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The Living Hall of Fame

November 26, 2017

The Living Hall of Fame

              With regard to the recent Hall of Fame controversy, I have done a little simple research here.  The letter (we are not going to go into specifics) was read by some people to contain an implicit threat to boycott future Hall of Fame ceremonies if any of them nasty cheaters were inducted.  Assuming that this line of resistance will crumble over time, I was wondering about some little questions related to Hall of Fame membership.   How many living Hall of Famers are there?   How does this number compare to 20 years ago, or 40 years ago?   Are most Hall of Famers alive at the time of their election?

              Not big questions, but. . . just wanted to know the answers.   OK:

              How many Hall of Famers are alive at the time of their election?

              By my count, unless I missed somebody, there have been 313 people elected to the Hall of Fame.   Of those 313, 210 were alive at the time of their election; 103 were departed.   So basically two-thirds of those elected have been alive at the time.

              Of the first 104 people elected to the Hall of Fame (1936-1966), 64 were alive at the time of their election, and of the last 103 people elected to the Hall of Fame (1992-2017), 63 were alive at the time of their election, so there isn’t really a long-term trend as to that percentage.   In the middle there (1967 to 1991), 83 of 106 electees were alive at the time of their selection, plus the last-third percentage is driven sharply downward by the 2006 special-committee selection of 16 dead people, so actually one can argue that this percentage is historically headed upward.


              How many Hall of Famers are alive now?



              How does this number compare with the past?

              The 73 who were alive at the conclusion of the last elections was a record; Bunning and Doerr have passed away since then.  

              In 1940 there were 12 living Hall of Famers.    In 1950 there were 22; in 1960 there were 28.  By 1970 there were 41, and by 1980 there were 47 (46 at the end of the year.   I’m giving you the number at the time of the announcements; it usually goes down during the year.)  In 1990 there were 55; in 2000 there were 59.    By 2010 there were 68.   Now there are 71.  If three living people are elected this year, there will be a new record.


              What percentage of the Hall of Fame’s membership dies in a typical year?

              In a typical year 3.9% of the Hall of Fame’s living membership will pass away, meaning that 96.1% survives from year to year.   This percentage is higher than I would have guessed.  I would have guessed that the death rate was more like 6%.   It matters, because that means that the living membership rotates more slowly than I would have guessed, which means that attitudes will adjust more slowly than I would have guessed. 

              The average living Hall of Famer will live 25.9 years after his selection.  

              The death rate in recent years, however, has consistently been lower than the 3.9% historical average.     There has not been a year since 2011 in which 3.9% of living Hall of Famers passed away, or, stated another way, there has not been a year since 2011 in which three Hall of Famers have died. 

              This indicates one of two things:  that the historic death rate (3.9%) is no longer accurate, or that we are going to have a higher-than-normal death rate for Hall of Famers over the next five years.   My guess is that it is the latter.    There was a similar period during the 1960s.   No living Hall of Famers died in 1964, only one in 1965, one in 1966, one in 1967, one in 1968, none in 1969, and only one in 1970.    But then there were three deaths in 1971, six in 1972, and three each year from 1973 to 1976.   Probably it is a thing like that; we are just building up to a cycle of higher death rates.

              The Hall of Fame death rate was 2.8% in the 1930s, 3.1% in the 1940s, 5.7% in the 1950s, 4.2% in the 1960s, 6.1% in the 1970s, 4.1% in the 1980s, 3.9% in the 1990s, 1.8% in the 2000s, and has been 3.8% in this decade. 

              Who are the oldest living Hall of Famers?

              The five oldest living Hall of Famers are Red Schoendienst (94), Tommy Lasorda (90), Whitey Ford (89), Doug Harvey (87) and Willie Mays (86). 

              Of the 71 living Hall of Famers, six are still in their 40s.   Eleven are in their 50s, thirteen are in their 60s, twenty-three are in their 70s, sixteen are in their 80s, and two are in their 90s. 

              By year of selection, the longest-surviving Hall of Famers are Sandy Koufax (elected 1972), Whitey Ford (1974), Willie Mays (1979), Al Kaline (1980) and Bob Gibson (1981).  

              The longest anyone has ever lived after his Hall of Fame selection is 48 years, by Bob Feller; he was elected in 1962 and passed away in 2010.  It is 100% certain that someone now alive will break that record.   The longest ever are Feller (48 years), Koufax (45), Musial (44 years), Yogi Berra (44 years) and Charlie Gehringer (44 years). 

              Bobby Doerr just passed away at age 99.  He was the oldest Hall of Famer ever.   No Hall of Famer has ever reached the age of 100.   Of the 242 deceased Hall of Famers, 27 lived into their nineties, 71 died in their eighties, 62 died in their seventies, 30 died in their sixties, 29 in their fifties, 15 in their forties, and 8 in their thirties.   The eight Hall of Famers who died in their 30s were Ross Youngs (who died at age 30). . ..Ross Youngs, Addie Joss, Ed Delahanty, Josh Gibson, King Kelly, Rube Waddell, Roberto Clemente and Lou Gehrig.   Gehrig was the only one of those who was alive at the time of his election. 

