Designated HitterJanuary 22, 2009
Baseball's Hall of Fallacies
By Conor Gallagher

It's been well documented that Jon Heyman has a prejudice against, in his words, "younger people on the Internet who never saw [Bert Blyleven] play." This bigotry in and of itself is sad, but it also is a prime example of one of the most effective logical fallacies: the Ad Hominem. Essentially, as a rebuttal to an argument, one attempts to discredit the person or group of people who present the argument, without discrediting the argument.

The power of this faulty reasoning lies in its ability to change the course of the discussion. Politicians love this fallacy because it allows them to place people who disagree with their policies into negative categories. For example, one might state that proponents of gun control are elitist or out-of-touch. "It's easy," one might argue, "to be for gun control when you live in an exclusive, gated-community and can afford a fancy alarm system." "But wait," the proponent of gun control responds, "I grew up on a farm and live in a ground level apartment in a rough area of town." At this point, they have lost the argument because the debate has changed from the possible benefits or consequences of gun control, to defending one's own character.

We have seen this happen in many of the responses to Heyman's comments: "I'm 70, I saw Blyleven and yes, I use the Internet" or "those stories [Heyman] broke are really not very interesting…" These types of responses which either defend one's own character or attack Heyman's only indulge a discussion that is completely irrelevant to the merits of Blyleven's Hall of Fame candidacy. Sadly, this fallacy is often quite successful to that end.

The Ad Hominem rears its ugly head in many forms. The Circumstantial Ad Hominem is when one argues that a person only supports something because it is in their best interest to do so. One might argue that Pitcher A thinks Blyleven belongs in the Hall only because they have similar stats to Blyleven, and thus it will help their own candidacy. Again, this does not address the underlying arguments that Pitcher A may be making. One's own personal interest is irrelevant (or circumstantial) to those arguments.

The Ad Hominem Tu Quoque discredits an argument by pointing out a person's hypocrisy. For example: "Your statement that Blyleven doesn't belong because of his winning percentage is not valid because you voted for Nolan Ryan who had a lower winning percentage." The fact that someone is a hypocrite does not make their argument invalid. In this case, attention is directed away from why winning percentage is a lousy litmus test for the Hall of Fame.

Another similar fallacy is False Dilemma, which is a distortion of the logical truth P or ~P: either P is true or it is false. With False Dilemma someone will argue P or Q, as if there is some causal link between the two. An example of this fallacy is subtly used by Heyman: people either do not think Blyleven is Hall worthy (P) or they never saw him pitch (Q). The purpose of this fallacious argument is really to stop the opposing voices: either you agree with statement A or you are [fill in any insulting, degrading characterization – in Heyman's case he uses ignorance]. Now the stage has been set so that before anyone disagreeing with Statement A speaks up, they are perceived in a negative way or thought of as sympathizers to a negative group. Often, the discussion will skip right to the insulting characterization as in the following exchange: "I disagree with gun control." "Oh, so you're a hick." Notice that the following fallacious statement is implied here, but never actually stated: either you support gun control or you are a hick. Now the argument can move to a discussion of a person's character without ever having to address the reasons why the person disagrees with gun control.

Another common fallacy used in Hall of Fame discussions is the Relativist Fallacy: stating that something is true in certain situations but not others. With Blyleven, we often hear that he isn't Hall worthy because of his low career winning percentage. When it is pointed out that he has a higher winning percentage than Nolan Ryan, the Relativist Fallacy follows: that doesn't apply to Ryan because Ryan got to 300 wins.

My point with all of this is not to further the Blyleven arguments, Rich and Sully have already done a tremendous job of that. My purpose is to point out that it is extremely difficult to engage in ANY Hall of Fame discussion without running headfirst into a logical fallacy. Take the common argument against Blyleven or for Rice: "he just didn’t feel like a Hall of Famer," or "he was one of the most feared hitters of his time." Both of these arguments are the logical fallacy Appeal to Emotion, whereby emotion is used as evidence of fact. Perhaps it really felt that way to some people at the time but feelings are not facts and often run counter to reality (as statistical analysis has shown with Jim Rice).

Consider the argument that, if Jim Rice goes into the Hall of Fame, then dozens of other similar players also have to be considered and presumably, these dozens of other players are not Hall worthy. This fallacy is known as Appeal to Consequences of a Belief. The consequences of Jim Rice going into the Hall of Fame are not evidence that he does not belong. Furthermore, let's assume that BBWAA got it wrong with Rice and he does not belong. That does not mean that the BBWAA now has to get it wrong with the dozens of similar players that do not belong.

I wondered at the fact that Appeal to Emotion, Appeal to Consequences and Relativist Fallacy are so often considered good evidence of Hall of Fame candidacy. I then went to the Hall of Fame website and looked up the BBWAA rules for election. Any player who played for at least 10 years is eligible to be voted on. However, this is the only guidance given with regards to voting: "voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." It also goes on to state there are no automatic elections for outstanding achievements.

Essentially, there are no base standards for Hall of Fame induction. The election system itself is based on the logical fallacy Appeal to Belief: if a certain percentage of a group believe something to be true, then it must be true. Therefore, if 75% of the BBWAA believe someone is a Hall of Famer, they are a Hall of Famer. It is amazing to me that the previous sentence is both a fact and a logical fallacy.

