This grew out of a conversation in comments about Mark McGwire. McGwire’s resume is impressive in the category of home runs — 583 career (tenth all-time), four times first in the league, including his record-setting 70 in 1998 and 65 in 1999. I think he’s a Hall of Famer. However, the assumption that he is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer without deducting for steroid use… Well, that’s a bit much. McGwire’s career is awfully short for a Hall of Famer, or rather he didn’t come to the plate that much in a 16-year career — his 7660 career plate appearances are 297th all-time, and he’ll fall out of the top 300 this year, before the All-Star break. McGwire, a very large man even unsupplemented, had chronic problems with his ankles early on, and the usual aches and pains later in his career. Do you give him credit for what he would have done, if healthy?
To my mind, certainly not. Too many players — including probably hundreds of pitchers — had Hall of Fame ability but are not candidates because of injury. Once you open that door, you’d have to double the size of the Hall, at a minimum, and even I don’t want that. I doubt that even [NAME DELETED BECAUSE IT WOULD GET POLITICAL], who has 50 Hall of Fame candidates and once had 100 would want that. You can’t give extra credit for games not played because of injury. I’ve written a lot about Dale Murphy, but I don’t think I ever wrote that he should be in the Hall of Fame because he would have done more if he hadn’t gotten hurt.
There are some things you could give extra credit for. (A lot of the following is after Bill James, but then so is a lot of what I write.) The two that are most obvious are Military Service and Segregation. By the former, we normally mean World War II. Phil Rizzuto, for example, is in the Hall in part due to extra credit for three years lost to the Army; Dom DiMaggio will probably get in eventually with the same credit. Larry Doby lost a little time early in his career to segregation and was given credit for that. Jackie Robinson kind of combines the two; he only played one year of Negro league baseball, but that’s because he was in the service the three years before that.
The others are more controversial, and I don’t know how I feel about them. One is Death. James rather glibly calls this an “extreme injury” in The Politics of Glory, dealing with Thurman Munson. Munson probably wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer anyway, but I think there’s something to be said for the argument, most notably that this standard has been used in a Hall of Fame election. Addie Joss, who didn’t even qualify under the Hall’s only one real standard (playing ten seasons in the majors; he played in only nine before dying at the age of thirty) was elected by the Veterans Committee in 1978. I think that’s a precedent and you could apply it if it came up. I don’t think that (other than Munson) there’s anybody it really applies to.
Another is Trapped In The Minors. This was a common problem before baseball was fully organized, and there’s an argument that you should give credit to players who were great players but not allowed to show it on the big stage. It might still be a problem today. Ryan Howard didn’t get a real shot until he was 26 because he was blocked by Jim Thome; what if he comes up a bit short?
Then there’s the Blackball, and by this I don’t mean segregation, but players thrown out of organized baseball for reasons other than corruption. Sal Maglie lost four years of his career after jumping to the Mexican League; the two years after he came back (at 33 and 34) he was 18-4, leading the league in ERA and win percentage, and 23-6, leading the league in wins. He wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer with those four years, probably (he won only 118 games in his career) but if you add in what he lost to the war (he didn’t play in the majors until he was 28)…
Related to this is Work Stoppage, in which case we’re starting to get away from “external forces”. I know a lot of people wouldn’t want anyone to get credit for time missed due to a strike. McGwire was hurt most of 1994-1995, but probably lost some time to the strike. There are a number of other players — David Cone, notably — whose case would be strengthened by extra credit for strike time.
There may be others, but that’s what comes to mind. To reiterate, I do think that Mark McGwire is a Hall of Famer, despite his short career. After all, while he maybe only had 7660 career plate appearances, Joe DiMaggio had only 7671.