              Three Hall of Famers died on their birthdays—Joe Tinker, Gabby Hartnett and Bucky Harris.

              Who was the youngest person elected to the Hall of Fame?

              The youngest were Koufax and Gehrig, who were elected at age 36.    Kirby Puckett was 39, and DiMaggio, Babe Ruth and Catfish Hunter were 40. 


              What was the worst year for Hall of Fame deaths? 

              There were six Hall of Famers who died in 1972, and six in 1984.  There were five in 1993, and four in 1989, 1995, and 1999.

              The last years in which NO Hall of Famers passed away were 2008 and 2009.


              Of the 71 living Hall of Famers, how many will still be with us ten years from now? 

              Probably about 48. 


              As a general rule, the "active phase" for the living Hall of Famers is always about 40 years before right now.   This being 2017, the center of the active phase for the living Hall of Famers was about 1977.   Joe Morgan, George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Catfish Hunter, Bert Blyleven, Ferguson Jenkins, Steve Carlton, Tony Perez, Don Sutton, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Rollie Fingers, Rod Carew. . .that era.   Many other living Hall of Famers were active in 1977.   Yastrzemski, McCovey, Fisk, Reggie Jackson, Bench, Winfield, Gossage, Sutter. 

              That is to say,  that the living members of the Hall of Fame dominated baseball before Clemens and Bonds came along, which is a normal thing, that the living active members were always a generation before the candidates.     Ten years from now, this will still be true, sort of, but not really.   Ten, fifteen years from now, the living Hall of Famers are going to be dominated by players who batted against Clemens and pitched to Bonds.   They’re going to have a different view of that era than the currently living Hall of Famers do.  



COMMENTS (11 Comments, most recent shown first)
I enjoy everything Mr James writes. And so I go back and re-read older articles that I may have missed somehow, like this one.

FYI, Bobby Doerr would have been 100 on Saturday.
8:08 PM Apr 4th
"With regard to the recent Hall of Fame controversy..." You know, you could write a column with this introduction every year for the rest of your life. (Indeed, you could've done so any time in the last fifty years, or more!)
7:33 AM Dec 9th
I couldn't help but to calculate what's the longest theoretical amount of time someone could be a living member of the Hall of Fame.

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Joe Nuxhall made his MLB debut in 1944 at the age of 15, almost 16. If he had pitched at a spectacular level [he didn't], like Koufax, pitched every season from 1944-1953 [he didn't], and retired after 1953 [he didn't], he would have been enshrined in Cooperstown in the Summer of 1959, around the time of his 31st birthday.

Nuxhall passed away in 2007 at the age of 79. If he had matched the lifespan of the longest-living man ever documented, 116, he'd have enjoyed his status as a Hall of Famer for 85 years.

Yes, someone could pitch from ages 0-9 and live to be 145, but let's not get ridiculous.​
4:05 PM Nov 30th
Responding to wdr. . .1905 is a little early to chalk off the end of that era. Tuberculosis and Syphilis were both at epidemic levels from 1905 until the early 1920s. A lot of stars continued to die young in that era.
12:26 PM Nov 28th
A very high percentage of baseball's early stars (from 1871 to say 1905) died at a tragically early age, many of alcoholism or syphillis, as well as from infectious diseases that almost no one dies of now, esp. tuberculosis. Old baseball players, once they left the game, even the best ones, had no pensions or Social Security, and were simply left to rot. There were also no ceremonials like the Hall of Fame or Old Timers' games- certainly very few- to keep them in the public eye, and many simply disappeared without trace. This wasn't helped by the fact that they usually had few marketable skills besides playing baseball.
12:17 AM Nov 28th
Maybe John is thinking of special cases like the immortal Babe Ruth.

7:41 PM Nov 27th
JohnPontoon--Are you suggesting there are some zombie HoF members? Or some whose bodies live on while their brains have taken a permanent vacation?
7:15 PM Nov 27th
I'd be tickled pink if some of our Devil's-advocate gents were to try their best to tell Bill why they think he's using the wrong definition of "living."
5:48 PM Nov 27th
@StatsGuru, more relevant is the LE from election date to death (since no one zero years old is getting elected to the HOF), but that is obviously more difficult to determine (although surely going up, just like Male LE) since each person will be elected at a different age. HOwever, a 40 year old man has a LE of 38.6 years (2014 SS Actuarial Tables), a 45 year old man has a LE of 34.04 years and a 50 year old man has a LE of 29.64 years. Essentially, we are quickly reaching the point that a male who lives past 40 is expected to live to age 80.
12:05 PM Nov 27th
Red Schoendienst and Whitey Ford are both still alive. I didn't know that. I always want guys to be elected within a few years after they retire. I think it's a shame when people are elected posthumously after being denied induction multiple times while living. I like to see the guys have their moment in the sun.
10:24 AM Nov 27th
There is also the possibility that the death rate is declining because people are living longer in general. Male life expectancy in 1970 was 67.1 years. It was 76.4 years in 2014, the last year I could quickly find with a figure.
9:22 AM Nov 27th
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