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Bill James on the expansion timebomb


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Subscriber-only article on Bill James' site. Very interesting observation on the effects of expansion on the Hall of Fame.


Over the next thirty years, the de facto standards for induction into the Hall of Fame will change substantially. They will not change for the “worse”, in the sense of changing downward. They will move upward. They have to. They will move upward by so much that it will put pressure on the Hall of Fame to revamp their election system, because players are being left out who not only meet but substantially exceed the historical standards for Hall of Fame selection.

Basically, the main points of the article are:

1) Expansion has grown the number of team/seasons greatly over the past 40-50 years. Over half of all MLB games have been played since 1960, even though that's only 35% of the time since MLB started.

2) That means there are many, many more "Hall of fame type accomplishments" than previously. Such as hitting .300, or getting 100 RBI, or winning 20 games, and the like.

3) It takes 20, 30, 40 years for the Hall to feel the effects of changes. There are many guys from the 80s, and even 70s, who the Hall is just getting around to voting on. So we're just on the leading edge of his effect from all of the expansions.

James goes through a whole system to show this, but the effect is that either the Hall has to start electing a lot more people, or the standards are going to change drastically and players who are clearly better than even mainstream selections today won't be elected in 2020 or 2030.

And that'll make the selection of people like Jim Rice look even more ridiculous, when players 50% better than Rice will be left out.

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While there may be many more accomplishments in raw number that seem Hall-worthy, how does the proportion change? To me that would seem more important, to try to avoid the situation in the last point you brought up.

No, I think the proportion is the same. Which is kind of the point. There used to be about 25*16 major leaguers, or 400. Now there's 800. For various reasons the average MLB player today is probably better than the average in 1950. So you have players that are just as good, but twice as many of them, producing high-level seasons at the same rate.

But the Hall keeps on inducting ~30 players a decade. So unless they do something to change the way the Hall works, you're going to see the established standards go up by about double.

Not only will the 2015 equivalent of Rabbit Maranville not get in, the 2015 equivalent of Barry Larkin probably won't get in either. So we'll be left with the odd circumstance similar to Joe Gordon getting in via the Vet's Committee last year because he was one of the best second basemen of the 1940s, but superior players from today will be shut out the very same year.

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I may be in the minority, but I now consider the HOF to be pointless. It started out as something great and ended up as a mess. There is no way Bert Blyleven isn't HOFer and I am a guy that wants a very small HOF.

HOF will slowly become irrelevant (already is for me).

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