Howard Johnson, who had a similar career length and peak. Do you think HoJo belongs in the Hall?

26 thoughts on “The nine worst players in the Baseball Hall of Fame

  1. You make a great case and your probably right on all accounts. But you can’t use advanced baseball math that wasn’t created until 50+years after they died. Well you can but it makes you a dick. I would think the arguments you stated would be enough to make your case that you don’t need to pile on with things that would make people of the time call you a witch or get priests to exorcise the demons out of you because your speaking in an unknown language. We all get it your smarter then all sports reporters who came before you, stop reminding us of it by belittling long dead marginal hall of fame members.

    1. I don’t think it’s fair to call me a “dick” for using stats to make my argument. Why not start your own website, write an article about the Hall of Fame, and put your name on it. I promise I won’t call you names, even if I don’t agree with your opinion.

      1. No, I think it’s fair he called you a dick. The game was just played differently then and different skills were valued, which you ignored. You apply modern metrics to players from ages agi and wonder whg he calls you a dick. Dick.

        1. Let me add, though, you are right about Frisch. I will give you credit for that. However, you still write like a smug post modern jerk.

    2. I might point out that the stats he used are not “advanced”, but were actually commonly used during those time periods, which is why they are available now for hindsight analysis. I think the author of this made it pretty clear that Frisch was using his pull to hook up his boys for one reason or another.

    3. @Pat – Maybe the demons preventing you from using commas, than/then properly, and the correct form of your/you’re should be exorcised first.

      @Dan – I thought that the statistics and comparisons to modern players added greatly to your article.

    4. It makes perfect sense to use modern statistics (along with “traditional” statistics) to evaluate old-time players. The rules of the game were the same. More importantly, the object of each game was the same: to win it.

      Every HOF decision, even Derek Jeter’s most recently, is an exercise in looking backwards in time. The modern statistics simply helps the evaluator do a better job of it.

  2. Really fun article, thank you for writing it! I liked your modern day comps for these old-timers. As a kid, all these names felt like legends because of their HoF status. Saying a guy was the Mickey Rivers of his era really put it in perspective. Good read!

  3. I’d include Tommy McCarthy in the Hall of Fame, but not for his prowess as a player, but as an innovator. He should be in there, but under another category (there is a meritorious service to baseball category, I believe). Bear in mind that he was elected, I believe that statistics were not completely available for players of his time (Bill James has mentioned that somewhere – I don’t remember where). It’s much easier now to say he wasn’t a good player than it was then.

    1. It’s safe to say McCarthy was elected for two reasons: (1) his association with Hugh Duffy as part of the Heavenly Twins, and (2) his apparent invention of some defensive techniques. I don’t think he’s deserving, but I can see how you may think otherwise. Thanks a lot for reading, and please come back.

  4. What about Bert Blyleven? I know they don’t mean much anymore but if you are a hall of famer, shouldn’t you have made more than 2 all star teams in 22 seasons?

    1. Al Lofton– Blyleven was a stellar pitcher. He was lucky enough to be able to pitch in and win two World Series, but in general he played on bad teams, resulting in won-lost records that couldn’t match, for example, Jim Palmer who played for great Oriole teams basically every singe year. Or Catfish Hunter on Oakland’s dynasty. And all-star selections for pitchers back then were primarily based on won-lost records. Blyleven is a no-doubt Hall of Famer.

    2. I actually think Blyleven is underrated. He had the misfortune of pitching for poor teams. If you are judging players based on All-Star teams and wins/losses, I think you’re missing some things. But, I thank you for being a reader of this website.

  5. Every player that you’ve characterized as marginal HOF material was nonetheless a worthy player– a bonafide star in the major leagues in their time. While this is true, inclusions of such players as Lindstrom and Ferrel (my biggest question mark player) makes the waters extremely murky for subsequent generations. To that point, 500 + HRs, 300 + wins have long been “standards” for HOF consideration… but few of the 9 players you highlighted were held to those standards. In the “modern” era players such as Joe Torre, Jim Kaat (my personal #1 candidate for re-consideration) and even 493 home run hitting Freddie McGriff are all players whose merits exceed all 9 of the guys you listed but are not in the Hall.

