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How Many Active HOFers Are There?

My next few columns for the Hardball Times are about which current players are likely to go the Hall of Fame. Here's the first installment, on NL pitchers.  Before I did that, though, I figured out how much HOFers there usually are among the player population.  I'm going to put all that data here.

It's pretty arbitrary, but I only counted players who had 200 ABs or 50 IP. Then, for each season, I counted how many total players there were (who met those requirements) and how many of them became Hall of Famers. I left out guys who made the Hall as managers, such as John McGraw. So, for each year, I figured out what percent of the MLB population would eventually become a Hall of Famer.

Here is the data, averaged by decade:

Decade     %HOFers
1880s      9.73%
1890s      11.68%
1900s      11.21%
1910s      8.91%
1920s      14.26%
1930s      13.98%
1940s      7.11%
1950s      9.48%
1960s      8.51%
1970s      6.41%
1980s      4.21%
1990s      1.35%
Of course it's low in the 80s and 90s -- there are plenty of players who aren't even eligible yet. It'll continue to go up for the 70s, too. Induct Blyleven alone and the average goes up about 0.2% for the decade.

The biggest spike, of course, is in the 1920s and 1930s, thanks to the veteran's committee that elected the whole New York Giants team. If you assume that the percentage should always be consistent (which probably isn't true, but it's a good approximation), close to 1 out of every 3 guys from that period doesn't belong. That means you, Rabbit Maranville.

The point of this exercise was to determine how many HOFers there are playing right now. For the sake of my THT columns, I'm estimating 60. That's on the high side: a little above 9% of active players. At first, I thought that the percentage might go down as the number of teams went up; it seems odd that there were 32 active HOFers 50 years ago, and now there'd be almost double that.

But, when I tried to narrow down the pool of potential HOFers, 60 seems about right. In fact, I can see it being a little higher than that. Here's part of the reason: great players are (in general) playing longer. Sure, there have always been durable Hall of Famers (in fact, it's a characteristic of the breed), but an awful lot of guys are making it well into their 40s. So, 50 years ago, maybe Maddux or Randy Johnson would be retired.

In other words, saying that there's a larger percentage of active Hall of Famers doesn't mean there's a larger percentage of great players alive; it just means that those players stick around longer (relative to non-great players) than they did before. I realize this is very approximate, and possibly wrong; I would run some numbers, but with a total of just over 200 HOF players, I doubt the sample size would sustain any kind of strong conclusion. Especially since the standards for HOF inclusion are so ambiguous.

But, again to get back to the point: the percent of active players who would be elected to the Hall of Fame has historically been around 10%. As you'll see in my series of THT articles discussing who those players may be right now, that seems about right, if not a little stingy. There are probably 20-30 no-brainers, at least 15-20 of whom are "Inner Circle" guys.

The only thing I can think of to keep the numbers down would be if the writers went crazy keeping out anybody related with the steroid scandal. That would keep out Bonds, Sosa, maybe Tejada, Giambi (if he'd otherwise qualify, which we'll see about) and probably others whose names will come up in the meantime. I don't think that'll be the case, though of course PEDs will play a part in some marginal player elections, such as Rafael Palmeiro.

If you're interested, the entire data set (players and HOFers, broken down by pitchers and hitters, year by year from 1876 to the present) is below the jump.