In some ways, it's disheartening to look at the Hall of Fame in this light. It seems that, when talking about the Hall of Fame, all logical arguments reach a dead end. Lacking any concrete standards, all Hall of Fame discussions are eventually reduced to irrational arguments. Furthermore, because there is no logical basis for Hall of Fame entry, examining those who are already in the Hall offers no help. In fact, relying on the current members would also be a logical fallacy: Biased Sample, whereby conclusions are drawn from a sample that is unreliable.

So how can we change the course of the dialogue surrounding the Hall of Fame? I believe that first and foremost we need a logical basis from which to begin. It's time that we reevaluate what it actually means to be a Hall of Famer. A set of minimum, objective standards would help to mute much of the illogical cacophony out there today. While I would leave the actual standards up to someone more qualified than I; it should probably start somewhere with ERA+, OPS+ and win shares: stats that can be used across the many different eras of baseball. Certainly, the standards will be hard to agree upon in the first place and will probably be heavily criticized and even outright rejected by the BBWAA (if not completely ignored). However, without a logical foundation to the Hall, all emotional and irrational arguments will continue to be relied upon and Jon Heyman's gut feeling will have more influence than statistical analysis.

Heyman is not alone in his hostility toward a growing demand for more concrete and quantifiable measures of greatness. But his comments underscore that there has been a real shift in the way baseball is being viewed. No longer are fantastical, unquantifiable and largely indefensible beliefs (such as Derek Jeter being a Gold-Glove caliber shortstop) acceptable to a growing number of baseball fans. Whether or not this change originated with "younger people on the Internet" is irrelevant. The fact is that the current method of evaluation is based upon flawed logic and is being met with discontent. Any attempt to marginalize that discontent should consistently be met with the very thing it cannot handle: more sound, logical thinking.

Conor Gallagher is a paralegal in Chicago, IL. He is also an aspiring winemaker with dreams of moving to California this summer. His passion for baseball and baseball statistics in particular began at the age of eight or so when his father taught him how to keep box scores and they would play APBA together.



This is a very well written article and you present your case well.

Here's a few points:

*I think writers like Heyman are upset by the criticism they get. Years ago writers and tv/radio guys had a one way street they talked/wrote we had to listen. Now because of the internet people can comment on the validity of their statements and they don't like that one bit.

*Criticizing young people is an easy way for them to discredit something rather than actually supporting their arguments.

*Part of the problem is that baseball has been around for a long time and it's difficult for people to change their ideas about player X being better than player Y.

Here's an example of what someone like Heyman might think or say:

"Player X has always been better than player Y." "Ever since I was a little kid player x has been better than player y." "Now some stat geek is going to tell me player y is actually better because something called a win share or Warp says player y is better." That's B.S.

In the end what suffers is baseball, becasue players like Blyleven or Raines or Trammell or Santo or Whitaker or Grich aren't celebrated for being the great players they truely were.

This was a very interesting article. I disagree however with your discussion of the Appeal to Consequences of a Belief fallacy. It seems in these cases that we are not debating whether "Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer," but rather whether "Jim Rice should be inducted into the Hall of Fame." The first is a belief and the second is an action. When assessing prospective actions, it is usually very important to determine what the consequences of various courses of action are. This determination lies at the center of utilitarianism for example.

The belief itself of whether Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer is not controversial. A few weeks ago, Jim Rice was not a Hall of Famer; now he is a Hall of Famer in waiting; and, in July, he will be a Hall of Famer.

Conor, this is great. Thanks for contributing!

Let me start out by saying Conor is crazy. This is not a fallacy. This is a fact based upon me knowing him. However, he does make a fine point. I am sick and tired of the baseball writers telling me what I have to think about baseball players. Especially when said writers don't even look at the current stats out there. Great article. Thanks Conor.

One thing I've long thought would add to the debate: instead of merely listing All-Star appearances, list also those seasons in which a player *should* have been an All-Star; i.e., was among the two best players at his position from 1901-1968, or one of the top 3 from 1969-2008.

How you make *that* determination can be somewhat dicey, sure (I'd start with Win Shares), but it would advance the argument beyond Bill James' initial swing at it a quarter-century ago.

Brilliant article. It reminds me a bit of John Galt's brilliant (90 page) speech in Atlas Shrugged. Again, great article.

Rich will appreciate the John Galt reference, BBIMH! You sure know the way to a conservative baseball website proprietor's heart!

Thank you all for your comments. Yes, I am crazy and it has been well documented.

@BillBeane - that's the second time this week someone has referenced Atlas Shrugged to me. I really need to read it!

@Gerald - I definitely agree that when assessing actions, consequences should be considered. With my point about Appeal to Consequences, however, I just don't think it's a good argument to say Rice doesn't belong because now X number of other players will have to be enshrined. If Rice shouldn't have been elected, the arguments supporting that should come from Rice's body of work alone.

