What Makes a Hall of Famer?

Before analytic nerds came along with all sorts of new metrics of success like WAR and what not, there were relatively simple qualifiers for determining a players greatness.  Breaking thresholds like 500 homeruns, 3,000 hits, and 10,000 rushing yards meant that you were among the best ever, and were a sure-fire bet for your respective sports Hall of Fame.

The steroid era in baseball tainted the 500 homerun threshold to the point where guys like Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro will probably never get in; but it also had another unexpected effect.  It diluted the pool of players that had hit 500 homers to the point where the number lost its allure.  Take Gary Sheffield for example; he sits above the threshold at 509 bombs and his connection to steroids is tenuous at best.  All things considered, he has the classic credentials to be in Cooperstown.

In his fourth year of eligibility 11% of voters said he was Hall of Fame worthy.

You need 75% to get inducted.

Let’s look at a current player in a similar position.  Edwin Encarnacion currently has 372 home runs and will likely finish the current season around 390.  At 35 years old, if he plays 4 more years and hits his career average of 34 home runs, he’ll reach 500 at the age of 39.  His last 6 seasons he has averaged 39 bombs, if he continues at that rate he will get to 500 a year earlier.  Once can assume in his advanced age his power will decline but for the sake of the argument, let’s say he gets to 500.  Will anyone honestly think he’s deserving of a bust in Cooperstown? I surely don’t.  Nor do I think Sheffield is.

Sticking with baseball, getting 3,000 hits in a career is a mark that shows a player is remarkably consistent over the course of their career.  32 players have hit 3,000 hits in the history of Major League Baseball and besides the tainted A-Rod and Pete Rose, every single one of them is in the Hall of Fame or will be soon.  In the coming years however a current MLB player could test this “law”.

Nick Markakis.

My thoughts exactly.

I don’t think anyone in their right mind would consider Markakis a Hall of Famer, but if he averages his career hit total for the next 5 years he’ll reach 3,000.  Crazy huh?  Him, Sheffield and Encarnacion are guys who have been consistently good while staying healthy which has allowed them to compile stats that meet these classic marks of greatness.  Consistently good though, is different than being “Great”.  Markakis for example, has never registered a single vote for MVP and reached his first All-Star game a month ago.  Thirteen years into his career.  See how these milestones can misconstrue a career?

In football a similar mark is the 10,000 yard threshold for runningbacks.  In years past, if a player rushes for 10,000 its a sign that the player was great, similar to 500 home runs.  Historically Running backs rarely lasted past the age of 30, and if they did it was extremely rare for their production to remain at a high level.  So a player entering the league at 22, had roughly 7-8 seasons to reach 10,000 yards.  If a player did that, it meant they averaged between 1,250 and 1,428 yards a season for their career at the bare minimum.  You do that, no doubt you are a Hall of Famer in my eyes.  Nowadays though, (modern medicine is likely the reason) running backs are playing into their 30’s and still being productive.  This allows them to compile a few more seasons worth of yardage, padding their stats where old-timers were unable to.  Take for example the career of Player A below.


Very solid career numbers, no doubt.  Now let’s look at another players career.


Both players have eclipsed the 10,000 yard mark, but player A has over 14,000 yards! When you look at their primes though, which one would you rather have?  Player A had one “Great” year of over 1,300 yards, whereas player B had 4.  Player B, Tiki Barber missed out on the Hall of Fame for the 3rd consecutive year this past year.  Player A, Frank Gore, on the other hand, will likely move into the 4th spot on the all-time rushing list if he makes the Dolphins team this year.

I personally don’t think either one of them should make the Hall of Fame.

I think Gore will likely make it in, but give me prime Barber 10/10 times (It’s also wild that Barber retired after rushing for 1,600 yards.  If he played 2 more seasons he’s likely a first ballot HOF’er).  It’s an interesting and sometimes heated discussion though, of what exactly makes a Hall of Famer.  The great qualifier for some is championships.  To me, that’s the most overrated metric there is.  Take these two quarterbacks for example.

Player A
Player B

These players came in the league in the same draft class both as first round draft picks.  As you can see, player B didn’t become the starter for his team until his 3rd year in the league, which was a year and a half later than player A.  He has more Touchdowns, significantly less interceptions, better completion %, a better win %,  and similar yardage.  He also at one point led the league in both touchdowns and yards.  Pretty solid overall career for player B.  Player A though, likely has a better chance at the Hall of Fame because Player A has 2 rings.  Player A if you haven’t figured it out by now is Eli Manning and Player B is Phillip Rivers.

Some may disagree, but Championships don’t make you a better football player.  On sheer stats alone, Phillip Rivers has been a better quarterback over the course of his career than Eli Manning.  Manning though, lifted the Lombardi twice in victory over who many consider the G.O.A.T in Tom Brady,  so despite his less than stellar stats there is a good shot he gets to Canton.  Phillip Rivers is on the cusp.

Here are my keys to getting into the Hall of Fame, regardless of sport.  Note: These are in order of significance.

  1. You have to be considered ELITE at your position for a significant amount of time, relative to the position.  Runningbacks don’t last long so if you are elite for 4-5 years, you’re on the right track.  Quarterbacks, it needs to be 7-10 years.
  2. You need to have stats in line with the aforementioned threshold.  Just because a player is elite for the time mentioned in Key #1, doesn’t mean they are automatically in.  A guy like Ryan Howard is a good example in baseball.  He was an elite power hitter for 6 years or so, but the rest of his career was uhh, not good.
  3. Rings are merely a boost on a resume, not a key to automatic entry.
    • If Phillip Rivers for example, somehow wins a ring before he retires, I would say he is a Hall of Famer.  He has a mixture of Key 1 and 2, but just not enough of either for his case to be complete.  He has been a top 6-10 quarterback in the league for a long time, but never in the top 5.  He has solid stats no doubt, but no particular season that jumps off the screen.  He’s stayed healthy and compiled a lot of yards.  If he caps things off with a ring, I think his case is good enough.  Also on this same topic, expect another blog soon on why Aaron Rodgers is the real G.O.A.T despite his lack of ring(s)

Eli Manning and Frank Gore are guys who have been blessed with continued health in a very brutal game, but neither of them have ever been considered top 5 at their position for a significant amount of time. Frank Gore only elite season was his second year in the league.  I’m not sure Eli Manning has EVER been considered even a top ten quarterback.  And people want this guy in the Hall? #NotMyHallofFame.

Case in point, between the two of them, Manning and Gore have exactly ONE (1) all-pro between them. (Gore, Second team 2006).  We’re really putting guys in the Hall of Fame because they have advantages players in the past didn’t?  Frank Gore stayed healthy for 12 years as a runningback.  So what? Was he ever as good in his prime as guys like Adrian Peterson, Ladanian Tomlinson, Shady McCoy, Tiki Barber, Edgerrin James, Arian Foster, Leveon Bell, Jamaal Charles, Maurice Jones-Drew, Marshawn Lynch or DeMarco Murray? Sure you can say he had a better CAREER than a lot of those guys, but strictly a better player in their prime? Nope.

With the continued improvement of both strength and conditioning methods and modern medicine, more and more players are going to rack up stats that in previous generations defined greatness.  Don’t let these compilers fool you simply because they stayed healthy.  The Hall of Fame should be reserved for the greatest players in the history of a sport.  If a player was never “Great”, why should they get a bust in those hallowed halls?