Year    QualifieBatHOF  PitHOF  TotHOF  %HOF
1876    76      2       0       2       2.63%
1877    54      2       0       2       3.70%
1878    56      3       1       4       7.14%
1879    84      5       2       7       8.33%
1880    80      7       4       11      13.75%
1881    88      9       5       14      15.91%
1882    137     10      5       15      10.95%
1883    188     12      5       17      9.04%
1884    319     13      7       20      6.27%
1885    206     11      6       17      8.25%
1886    217     13      5       18      8.29%
1887    226     10      5       15      6.64%
1888    226     14      5       19      8.41%
1889    215     15      6       21      9.77%
1890    343     17      9       26      7.58%
1891    235     16      9       25      10.64%
1892    183     19      8       27      14.75%
1893    168     17      5       22      13.10%
1894    173     18      4       22      12.72%
1895    170     17      4       21      12.35%
1896    168     18      3       21      12.50%
1897    175     16      3       19      10.86%
1898    178     16      4       20      11.24%
1899    190     15      6       21      11.05%
1900    123     15      6       21      17.07%
1901    236     18      8       26      11.02%
1902    240     17      9       26      10.83%
1903    243     15      10      25      10.29%
1904    254     16      12      28      11.02%
1905    253     16      13      29      11.46%
1906    253     15      11      26      10.28%
1907    257     14      12      26      10.12%
1908    260     15      12      27      10.38%
1909    281     16      11      27      9.61%
1910    267     15      10      25      9.36%
1911    267     14      9       23      8.61%
1912    253     13      10      23      9.09%
1913    269     14      9       23      8.55%
1914    404     15      11      26      6.44%
1915    410     16      11      27      6.59%
1916    263     18      10      28      10.65%
1917    255     16      11      27      10.59%
1918    241     15      6       21      8.71%
1919    256     17      10      27      10.55%
1920    260     18      10      28      10.77%
1921    273     20      10      30      10.99%
1922    278     21      11      32      11.51%
1923    280     24      11      35      12.50%
1924    282     27      11      38      13.48%
1925    289     33      14      47      16.26%
1926    285     36      14      50      17.54%
1927    285     34      12      46      16.14%
1928    287     35      13      48      16.72%
1929    282     35      12      47      16.67%
1930    293     33      12      45      15.36%
1931    284     34      13      47      16.55%
1932    291     35      13      48      16.49%
1933    287     35      13      48      16.72%
1934    289     34      10      44      15.22%
1935    292     31      9       40      13.70%
1936    290     28      9       37      12.76%
1937    285     25      9       34      11.93%
1938    290     24      7       31      10.69%
1939    298     24      7       31      10.40%
1940    299     21      7       28      9.36%
1941    298     20      7       27      9.06%
1942    296     20      6       26      8.78%
1943    296     12      3       15      5.07%
1944    287     8       2       10      3.48%
1945    304     9       3       12      3.95%
1946    310     16      6       22      7.10%
1947    309     16      6       22      7.12%
1948    310     18      7       25      8.06%
1949    296     20      7       27      9.12%
1950    295     20      7       27      9.15%
1951    299     22      7       29      9.70%
1952    293     16      8       24      8.19%
1953    294     17      8       25      8.50%
1954    304     21      7       28      9.21%
1955    308     21      8       29      9.42%
1956    295     24      10      34      11.53%
1957    305     23      9       32      10.49%
1958    308     20      8       28      9.09%
1959    295     19      9       28      9.49%
1960    297     21      10      31      10.44%
1961    349     21      10      31      8.88%
1962    389     21      10      31      7.97%
1963    386     20      11      31      8.03%
1964    401     20      10      30      7.48%
1965    397     19      15      34      8.56%
1966    399     20      15      35      8.77%
1967    397     21      12      33      8.31%
1968    387     21      13      34      8.79%
1969    469     21      16      37      7.89%
1970    469     20      14      34      7.25%
1971    458     19      13      32      6.99%
1972    447     18      12      30      6.71%
1973    472     20      12      32      6.78%
1974    465     19      12      31      6.67%
1975    482     19      13      32      6.64%
1976    486     18      12      30      6.17%
1977    521     15      13      28      5.37%
1978    518     18      12      30      5.79%
1979    527     18      12      30      5.69%
1980    540     16      12      28      5.19%
1981    420     14      11      25      5.95%
1982    515     16      12      28      5.44%
1983    542     17      11      28      5.17%
1984    539     14      8       22      4.08%
1985    532     14      8       22      4.14%
1986    548     14      8       22      4.01%
1987    537     13      5       18      3.35%
1988    534     12      3       15      2.81%
1989    557     9       2       11      1.97%
1990    549     11      2       13      2.37%
1991    561     11      2       13      2.32%
1992    546     10      2       12      2.20%
1993    589     9       2       11      1.87%
1994    464     7       0       7       1.51%
1995    543     4       1       5       0.92%
1996    589     6       1       7       1.19%
1997    580     3       1       4       0.69%
1998    639     2       0       2       0.31%
1999    649     1       0       1       0.15%
2000    649     0       0       0       0.00%
2001    634     0       0       0       0.00%
2002    638     0       0       0       0.00%
2003    622     0       0       0       0.00%
2004    628     0       0       0       0.00%
2005    631     0       0       0       0.00%
2006    646     0       0       0       0.00%
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