A subtle, but more logical approach would perhaps be that Rice's stats did not distinguish him (enough) from other players and therefore he is not deserving. In the first, fallacious instance, we are stating that Rice shouldn't go because X, Y, Z would happen. In the second instance, we are using stats to show that Rice's body of work falls short.

Please note that I am not arguing whether or not Rice belongs - Chris Greene did a solid job with that. I'm only trying to point out where we all tend to get tripped up in our Hall of Fame discussions and why it's so damn hard to avoid those trip ups.

I think Bill James got it right when he called the Hall of Fame "a self-defining institution that has by and large failed to define itself".

If I say that I am old enough to have seen Bert play and do not simply rely on the internet, I am not defending my character. I am defending my credibility. This is an entirely different issue from an ad hominem attack.
Likewise, if I say that I believe you erred in that example, I am not telling people that you are a bad person or unworthy thinker. I am attacking the argument itself.

The issue I have with the "you had to be there" argument is that it is solely dependant upon the emotional factor. If a performance must be dependant upon emotion. The level of any player's performance cannot be tied to something unqualifiable as emotion. Baseball is the original "counting" sport. Numbers have been intrinsic to the game as a way to qualify how good a player is. Does this mean there is now an emotional bar that is going to allow other players in for their emotional effect? Who would be barred due to their lack of emotional effect?

This is a very bad path.

Bucky - you have every right to defend your credibility, and I certainly wasn't trying to make an example out of you. My point was only to demonstrate how effective the fallacy really is. Unless your credibility is used as the basis of an argument, you don't need to defend your credibility to Heyman; yet you still did. Your credibility is not the issue - only the credibility of the arguments for why Blyleven belongs. Blyleven belongs for many, many reasons, none of which have anything to do with your age, your internet usage or your credibility.

Outstanding Conor. You get to the heart of the HOF connundrum; a connundrum, sadly as you point out, the Hall delibertely created at conception. The slow, messy solution will likely be a prodded and goaded BBWAA, something I optimistically believe this and other fellow-travelling sites help accomplish.

If Heyman says that Blyleven is being pushed mainly by young people who never saw Bert pitch, I'm going to respond that I'm 70, saw him pitch, and recognize the he belongs in the Hall.

Then I'm going to add that he's in a category that also includes only Clemens, Seaver, Gaylord, Walter, Maddux, Spahn, Mathewson, and Alexander.

That's pushback against the ad hominem and some fact Heyman can't refute.

Well, first, Conor, I should officially indoctrinate you into the fraternity of sportswriters by either e-mailing or leaving you a voicemail laden with profanity. It's the only white-collar profession where your voicemail is R-Rated. :)

Secondly, very nice job, though you baseball stat nerds amuse me with your intellectual approach to a kid's game. Ad hominems, logical fallacies -- dude it's just hitting a ball with a stick and running around in circles! But your reasoning is sound, well-defined and well-argued.

My arguments against you would be as follows:

1. You're giving Jon Heyman (whom I've been reading in Newsday since I was little and who is a terrific sportswriter regardless of whether you agree with him) WAY too much credit for the amount of thought that went into whatever column you're disputing. I bet you spent a lot of time thinking about and writing your piece. Heyman's writing several stories a day. On average, a prolific sportswriter probably spends 20 minutes on a story from thought through execution. Nature of the beast.

2. The idea of setting mandatory minimum statistical achievements for Hall entry is the true fallacy. You'd eliminate Sandy Koufax from contention with that definition. Satchel Paige, actually, too. Maybe Ralph Kiner, too, depending on where you draw the line. The simple fact is, the Hall of Fame IS about players who FEEL Hall-worthy. Dave Kingman hit 400-something home runs, but it's ridiculous to think he's a Hall-worthy player. Meanwhile, Ralph Kiner hit 361 (I think; I'm too lazy to look it up cause I really don't care about stats) -- but he did it in a compact career ended by injury. He was one of the greatest power hitters of all time, and even though his career didn't last as long as some others, he's certainly more Hall-worthy than Dave Kingman, you know?

You simply can't set statistical standards for what IS and SHOULD BE a subjective honor. The golf hall of fame is lame because once you hit X amount of wins, you're guaranteed entry. In baseball and other major sports, you have to EARN the label of greatness subjectively. Everything about your career -- not just statistics, but your leadership, your success, your postseason performances, the very aura you create and awe you inspire -- goes into the candidacy. I like that about the process, even if it is obviously flawed. It sure beats the alternative. Nobody's ever been inspired, aggravated and angry enough to write an opus like this one about the golf hall of fame...


Thank you for deigning to comment on a baseball stat nerd's column. Just a couple of retorts:

1. I never said Heyman was or was not a good sportswriter. His writing ability is irrelevant to the discussion of the baseball Hall of Fame - for which he has a vote. And if this were just a one-off, spur-of-the-moment comment from Heyman than you'd have a point. However he has made the same fallacious statements in articles, interviews and responses to reader comments over several years. This is something he truly believes is an important facet to Blyleven's Hall candidacy and he is flat out wrong (and bigoted to boot).

