The Keltner list is a systematic but non-numerical method for considering whether a baseball player is deserving of election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. It makes use of an inventory of questions (mostly yes-or-no format) regarding the merit of players relative to their peers. Enshrinement in the Hall of Fame is the highest honor in baseball, with only 236 players having been inducted as of 2012. Election to the Hall is also permanent. However, selection for the Hall is by election; no "cut-offs" or objective criteria exist (other than rules about how players become eligible for election). It can therefore be difficult for voters and fans alike to determine which former players are deserving of the honor.
The Keltner list comprises 15 questions designed to aid in the thought process. Each question is designed to be relatively easy to answer.
Ken Keltner was a major-league third baseman who compiled a .276 batting average, 163 home runs and 852 RBI in his career. A timely hitter, the seven-time All-Star was a fabulous fielder known for going to his right. He ended Joe DiMaggio's record hit streak at 56 on July 17, 1941 before a then-record night crowd (67,468) in Cleveland. Keltner made two stops of DiMaggio line drives, one a brilliant backhanded stab. According to baseball historian Bill James in the 1994 book, Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?, a movement briefly developed to elect Keltner to the Hall of Fame. James created the eponymous list in order to evaluate the qualifications of players who have not been elected to the Hall, but merit consideration. As a subjective method, the Keltner list is not designed to yield an undeniable answer about a player's worthiness; for instance, as James says, "You can't total up the score and say that everybody who is at eight or above should be in, or anything like that."
The list originally appeared in James' 1985 Baseball Abstract along with the anecdote of how he developed the list.
Questions on the Keltner list
- Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
- Was he the best player on his team?
- Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
- Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
- Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
- Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
- Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
- Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
- Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
- Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
- How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
- How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go to the Hall of Fame?
- If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
- What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
- Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
While the questions themselves were designed to be subjective, many of them call for quantitative answers. This is often done by comparing the player's statistics to those of his peers or contemporaries. These statistics can take the form of traditional baseball measures, such as batting average and home runs, or advanced measures, such as Win Shares or VORP. Furthermore, questions 7 and 8 are often answered using two more of James' innovations: Similarity Scores and Hall of Fame Standards, respectively.
Uses other than baseball
Examples of the use of the Keltner list include the evaluations of:
- Jose Canseco
- Dale Murphy
- Frank Thomas
- Keith Hernandez
- Mike Mussina
- Fred McGriff
- Darrell Evans
- James, B. Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? New York: Fireside, 1994
- Ken Keltner Statistics - Baseball-Reference.com
- Nitz, Jim. "The Baseball Biography Project: Ken Keltner". Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved 20 July 2010.