    Last point– obviously we’re in a weird turn with the Season of Covidity upon us, but there will never be another 300 + game winner in the era of 5 + starters, 6 inning quality starts, etc… Add the fact that PED suspected/convicted candidates are up for eligibility… Sheesh– who wants a crack at re-defining HOF stats? I dunno, but it’s gotta happen. Thanks for the article!

  6. Remove all of the one inning relief pitchers, the so-called stoppers. I think no stat is more exaggerated in the history of sports.

    1. First time visitor to FanGraphs, and I appreciate all your work and love for baseball, Dan. I don’t know if this comment really belongs here, but I’m provoked to respond both to your comment, mG, as well as to your comments about relievers on the home page, Dan.

      Traditionally, in baseball, the term “stopper” refers to a team’s best starting pitcher, the one you count on to “stop” a losing streak. In recent decades, “stopper” has gotten confused with the term “closer,” which refers to the 9th inning reliever who comes in with a lead of three or fewer runs (usually), and locks down the win and thereby earns a “save” (though the “save” isn’t determined by the number of innings the reliever pitches, of course). Without looking it up, my recollection is the first pitcher in that specific one-inning role and also the first to be labeled a “closer,” was Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland A’s, when they won the ’88 through ’90 AL pennants.

      Within a few years after that, every team had adopted this model of relief pitching because it apparently proved so effective, even without a HOF’er like Eckersley doing it. I have no idea if advanced stats support this way of managing a staff, though I must presume so since it’s been the standard for 30 years now, during the age of advanced stats. And every year, moreover, the one-inning model of relief pitching gets extended earlier and earlier into games.

      I recognize you can’t entirely compare the performance of pitchers who throw relatively few innings to those who throw a lot, and it seems counterintuitive to give them as much credit. But even if the closer role is just a fad and not really a better way to win ball games, which I doubt, it’s still unfair to deny due recognition to outstanding performers just because the evolution of baseball strategy has assigned them to a role that you don’t appreciate and which didn’t used to exist. The best closers, like the best anything else, certainly belong in the HOF, even if a WAR formula doesn’t demonstrate it, and they deserve Cy Young or even MVP votes if they are effective enough.

      I suspect most people who just don’t like closers just don’t like a lot of changes from how things were when they were younger. (Though Gossage’s irritability seems to be a larger problem, probably of a different kind.)

      Next question: I see Rick Ferrell’s picture at the top of the page and don’t see anything written on him here; is it just taken for granted that everyone knows his election was a bone-headed blunder akin to a Three Stooges skit?

  7. Next question: if Baines had gotten 134 more hits, bringing his total to 3000, would he belong on THIS list? (I know, he didn’t get them, this is hypothetical.) How much does getting your # retired while you’re still playing — for another team! — add to your Intangible score? Or being named to two different MLB teams’ own HOFs? I know this is blasphemy, please forgive me, but just how all-important are statistical analyses for determining greatness or HOF-worthiness anyway, really?

    Not that I think you’re wrong in general here, especially about Frisch’s protégés. Actually, Chick Hafey was also Frisch’s teammate on the Cardinals, so that’s five out of nine on this list.

    1. I’m sorry. I wish I’d noticed, and clicked, the link at the top of the page that you started this piece with, about Baines’s HOF election, before writing. As Emily Littella said, never mind.

    2. I don’t think Baines having his uniformed retired matters one bit in evaluating him as a player. This article focuses on PLAYER VALUE, which is tied to stats. If we were talking about fame or importance to teams, it may be different. But I still contend that Baines is no better a player than Chili Davis or certainly not as good as Will Clark (or for that matter Jack Clark). He was a useful, very good player. He was not a Hall of Famer, in my opinion.

  8. Lloyd Waner could cook like nobody’s business. He could sing a little, too. I think that should be considered before ranking him so low.

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