2. Your assumption that Koufax would be eliminated from consideration is flat out wrong. Obviously you didn't look at my suggestion of using adjusted ERA+ - Koufax is 36th ALL TIME. I'm not saying stats are the end all, be all and that a computer should spit out who is great and who isn't. But lacking any guidance whatsoever only allows gut feelings to have a tremendous amount of weight even when those feelings run contrary to statistical performance.

You seem to be okay with a Hall of Feelings. That's fine if you're satisfied with the way things are, but I, and many others are not. When 28 people can leave Henderson off their ballots, some because "I'm not a Ricky guy", and when writers like Heyman flat out refuse to listen to rational, compelling arguments because of who he perceives is making the argument, and when much of the Hall of Fame discussion boils down to "he just did/did not feel like a Hall of Famer" - then there is no discussion to be had. One can't go anywhere with that kind of faulty reasoning. I do not agree that statistical standards cannot be used as a guideline for a subjective honor. How do you even define "earn[ing] the label of greatness subjectively"? Could it be that you earn it through on-field production, MUCH of which can be measured statistically?

One final point - years ago, when the Hall of Fame began, BBWAA were probably the most qualified people to determine the Hall of Fame. I'm not convinced that is true anymore and your point #1 seems to underscore that. At the very least, shouldn't the group of people voting on the Hall be the most qualified group of people? Or, if we are not going to have the most qualified group of people voting, can we at least set up some standards to keep them on track and keep our discussions rational? How is that asking too much?


No one argues that because Rice got in that Dale Murphy, say, WILL get in. The argument, however, is that, since Rice got in, Murphy and a host of other players should also go in. This is based on a non-controversial premise that the standards should be consistent.

To accommodate Murphy and these other players, the Hall would have to grow immediately to the rough equivalent of having 400 players rather than its current size. Rice's selection would therefore require an additional argument for a bigger Hall.

Of course, we know that we won't get a bigger Hall and, if that is the case, players of Murphy's caliber will have been done an injustice by being denied enshrinement.

What my argument comes down to is that I think that membership in the Hall of Fame is a scarce resource (in this sense, it's more like admission to an elite university than like receiving a certificate of commendation). In determining who gets into the Hall we can't look at careers in isolation, we have to compare different attributes. We can't look at the body of work alone.

Yes, great article! It is so damn hard to avoid these trip ups.

Good luck in finding a job in wine country, Napa/Sonoma is obviously a very good area to look for jobs with wineries, but there are also some wineries in the South SF Bay, in the Gilroy area, as well. I also believe there are wineries in the Livermore area as well.

There are also wineries in SoCal as well, but I'm not as aware of them, Solvang I think have some, and there is a great movie on that, Sideways.

What is to be done to reform the Hall of Fame?

One could look to institute a new structure and set of rules to give guidance to them, and limit the potential for mistakes. This is the hard way; attempts to construct a foolproof system tend to breed a tougher strain of fools.

So, the problem is the fools, the electorate. In any generation, it is incumbent upon the electors to make a well-considered decision based upon all the available evidence. Instead, we get fallacious arguments based upon seat-of-the-pants analysis - or no analysis at all.

In any case, the HOF is a monolithic institution - change occurs slowly; they're not going to blow up the system, throwing the current electorate out the window. What the HOF can do is begin to shape the electorate into what it should be: individuals with an intense interest in the task at hand, thereby relishing the opportunity to invest the effort necessary to study all the available evidence. How many of the current electorate does that describe? 2%?

It means not only upgrading to include more qualified electors (a process we already see beginning with the addition of a few interenet writers) but "culling the herd" of its weakest links. There are a few simple first steps:

1) Make every ballot public. Bringing transparancy to the process fosters accountability. Those voters who can't bear the light of public scrutiny and engage in The Discussion to "get it right" can hit the road.

2) Only send out ballots to those who apply for them. Eliminate those voters who lack the the minimal interest to request to be a part of the process each year.

3) Eliminate blank ballots. A blank ballot is a clear indication of total ignorance of what the standards are for the Hall. This sends the message that we're here to elect someone, not to hold fast to some unrealistic standard.

Other, more potent methods can be used to transform the electorate more quickly and effectively. These would be met with more resistance from those who like the status quo. Start here and see what effects it has.

We should start our own Hall of Fame.

Conor si, Laz no.

There probably should be an Alternative Hall Of Fame. Then the public could read both the arguments for including a player in one or the other and decide for itself which is the more credible institution. Gradually, the institution that accrued the most credibility over the years would become the one the public thought of when a discussion of enshrinement took place. This may be too radical an idea -- with some holding to both ends of the stick and wanting to reform the old institution even though they don't respect the process of evaluating its membership. But we see nothing wrong with simply setting up an alternative to the Hall.

Can't we change "young people on the internet" to "people that know how to deal with numbers" since the internet basically gave a voice to people that didn't get journalism/literature degrees. People like Heyman aren't adjust young people or the internet at their bases, just people that know more than how to craft a yarn.

I'm studying this in my Communications class as we speak. To see this argument dissection set against the MLB Hall of fame voting was quite entertaining and informative, Thank You.

Great article, the disection of argument in general is well done.

