July 8, 2012

HOVG Heroes: Memorabilia and the Politics of the Hall of Fame


BO ROSNY on Memorabilia and the Politics of the Hall of Fame

When a retired baseball player is elected to the Hall of Fame, his life changes in many ways. He becomes a member of an exclusive club, is considered a “baseball immortal,” and can even vote for future members. Just as importantly, he sees a major increase in income – you can charge far more for an autograph appearance if you are a member of the Hall of Fame.

Hall of Famers are elected by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and their votes have come under more and more scrutiny over the past few years as members often use inconsistent and often biased criteria when choosing who gets to be a Hall of Famer. Examples of this include deciding based on no evidence whatsoever that Jeff Bagwell used steroids, or suddenly deciding that Jim Rice was greatly feared in 2009 despite somehow forgetting that in the years immediately following his career. The controversial choices in recent years by the BBWAA have opened up significant revenue streams for men like Rice, Bruce Sutter and Bert Blyleven that it has denied for men like Bagwell, Lee Smith and Jack Morris.

A player’s election to the Hall of Fame doesn’t just impact that player’s personal revenue stream. There are many collectors who only collect Hall of Fame memorabilia. For example, there are many people who try to collect a signed baseball from each Hall of Famer. (Collectors like these are part of why Hall of Famers can charge a premium for their autograph.) There are also many collectors who specialize in rookie cards of Hall of Famers, driving up the value of those cards.

This topic got me to thinking about the correlation between the value of a player’s rookie card and whether or not they were a Hall of Fame-caliber ballplayer. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the value of a player’s rookie card before they went into the Hall of Fame, and compare it to the rookie card values of players who did not make the Hall of Fame.

Using the 2001 Beckett price guide, I looked at all of the Hall of Famers elected by the writers since 2001, and compared the value of those cards to the value of a common card in the same set. I looked at the Topps sets from 1971 (where Bert Blyleven’s rookie card appears) to 1988 (where Roberto Alomar’s rookie card appears in the Traded set). In my calculations, it became clear that the elite rookie cards were those that were at least 50 times greater than a common card of the same year.
                                                                                               

Player
Rookie Year
Rookie Card Value
Common Card Value
RCV/CCV
Mark McGwire*
1985
175.00
.10
1750
Cal Ripken
1982
70.00
.15
467
Tony Gwynn
1983
60.00
.15
400
Paul Molitor
1978
80.00
.25
320
Eddie Murray
1978
80.00
.25
320
Ozzie Smith
1979
80.00
.25
320
Rickey Henderson
1980
70.00
.25
280
Roger Clemens*
1985
25.00
.10
250
Wade Boggs
1983
25.00
.15
167
Ryne Sandberg
1983
20.00
.15
133
Dave Winfield
1974
60.00
.50
120
Dennis Eckersley
1976
40.00
.40
100
Andre Dawson
1977
30.00
.30
100
Dale Murphy*
1977
25.00
.30
83.33
Kirby Puckett
1985
8.00
.10
80
Don Mattingly*
1984
8.00
.10
80
Harold Baines*
1981
8.00
.15
53.33
Barry Bonds*
1987
2.50
.05
50

*Not in the Hall of Fame.

These 18 players were the most valuable rookie cards in the 1971-1988 era in 2001, when none of them had yet been elected to the Hall of Fame.

Interestingly, several players who had RCV/CCV below 50 still managed to be elected to the Hall. Almost all of these are considered borderline selections.
                                                                                               

Player
Rookie Year
Rookie Card Value
Common Card Value
RCV/CCV
Gary Carter
1975
20.00
.50
40
Roberto Alomar
1988
3.00
.10
30
Jim Rice
1975
12.00
.50
24
Barry Larkin
1987
1.00
.05
20
Rich Gossage
1973
6.00
.50
12
Bruce Sutter
1977
3.00
.30
10
Bert Blyleven
1971
8.00
1.50
5.33


Let’s return to the first chart. As you can, some of the players with the most popular rookie cards are not in the Hall of Fame. Some are due to steroid scandal – Mark McGwire (boy, that $175 number was just silly, even in 2001), Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. That leaves three players remaining – fan favorites whom the BBWA has decided are unworthy of the Hall of Fame and the benefits membership provides.

DALE MURPHY had one of the best peaks in any baseball player’s career. Between 1982 and 1985, he hit at least 36 HR and had at least 100 RBI each season, winning two MVP awards. For his career he hit 398 HR, five Gold Gloves, and seven All Star selections. He was also a fan-favorite for his positive image as a role model, something which has continued in his retirement, unlike, for example, Steve Garvey or Kirby Puckett. His career numbers may be a little short, but a man who was arguably the best player in baseball for several years would certainly bring no shame to the Hall of Fame.

DON MATTINGLY had a career very similar to Murphy’s. Fantastic peak (between 1984 and 1987 he hit at least .324 with 110 RBI every year), with solid career numbers that are a bit short due to injury. Fan favorite, positive image and role model to millions of fans. Like Murphy, he was arguably the best player in baseball for several years at his peak.  Mattingly, like Murphy, would be a fine Hall of Fame member.

HAROLD BAINES is the most surprising player on this list. However, he was still an active player heading into the 2001 season, needing only 145 hits to reach the magic 3,000 mark. However, he only recorded eleven hits in ’01 before an injury to his hip basically ended his career. I assume that the high Beckett value for Baines reflects speculation over 3,000 hits rather than his being greatly beloved by the fans.

As a result of this research, it seems clear that baseball fans have valued Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly as much as many Hall of Famers. Is such major popularity with the fans a good reason to vote someone into Cooperstown? In the 1989 Football Almanac, authors Bob Carroll, Pete Palmer and John Thorn, in their discussion of whether Al Davis was a Hall of Famer, noted that “It’s the Hall of Fame, not Hall of Great or even Good.” Though other players may have had better raw numbers, few had the kind of impact on fans that Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly had. These are two great players and great people who would certainly be worthy members of the Hall of Fame.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bo Rosny writes the baseball card blog Baseball Cards Come to Life, where he is profiling each of the 6,930 major and minor league baseball players he has at least one card of. He is always up for a trade – feel free to check out his wantlist and tradelist.

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