However, seeking being a hall of famer is not acheived through the fallacy of belief as you claim. Rather, it is "If 75% of voters say that someone is a Hall of Famer, then they are a Hall of Famer". There is no issue of truth, or "It must be true because a certain percentage say it." You're trying to distinguish between what factually makes you a Hall of Famer, i.e. 75% of the vote, and the notion of "Hall of Famer" as some level of playing ability. The latter is nebulous, and not quantifiable beyond 300 wins, 500 hr, 3000 blah blah blah etc. The former is the conditions under which something is true.

One wishes that invalid and insidious sideswipes such as Jon Heymans had no bearing on our minds, but I sadly often think of people who like guns as rednecks.

I believe there is an Alternate Hall of Fame: BBTF's Hall of Merit. Looking at their roll call, I see the Blyleven, Grich, Dwight Evans, Dick Allen, along with Trammell and Whitaker, are all in - as are Mark McGwire, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Pete Rose. (Jack Morris and Catfish Hunter are not, though Dave Steib is.)

It's fascinating to see the discussions for each case as well.

Conor - excellent!

And about the win-percebtage argument:
Spending 15 years with the Yankees (score 5 runs a game) or 15 years with the San Diego Padres (score 3.5 runs a game) will seriously affect anyone's win-loss percentage.

I don't think it would be a good idea to create automatic triggers for the Hall of Fame. Not only would selecting those triggers be more difficult and contentious than voting on individual players (especially because they would have to be different for each position), but changing conventional wisdom would require constant adjustment. For example, if the criteria were established in 1978, the triggers might be HRs, RBIs and Hits, whereas now we would take into account park factors and league adjustments pertaining to rates like ERA, OBP and SLG. In 20 years (or 2 years), however, the next best stat might be developed. I’d rather allow the conventional wisdom of the day determine who belongs, as subjective as that might be. Also, I would hate for Player X to get in with an OPS+ of 125, while Player Y drops out with an OPS+ of 124. No stat is perfect enough to withstand such a narrow margin.

The problem is not the selection process, but the voters who comprise it. Back in the day, sportswriters were probably the only people watching games and looking at stats on a regular basis. That is simply no longer the case. As a result, the Hall of Fame should consider expanding the base of potential voters beyond tenured writers (besides, I’d rather have a 5-year writer on the beat voting instead of the 60 year old veteran who now writes about golf). A simple sketch could have four categories of voters created, with the Hall of Fame determining the number of electors in each: media (voters screened and selected by the various media unions like the BBWAA); statisticians (perhaps selected by a group like SABR); historians (selected by the HoF Board of Directors); and former players/team personnel (selected by MLB). Then, the pool of voters could be combined into one electorate, or each segments vote considered separately. Also, voters would not have lifetime rights, but serve five year terms. The bottom line would be a more diverse and accountable electorate.

What Conor refuses to acknowledge, what many stat-focused analysts refuse to admit or understand, is that seeing a player DOES make a difference, and the difference, while not dispositive as Heyman implies, isn't irrelevant either. The Hall of Fame is not just about "numbers" is about fame, star power, entertainment value, and perceptions as well as hard reality. This isn't a fallacy, just because it is hard to quantify. Bill James wrote last year that he never regarded Gary Sheffield as a great player until he watched him live, and saw the intensity, the presence, the ability to focus the game on himself. A fallacy? No, it isn't. Nobody can explain why some movie stars succeed and become icons when better looking, more skilled performers never the same impact. John Wayne didn't have a fraction of the Oscar nominations of Richard Burton, and nodoy would argue that he was a better actor. But whose movies are more enduring? Who is more famous today? Who was and is the bigger star? Similarly, nobody can explain why some athletes excite the crowd and some don't, but this is one of the things the Hall measures---it's called "stardom." Dwight Evans was never a star. Jim Rice was. Kirk Gibson was a star---not enough to make up for his very limited accomplishments, but it's not irrelevant to evaluating him. Don Drysdale was a huge star...Burt Blyleven's stats are much better, but the star-power didn't come close.
In these days of Fantasy baseball and thorough stats, it is tempting to dismiss the intangibles---"invisible elephant tracks in the snow" James once called them---If they are really there, where are the tracks? But when one is judging fame, that magic ability to attract attention is a big, if difficult to quantify, part of the equation. And it's no fallacy.

William - Dan G posted something similiar - a proposal to change the voters. I do like the idea of voting for the voters, kind of like our current system of government whereby we don't create policy but vote for those who do. Term limits is also an interesting concept as it seems there are indeed dinosaurs who have not kept up with the changes that have happened over the last couple of decades. I also like Dan's idea of open ballots, I think that would go a long way in eliminating the lazy ones.

As for the stats - I'm not promoting automatic triggers, but a way of saying something like "these players are worthy of being talked about because they were among the top 10% of their time in these statistical measurements." It's a way of creating a statistical backdrop for the conversation that just doesn't exist now - especially when Jay Bell got votes (career OPS+ 101) and Blyleven is on the outside looking in.

I would also encourage you not to discount something until you've seen it in action. Your assumptions that a statistical baseline would cut off players at a random OPS+ without considering other factors is just that. Though I am not qualified to create such a statistical system, I envision it will be much more encompassing and do a good faith job of representing a careers worth of work. There are many in the "baseball stat geek community" who would do a marvelous job at putting together such a system. But feel free to poke holes in after a serious proposal has been made as that's exactly how systems are improved - though good, constructive criticism.

Certainly it will be necessary to tweak the system over time. But looking at it with the idea that it's doomed to be flawed because it would have been flawed in 1978 is hardly a way to go about anything. Besides, you state "I'd rather the conventional wisdom of the day determine who belongs..." If so, why is it so important to you that the "conventional wisdom" be subjective opinions as opposed to statistical analysis?

And I'd never subscribe to the defeatist attitude that we shouldn't try to come up with a good statistical measurement today because in 20 years someone will have a better one. How is that a good argument to NOT do the best you can to improve a situation today? Anyway, I'm glad our forefathers didn't have that attitude when putting together the Constitution.

One huge problem is that the sample is so biased by the very nature of BBWAA. Count how many officially cover the Yankees/Mets. When I did this a few years ago, they were over-represented by a factor of near 5, even taking into account that there are 2 teams there. Now that people watch so many games on TV, a lot of the extra bias will be based on what they see that way. I've read from people that Blyleven is not visible now. They don't watch the Twins. West coast teams don't get noticed due to time zones. I've heard thinly veiled comments that really mean that Hoffman's stats don't matter because he doesn't play in the NY/Boston.

The original article is interesting, but it's based on an assumption that seems erroneous to me (or maybe a fallacy). That incorrect assumption is that the purpose of the Hall of Fame is to select the best players in baseball history and to segment them from other players. The real purpose of the Hall of Fame is to generate publicity for baseball and to be a repository of information and relics that reflect the history of the game. The HOF vote meets its publicity goal by incorporating the people who are best-positioned to generate publicity: baseball writers. It's no different than college football polls or the Academy Awards; it's opinion utilized to generate publicity, not fact utilized to create truth. So, regardless of how flawed the HOF voting system is today, it doesn't matter because the system is doing what it's intended to do -- keep baseball discussion alive during the off-season.

Love this article in general, this is the kind of thinking that everyone should be exposed to, if only for food for thought.

I do have to agree with its general view of the HOF, though. I disagree that the use of voting for the HOF without standards is any logical's simply the chosen system for acceptance.

I think it's a greater fallacy to think that there could ever be standards for the HOF at all. For example, throw adjusted OPS+ out there. Right away, I can discredit the pure value of *OPS+ by throwing Todd Helton out there. His career *OPS+ is an impressive 141...but I have complete confidence that that number is still for from properly "adjusted". It is well known that Helton benefitted from his home ballpark, but it was in far more ways than just further travelling baseballs. The biggest benefit comes from reduced air friction, which negatively impacts breaking balls. Due to Helton's keen eye and patience, I can argue that he benefitted far, far more than the ballpark adjusted for Coors field, because he could take advantage of it in a way most couldn't. So, even this stat's solid attempt at levelling the playing field falls short, at least in the anomolous case.

My point is that there will NEVER be a true "standard", a hard and fast number or stat we can use for the HOF. The HOF will NEVER be completely quantifiable, so in lieu of flawed standards the HOF chose a democratic system that counted on the expertise of its voters. Not perfect, but we're not seeking perfection, only something that does a good enough job.

An offshoot of this is Conor calling the HOF's use of "Appeal to Emotion" a fallacy. Why is it that many people on this educated site thinks that the HOF should ONLY be based on statistical worth? Who declared that as the "proper" method? The HOF is the Hall of FAME, and fame works into the equation (like kevin says above). Why is it "illogical" for some people to attempt to quantify "fame" and use that along with baseball stats, adjusted or not? True, to say a player is a HOFer just because YOU "feel" he is is pretty weak, but if a writer polls hundreds of contemporary players to an individual, and they all think that said player was the greatest hitter of his day, how is it a fallacy to include that research in your decision? "Numbers" are not the only "facts" out there, and to discount the eligibility of other points is a fallacy in and of itself. If we want to have the best discussions possible, it should be left to points/counterpoints, and if you think a point doesn't qualify in a particular case, debate against it, don't just call it "wrong"...or else you do what they Heyman's do.

And the other thing we all have to accept is that there always will be players who are on the edge of HOF worthiness. By definition, if you're "on the edge", it is IMPOSSIBLE to "prove" that you belong or don' it's up to democratic consensus to make the final choice.


The Hall of Fame and Museum's mission is to foster "an appreciation of the historical development of the game and its impact on our culture by collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting its collections for a global audience, as well as honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to our National Pastime."

You are correct that part of its goal is to "generate publicity for baseball" and one way that it does it is "to be a repository of information and relics that reflect the history of the game", but that is only part of it. The other is "honoring those who have made outstanding contributions." I'm not sure how else a PLAYER can make outstanding contributions to the game other than playing it really, really well. Certainly owners, managers, employees of teams or MLB, members of the media, etc. can make contributions in other ways, but players contribute mostly by their on-field performance. And inducting players into the Hall of Fame is nothing more than a recognition of their on-field contributions. And how do we evaluate those contributions? Through stats.

I think what everyone fails to remember is that its the Hall of FAME. Not the hall of best statistics in baseball. An easy way to settle this is just induct every player who has been in at least 10 all star games. Case settled.

Peter -

The fallacy behind voting for the Hall of Fame is that the HOF has never defined a Hall of Famer. Bill James said it best: "The Hall of Fame is a self-defining institution that has by and large failed to define itself". So the entire premise behind someone being defined as a Hall of Famer is that 75% of the BBWAA thinks that's so - the Appeal to Popularity. If the definition of a Hall of Famer were that 75% of the BBWAA felt that a player met a set of criteria, then we wouldn't have a fallacy, and we would have a great starting place for the points/counterpoints discussion that both you and I would love to have.

You say that it's a fallacy to think that there could ever be any standards for the Hall? What does that even mean - that you are in favor of election to the Hall of Fame on a completely arbitrary basis? I guess that's what we have right now, but I and many others are not happy with it. You just can't have a points/counterpoints discussion when election into the Hall of Fame is largely arbitrary.

It's not illogical to ask that they QUANTIFY (your word) "fame". That's precisely what I'm asking for - lay down a quantifiable basis for the decisions. You write that "numbers" are not the only "facts" out there. But aren't they? Because saying that Roger Clemens was a good pitcher is not a fact unless you define what "good" means. Saying that Blyleven didn't "feel" like a Hall of Famer doesn't mean anything if you haven't defined what a Hall of Famer is!

Which brings me back to my original plea - I would like a definition of a Hall of Famer, and I would like that definition to include some sort of statistical analysis of the player's career. I'm not asking for stats to be the only criteria, just make them a part of the criteria, because right now, it's impossible to have a discussion about the Hall of Fame without running into logical fallacy after logical fallacy because there is no definition of a Hall of Famer.

Re the Hall of FAME...

Famous players, in and of themselves, aren't elected to the Hall of Fame. Instead, election to the Hall of Fame makes players famous. In other words, the fame is bestowed on the players by virtue of their election to the HoF.

For proof, look no further than the history of the Hall of Fame and its inductions. The HoF has been about honoring baseball's "greatest" players since the first class was inducted in 1936.

I think you kind of missed my point. I am not suggesting that stats should be subservient to observation (heck, I am a stat geek in my own way), but that our current understanding of the stats that matter take precedence over a defined statistical trigger that is bound to become outdated (or worse, possibly flawed) and certainly be slow to change with the times. Again, I’d rather refine the voter pool considering what stats are most relevant than try to come up with an uber stat to remove the human element from the process. Furthermore, no matter how wise those crunching the numbers may be, there will always have to be a razor thin cutoff. I’d rather have debate among informed voters decided a case than a decimal place.

Finally, because you brought up the Constitution, I would point out that our Founding Fathers wisely adopted a legal system based on precedent rather than hard codes because they realized that hard and fast rules were too inflexible to a complex and ever changing society. Similarly, I think a defined statistical barrier would be too confining to the evolving understanding of the game. Just like our nation has always relied on the best conventional wisdom of the electorate and those interpreting laws, I would prefer that the Hall of Fame do the same.

I also have a solution for eliminating those voting for Jay Bell types, as well as those deeming themselves worthy of protecting the honor of the first ballot. Basically, if you vote for a player who receives less than 3-5% or omit a player who receives more than 95-97%, you lose your vote for good.

I like the gist of the article but I have a few problems with some of your definitions and the precise nature of your eventual conclusion Conor.

Firstly, it is generally accepted among philosophical circles that ad hominems may not be fallacious depending on their use in an argument and circumstance. You give the example of pointing out a contradiction in someone believing that Blyleven is unworthy of the Hall of Fame due to his winning percentage while voting for Nolan Ryan with a lower winning percentage. Even if this technically is irrelevant to the merits of Blyleven's case it is a useful way of pointing out that your opponent is committing the fallacy of relevance as you later point out. If we adopt the principal of charity in argument (as we should) then there is nothing fallacious with this particular ad hominem.

Secondly, the last time I checked the current literature on the fallacy of Appeal to Consequences of a Belief, which I'll refer to as the slippery slope argument only because that's how I know it, is uncertain on the validity of this argument, where validity is used in the technical sense of sentence A being valid if and only if it is impossible for the premises of an argument to be true and the conclusion false. This is why you do find slippery slope arguments used in some places that are not clearly fallacious. They are commonly used in euthanasia arguments for example. I'll try and hunt down a link discussing the validity of slippery slope arguments.

Nevertheless, in the Jim Rice example if our desire is to limit the number of players in the Hall of Fame and we conclude that allowing Jim Rice entry will consequently increase later entries then we have good reason to disallow Jim Rice entry according to our intentions for the Hall of Fame. The question of the validity of this reasoning essentially comes down to your conclusion and the problem, as you mention, of how Hall of Fame membership is defined.

The problem I have with your conclusion is that you leave out some elements of that Hall of Fame that we do desire to keep. We know self-evidently that we want the best players in history to be members of the Hall of Fame. There is no fallacy in that assertion and you mention that this is where objective standards are needed to assess who these players are rather than leaving playing ability up to subjective analysis which leads to the fallacious reasoning of Heyman and others as you've successfully discussed. However, the voting guidelines you've mentioned also consider sportsmanship, integrity, character and contribution to a club. To assess whether or not this criteria should be relevant we only need to ask ourselves if we desire having such contributions as relevant then there is no fallacious appeal to belief involved as the notion of a Hall of Famer is defined by the definition we choose to give it. You seem to be suggesting that our intuitions (or appeals to belief) are automatically fallacious but this is only true in the case of using belief to assess objective criteria. The definition of what should be relevant to Hall of Fame entry IS somewhat dependant upon intuition as it is defined by what parameters we think should be relevant. Intuitions and belief in argument are not always fallacious. It largely depends upon the context of the argument. In Science they are largely useless, in arguments over morality the water is rather murky as to where they are and are not relevant and in philosophy of language intuitions and belief are instrumental.

Consequently, I agree entirely that we should be using objective means to measure the playing ability of certain players in their Hall of Fame aspirations but this doesn't imply that subjective criteria being included creates an 'illogical base' for our Hall of Fame definitions.

Echoing Mike above, see Eugene Volokh's Harvard Law Review article about the legitimacy of the slippery slope argument in a bunch of circumstances:

For instance, allowing Rice into the Hall does potentially lead to other less-qualified players voted into the hall because of the comparison methods used by voters. If the Veteran's committee and writers hadn't admitted some very less-than-"super star" players over the years, I think our definition of a hall of famer would be much more stringent, to the point that we might be strongly against Blyleven's admission. On the other hand, voters since inception could have developed a much more liberal view of a "hall of famer" than they did. In such a scenario, we wouldn't even be debating the "obviousness" of Rice and Dawson (who would potentionally have been first-balloters), and may even be in strong support of Mattingly or Murphy.

In fact, due to the flexible, undefined nature of hall of fame voting, I'd say the slippery slope argument is much more legitimate here than in other areas of life.

Bottom line: Keith Hernandez should be in the Hall of Fame. MVP, key player on two world championship teams, batting champ, 11 GG's, 6-time all-star, etc.

Nice article - to be honest, I think a course in logical fallacies should be required in high school.

I have one problem, which is in this paragraph:

"Essentially, there are no base standards for Hall of Fame induction. The election system itself is based on the logical fallacy Appeal to Belief: if a certain percentage of a group believe something to be true, then it must be true. Therefore, if 75% of the BBWAA believe someone is a Hall of Famer, they are a Hall of Famer. It is amazing to me that the previous sentence is both a fact and a logical fallacy."

It's not a logical fallacy - it is how HOF'ers are defined. As you said, there are no standards. Sort of like running for President, except there, you don't even need a majority of votes.

Interesting and worthwhile discussion. I personally like the concept of having a Hall of Fame with tiers, like the one promoted by Bill Simmons at The hall should have a "Pantheon" (Simmons' term) reserved for the absolute all-time greatest players. Admission to the Pantheon? First-ballot HOF and at least 95% (96%? 97% ?)of the vote. This removes the marginal HOFers from the discussion and allows the 'greatest of the great' to receive special commendation. This way you tap into the wisdom of crowds without having to provide concrete statistical hurdles for inclusion.

Thanks again for all the comments, everyone. This has been a great discussion thread and I appreciate all of your input.

@ Jack Marshall - it's rather absurd to say that I refuse to acknowlege the intangibles or the value of watching someone play. Read the comment thread. It just would be nice to have an actual, concrete definition of a Hall of Famer because while all that "starpower" is nice emotionally (and believe me, I succomb to it with my own admiration of certain players who, while I personally don't think they technically belong in the Hall of Fame, it would make me smile from ear to ear if they were inducted), it's all a matter of opinion. And while it's totally fine that matters of opinion run contrary to reality, I'd rather have reality play a larger role in Hall of Fame recognition than the opinions (not the entire roll, mind you, but definitely a larger one). There's just no discussion to be had (at least not a logical one) when all anyone is saying is "Jim Rice was a star" and "I don't agree, I was always more enthralled with Evans." Also, movies are just a terrible comparison to baseball. While they are both entertainment, their means of doing so are completely different. There is no measure of a movie's quality other than public opinion, whereas we have stats in sports that can adequately demonstrate the quality of a player/team as well as wins and losses. There is an undisputed champion at the end of the season that has nothing to do with opinions or voting or fame or starpower or any other PERCEPTION.

@ Ryan - I don't disagree that, in the current context, the slippery slope argument does have legitimacy. To me, that's the very problem - that every time a candidate is inducted, it "changes peoples attitudes" about what a Hall of Famer is. I think you've made a terrific point and thank you for posting that link. I think it only furthers my desire to have a concrete, statistical component to the Hall, because without it - logical fallacies like the slippery slope are integral to Hall of Fame discourse.

@ Carl - I disagree that it's how Hall of Famers are defined. I think you are confusing how someone becomes a Hall of Famer versus an actual definition of a Hall of Famer. It's like saying that a senator is defined as someone who is elected by a majority of his/her constituents. That may be how someone becomes a senator, but a senator has an actual job description independent of the voting.